How to Read a Chart
One of the most important things to do when you read a chart, especially if you're sight-reading, is to look the chart over from top to bottom before attempting to play it. First look at the time signature. Are you in 4/4 or another time signature? Next, look at the tempo. Are you playing slow or fast or somewhere in between? Is there a metronome marking or some other indication of tempo, such as allegro or moderato? Look for directions regarding style and feel. Does it tell you “bossa nova,” “bebop,” or “hard rock”?
The next step is to look for the key signature. Are there sharps or flats? Are you in C major, B minor, or E-flat major? Also, are there strange accidentals
Condensed sample chart
that pop up in the music? After that, look at the chart's basic structure or road map. Are there repeats or endings to follow? Are there any D.S.s or D.C.s, codas, or any other special directions that you need to take note of? Lastly, look for terms that designate expression and articulation. Are there dynamics (
As if this wasn't enough, it's also important to scan for solos. If solos exist, a good chart will tell you. Most importantly, do you have a solo? If so, review the chord changes that you'll be improvising over. Take a look at the overall anatomy of the chart. Can you spot A, B, and C sections? If you can, you will get a better sense of the song's overarching structure. Lastly, check out any written notations that look knotty or gruesomely complex. If you can, run through these passages a couple times before the tune actually starts. If you have time, practice playing your bass lines over the chord changes.
The most important thing to keep in perspective is the overall quality of your performance. It doesn't matter all that much if you make a slight error. Chances are the audience won't notice. What really matters is keeping up and not getting lost. If you do get off in the chart, try to get back on by using your ears. Above all else, play with confidence, intent, and leadership.