Making sense of basic Chord Sheets

I have been following the Topic “What does learned a new song mean” and in it Tom @Tbushell mentioned the same problem I have as well with basic chord sheets.
Just moved onto Grade 2 and up until now have learnt songs through either’ Justin’s lessons, from the app or songbook. In the songbook there are bar lines and/or all the chords are shown.
All very straight forward, but I am now learning songs that Justin has not done, from a basic chord sheet with no bar lines, and that only show when the chord changes with the lyrics. So, I don’t know how many bars of a chord there is before it changes, or if the chord changes are in the middle of a bar.
If you are faced with this is the only option to listen to the song and work it out for yourself how many bars before the chord changes, with the lyrics.
Or is there another option if you are playing simple strumming patterns and most important singing and there are big gaps between changes, do you just keep going until the lyric indicates when to change chords, in a way getting a more musical feel for the song. Of course, if there is a lot of changes one after another then you are going to have to work that out. If this is a valid way I am wondering if there is any advice on how to prepare for a change, not too difficult if the strumming is all down, but if it is more complicated such as OF.
Has anybody any other thoughts or suggestions on how to use basic chord sheets.

Michael :grinning::question:


Listening to the original and knowing the lyrics from memory is the easiest way to know when the chord changes are and what the timing is. Look for sheet music rather than tabs. Sheet music will have both lyrics and chords with in bars.

Always learn new songs with one strum per bar until you are comfortable playing it with the original. Then you can add strumming and chord embelishments. This gets easier and you’ll get faster at it the more songs you learn. Learn as many simple songs as you can, this helps with learning chord progression so they are automatic.


I take a different angle. I don’t care about such things as what happens with the original or where the changes and such are “supposed” to be. I’m adjusting the progression to my own sense of style, time/tempo/rhythm, and according to how I breath (for singing). I will even change, add or drop a chord as well. As a player it’s our job to bring some juice to the party. :slight_smile:

I completely agree with starting out learning or sussing out a new progression or song with one down strum per bar - and then on to one down strum per beat. From there find a groove and introduce your own strumming pattern. More juice!



Great question. I hit the same thing this weekend, not knowing where and how much strums. I’m also in grade 2 and have the app and Justin songbooks,which I use regularly. But know trying to play from chord sheets. So I will follow this with intrest. I’m more in @CT corner in this
I just start singing and let that be my guide of the chord changes, but maybe all wrong.


At my current level of development, I almost always find that the crowd sourced lead sheets are missing important information, and I need to add the missing detail myself.

This post goes into a little more depth on my process of creating my own lead sheets.

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I share your frustration with many of the easily available chord sheets for songs. Justin’s lesson are great because he goes into such detail as to how to strum and for how many beats for each chord. And some of the chord sheets are also wrong. Trial and error does it for me and as some of the comments above say, I also add my own interpretation. I like a bit more space between verses so it’s common for me to play the root chord an extra time or two at the end of the chorus. I also use software like song surgeon or moises or riffstation to show me the chords.


I agree with CT. I usually learn the words with basic stumming. Then I just do it my way. It’s what music is all about. Do you! It’s really a blast when you get your own style experiments. It gets the creative going and rather than copying you get your own styling. Then, it’s really interesting to play the original and play it their way after you gone in your own direction with the music. Cast away the shackles and rock on!


I know that sir Justin preaches accuracy, and that’s valid when teaching people songs as they are recorded. That said, apply caution when using the word “wrong.” Some advanced tactics would be transposing into another key that is more suitable to your vocal range – and that would certainly apply here. Altering a song to make it more playable/singable isn’t wrong. Once you develop your ear and identify your most comfortable playing and vocal key, you are ahead of the game. No sense dying on the vine because you can’t carbon copy some heavily produced track that plays on rock radio – from a vocalist that can wail three octaves.


Apologies for not getting back on your posts sooner but have been a bit tied up on other guitar things.
Thanks Michael :grinning:

Rick @stitch
I agree using the lyrics to know when to change the chord is how I try to do when learning songs for Grade 1 which where ones that Justin had done.
I found that only strumming once for each bar was not working for me, so I ditched that very early on in starting to play and went to down strum on each beat, found it kept me more in time with the App. However, when I learnt the first songs, to play from memory I soon went for a more complicated strumming pattern such as OF, I think this made it more difficulty as I was trying to sing as well

Toni @ToniMacaroni
Hope the comments from others are helpful.

Tom @Tbushell
Since my earlier post have had a look at other chord sheets and other version of them in UG, also listening to the original and some cover versions. Was quite surprised how different the lyrics can be in some cover versions and this is reflected in the chord sheets.

Tony @tony
Yes, Justin’s info is spot on compared to other sources.
Must check out the software you mention

Barry @Barrysascotsman
Some of the new songs I am learning I have started to learn rather than just using 4D have been trying 4DU per bar. Seem to be alright with that.

You comment about accuracy is well made, not all of us are sitting an exam when we would be marked down for lack of accuracy but just trying to make music that we are happy with and hopefully others might find acceptable should they ever hear it.

I agree fully with making music you are happy with, not so much with what others might find acceptable. As we speak someone is listening to Justin Bieber and thinking he’s the greatest, and someone else is changing the dial from A Bob Dylan song. There is no actual right or wrong, or accounting for taste or personal preference.

I’m very fond of cover versions that re-imagine and veer away from the original track.

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And sometimes the re-imagined cover version turns out better than the original


I can appreciate exactly where you’re coming from Michael when I started to properly break away from the app and it’s superb structure.

I think they key once you start to use song sheets or other resources is very much having a reasonable familiarity with the song in the first place so you have an initial feel of when changes should happen. It’s s little trial and error as alot of these sheets, as others have pointed out, are not wholly accurate. I’ve actually started a process of downloading sheets and personally editing them, lining up changes to the actual correct lyric line, it’s quite an interesting exercise in it’s own right in learning a new song. The other one with those sheets is some of the chords themselves, occasionally they’re downright wrong and you need to grab the guitar to figure it our, or in other cases the chord’s correct, but not necessarily the best fit, so again playing around helps. So overall a good exercise for me in the sense it makes me think a little theory before starting the song in anger.


Mark @Notter
You are right until you start looking at other information you soon realise how good all of Justin’s material is.