Why Learn How to Make My Own Song Chart?

A little background

As I’ve been preparing for my upcoming workshop Charting: Make Your Own Songbook (the first of three in this spring’s Musician’s Toolbox Workshop Series), I’ve found myself remembering my first songbook:

Closed journal on a table
Originally a Christmas gift from an older cousin …
Open songbook page with blurred image of song lyrics and notes
Lyrics, chords, tablature notes … I wrote it all down.

When I was about 15 years old, I learned to play the guitar. I had a book I kept of all the songs I learned to play, complete with handwritten lyrics, chords and other notes. Like the writer who learns by reading, I learned to play by watching and listening intently to my favorite musicians to figure out what they were doing. I wrote it all down, played and played, and made these songs my own, all recorded in what I still consider to be a meaningful artifact from a deeply informative part of my music education.

As a music teacher, I share a lot of my own knowledge with students, picking and arranging songs for us to play together in classes and jams. However, I believe students need opportunities to use the knowledge to expand their musical understanding further. That is precisely what this upcoming Song Charting workshop is all about.

What is a song chart?

I’m quite sure plenty of you looked at the title of this workshop and wondered: What is a song chart, exactly?  Once again, let us refer to the songbook of my youth:

Open page of songbook with handwritten song lyrics, chords and notes
An early song of mine from my angsty young 20s … as I started writing my own songs, I made song charts for them at the back of my original songbook.

Simply put, a song chart is a written record of a song in lyrics and chords (I don’t usually include a melody in my song charts, but it may be included). It can be as simple as a chord progression at the top and some lyric cues below, or as detailed as having pictures of the chords you need, complete lyrics, and extra arrangement notes on the side. It’s your personal cheat sheet, if you will, for whatever song you want to remember how to play.

A song chart is just for you, and therefore, making a song chart is a personal task, with options and opportunities to preserve what you know and love while also deepening your musical understanding.

WHy learn to make your own song chart?

Now that I have confessed my sense of sentimentality, let’s recall that there are numerous resources online that have charted songs for you already. I regularly refer to these resources when making my own song charts; but I believe it’s not enough to just print out whatever you find online. Why? Hear me out:

  1. Writing something down helps you learn what you’re playing. Just like writing in a journal helps us make sense of our thoughts, writing down a song helps us make sense of a song’s patterns and organization, not to mention learn all the lyrics. Though I have no evidence to back this up, I would argue that however long it takes you to chart out your song, it would take you twice as long for you to learn it by just playing it over and over again from someone else’s chart.
  2. Online charts are not always correct. The people posting song charts online are only human, and sometimes don’t get certain parts right. This doesn’t preclude you from using online charts as a resource in making your own song charts but you’ll always want to double check with your own ears.
  3. Charting allows you to make a song your own. When you make a song chart, you can choose the key best suited to your voice or chording fingers, decide which verses to include, and play with the song’s arrangement. When a song is best suited to your own singing and playing, it’s easier to practice and it brings out the best musician in you.
  4. Making a song chart makes you a better musician. Taking all three of these points together, creating a written record of a song you want to play forces you to engage in the ultimate musical skill: listening. Whether you are writing it down by ear, or adapting someone else’s song chart for your own use, song charting will make you listen to a song – and to yourself – in a way you never have before, and that is what learning music is all about.

Goodness knows you don’t have to have sparkles on the front of your songbook like I did. A three-ring binder and some blank paper will do to start. Give it a try and see what you find. Whether you’re stumped, or inspired, or a little of both, learn more about how to make a song chart at our upcoming workshop, Charting – Make Your Own Songbook: Saturday, March 16, 1:00-3:00pm at Artichoke Music. Or consider purchasing the Musician’s Toolbox Workshop Package, which includes workshops on Charting, Transposing, and Arranging.

Musician’s Toolbox Workshop Series graphic

Welcome to our new addition!

Mother, father, and baby sitting on a couch and smiling at homeclose-up of baby Oscar

We are so pleased to announce the birth of our son, Oscar, on September 7, 2018! These first several weeks have been a roller coaster, but we are all happy and healthy and finding our way as a new family of three. As announced earlier, we are taking a break in September and October, but plan to return in November with a series of workshops and in January with regular classes again. We look forward to seeing you then!

Need some recommendations in the meantime? Check out these other ukulele opportunities in Portland!

