February 13


Rhythm Charts – Part 2

By Craig

February 13, 2018

In part 1 we talked about some of the advantages of using rhythm charts and took a look at a few basic charts for the songs "Black Magic Woman" and "I Shot The Sheriff".

As you recall, rhythm charts use a combination of standard musical notation as well as some vague (or less-defined) notation to create a musical shorthand. In this post, we will discuss the notation and symbols used to communicate the form of a song.


Double Bar Lines:

Double bar lines are placed at the end of a section of music. Let's pretend we're transcribing a blues solo that goes on for two choruses. Let's use a standard 12 bar blues for this example where each chorus lasts for 12 bars. If I were writing this out, after the 12th measure, I would put in double bar lines to indicate that the first chorus (or section) is over and the second chorus is beginning.

Final Bar Line:

Similar to the double bar line is the final bar line, which indicates the end of a song or piece of music. The difference between the double bar line is that the second line in the final bar line is triple the thickness of the first line. Compare the two above.


Repeat Signs

Repetition in music is very common (if not essential) and by using repeat signs, you can simplify the layout of a chart. Repeat signs are made up of two vertical lines (the outside line being darker) with two dots around the center line. These repeat signs usually occur in pairs, and tell us to repeat the music between the two signs.

Repeat Example

Sometimes you'll see instructions written above the end repeat sign (e.g. 4x) indicating that we repeat that specific section of music four times before continuing on. If nothing is written above the end repeat (as in the example above), we repeat the section only once.

Another type of repeat bar lines is what is known as 1st and 2nd endings. Let's pretend we have 16 bars of music where bars 1-6 are the same as bars 9-14, and the only differences are the last two bars of each line. Instead of writing out all 16 bars, we can write it as an eight bar section and add a 1st and 2nd ending. This would indicate that you would play through the first eight measures, then go back and repeat the first six measures, then skip to the 2nd ending where the music changes. Sometimes there are more than two endings, and you can have 1st ending, 2nd ending, 3rd ending, 4th ending, etc.

1st and 2nd Endings

DC and DS Repeats:

When long sections of music are repeated, and using repeat bar lines gets overly complicated, there are other ways to notate the repeats. Da Capo and Dal Segno (or DC and DS) repeats are a great option.

DC or Da Capo literally means "the head" and tells you to return to the very top of the piece of music until you get other instructions. Similarly, DS or Dal Segno literally means "from the sign" and tells you two go back to the Dal Segno symbol and play until you get other instructions. As mentioned, both DC and DS are paired with further instructions, and these are most commonly "al coda" or "al fine", and mean "to the coda" or "to the end", respectively.


The Coda is a section of music added to the end of a chart. The first coda sign marks the point where you will jump to the next coda sign, and continue playing until you reach the end of the song (the final bar line).

DC al coda means you would go back to the beginning of the piece and play until you see the first coda sign (or the words "to coda"), at which point you would jump to the next coda sign and play until the end. DS al coda would mean that you would go back to the Dal Segno sign and then play until the first coda sign, at which point you would then jump to the next coda sign and play until the end.

Putting It All Together

Below is a simple chord chart for the Grateful Dead song "Dire Wolf". Try reading through the chart while listening to the version from the Grateful Dead live album "Reckoning" and see if you can follow along.

Dire Wolf Chart - Page 1
Dire Wolf Chart - Page 2
Dire Wolf Chart - Page 3
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