Tips on Producing Song Sheets

A number of club members attended a ukulele festival (not Cheltenham) that had produced a festival songbook for group singing, however each page featured a tiny block of text in the middle of the page, the font was very fine and curly, the text was in black and the chord letters in navy blue, making the songs very hard to read and play as an individual and impossible for two or three people gathered around a music stand to see and play the songs.  I thought “Surely it isn’t rocket science to produce a song in a clear, easily-read format?” – but having said that I still keep seeing song sheets written out that are very hard to read and obviously some people aren’t aware how to produce such a document.  Therefore, as it’s been suggested that more people produce songs for the club, I thought that I’d give some tips on producing songs in an easy-to-read format (although I should point out that I’m no I.T. or graphics expert).

1.    Margins – You don’t need large margins at the top, bottom and sides – reduce these as much as possible (with the possible exception of the left-hand margin if you need to insert holes to store the pages in a ring binder.)  This will give a greater area of the page to write the song lyrics onto.

2.    Title – Have the title in a larger font than the song lyrics and make it ‘bold’ so that it is easy to find when you are skimming through your book.  Out of courtesy I also like to include the writer and/or performer.

3.    Font – Choose a clear, unfussy font (I normally use Ariel) and black text on a white background gives the greatest contrast and clarity.  Where possible I like to keep a song to one single page, so I have to balance getting the maximum size font and fitting everything onto one page. Again, for clarity, I make the text ‘bold’.

4.    Chords – The chord letters can either be inserted over the lines of the song in the appropriate place or on the same line as the text in parenthesis, in both cases they should be in a contrasting colour that really stands out, I like to use red e.g. (G) Also, if you are able to, add the chord diagrams – particularly for the more unusual chords.  Remember that for group playing it’s probably better NOT to have difficult keys like E or very complicated chords.

5.    Headings – It’s good to flag up the Intro:, Instrumental: and Outro: and any other instructions with the appropriate chords and measures e.g. Dm///  but I don’t think that it’s necessary to have headings indicating Verse 1, Verse 2 etc. – these are fairly obvious.

6.    Chorus – Unless it’s a very short song do you really need to write out the chorus in full each time?  I usually notate the chorus as Chorus: the first time I write it out and then just use the heading to indicate the chorus after that.  Also, I reverse the contrast colours, so in the verses, I use black for the text and red for the chords and in the chorus red for the text and black for the chords – this makes the chorus really stand out when your eyes are flicking back to find it.  Or you could enclose the chorus in a box to make it stand out.

7.    Spaces – Leave line gaps between the verses and the chorus etc (to save space these don’t have to be the same size as your font) this looks nice as well as emphasising the structure of the song.

8.    Check – When you’ve produced your finished copy of the song, play it through with the music to make sure that it is right (even if you downloaded the copy of the song from the Internet it may not necessarily be correct.)  Then play it through again by yourself to make sure that it sounds OK and plays well.

9.    In General – Make the song as clear and easy to read as you can – because when you are playing in front of an audience it is amazing how the text can appear to shrink and whole sections of the song disappear!   Outro:  C//// F/ C/

Graham Harrison