Classes on hold for Fall 2018 – How to cope with the withdrawal?

With a baby due in early September 2018, I’ll be taking a break from classes this fall. The plan is to return with some workshops in November and December, then resume regular classes in January 2019. That said, keep checking back, or sign up for our monthly newsletter, to get the latest news and updates, as that plan could change!

In the meantime, what’s a ukulele player in Portland to do? Not to fear, we live in a ukulele-rich city with a LOT of opportunities to keep up your playing:

  • For beginners / intermediate, check out Chuck Cheesman’s classes at the Multnomah Arts Center (p71 in this brochure)
  • For those looking for a challenge, check out Tracy Kim’s Jazz & Blues for Ukulele class at Artichoke Music.
  • For kids, I’ve had a heck of a time finding class offerings, but it looks like there are some private lesson options at Ethos in N PDX and Vibe Studio in SE PDX. I’m not personally familiar with either of them, but have heard good things from those who have gone.
What you can do …
  • Remember to make practice a regular part of daily / weekly routine.
  • If you’re like me and like the accountability of a group jam or class, but have some specific material you want to work on, start a practice group with your friends from class. If you’re open to it, let me know about it and if any students I know and trust are looking for a group, I can point them in your direction.
  • Keep an eye out for upcoming performances by local and touring ukulele artists, where you can get inspired
  • Join an online learning community – I personally recommend following Cynthia Lin, whose style is similar to mine; and James Hill’s The Ukulele Way for instrumental ukulele instruction.

No matter what you do, follow whatever brings you joy in making music – good luck, and let me know what you find!

Ukulele Forecast: Workshop Season Continues for Portland, Oregon

Avery leads a ukulele workshop with thirty-plus people in the room.

Workshop season got off to a great start in Tualatin where I was hosted by the Tigard Ukulele Group (check out their weekly jams!). There’s more where this came from, coming up in both SE and SW Portland, both weeknights and weekends. Join us for these upcoming workshops below …

Featured Workshop: Chords Up the Neck

Ukulele and hands. Text: Song by Song Workshop: Chords Up the Neck.

You’ve got over 12 frets on your fretboard, why relegate your playing to the first three or four? Learn new chord shapes based on the 5th fret and up that you can apply to songs you already know and add more variation to your playing. Check out the video preview below.

Register: Ukulele Chords Up the Neck

Other Workshops

Happy New Year 2018!

Welcome back, everyone! I hope and trust you all had pleasant and (somewhat) restful holidays, wherever and whatever you celebrate…

Beginning a new year is always a great time to take stock of what matters most and what we find ourselves wanting to work for in the future. This month marks *five* years since I began teaching music, and it boggles my mind to think of the journey it has already taken me on: the people I have met, the songs we have sung, and smiles and laughs we have shared. Thank you so much to all of you who have been a part of this journey! As you take stock of your own 2018 adventures, I sincerely hope that music, and making music in community with others, is at or near the top of your list, as well.

If so, I’m excited to offer you several opportunities to make music a part of your life this year:

Ukulele J-Term: January 11 – February 1

Ukulele 1: Thursdays, 5:30-7:00pm at Artichoke Music – For the absolute beginner, this class will get you started on the right path with your ukulele. (Note: Baritone ukulele players should contact me separately, as it is tuned differently and may require private lessons to give you the best start.) Class starts January 11 – Register here

January Workshop Series: Saturdays, 10:00am – 12:30pm at various locations – For Advanced Beginner through to Advanced players, this series of workshops is intended to focus on specific skills to support your playing:

  • January 13: Music Theory at the Campfire* – Artichoke Music (Inner SE PDX)
  • January 20: Playing & Singing Harmony with the Carter Family* – W Hills UU Fellowship (SW PDX)
  • January 27: Build Your Sense of Rhythm – Lincoln St Methodist (SE PDX)

* For these classes, it is best if you are familiar with the three-chord families of the key of C, D, G, and A. If you’re not sure about a workshop, or have any questions, email me at: avery@learnsongbysong.com

Find complete class descriptions and registration here


Regular Weekly Classes Resume February 6

For those of you ready dive back into weekly classes, check out the upcoming schedule here so you can save the dates and decide which class works best for you. Registration will open soon!


Happy uke-ing, my friends!