Do you hand out bad charts? Show up late for rehearsals and/or gigs? Assume the other musicians in the band will schlep your gear and bring the P.A.?
YOU, my friend, may indeed suffer Chick Singer Syndrome! (Or at least your bandmates suffer because you have it.) And, not to be sexist here, guys can have CSS too.
Caution: The following article is not meant to be taken too seriously, but if any working musician starts to exhibit the following symptoms you are hereby forwarned. 😉 *
The very worst kind of CSS reminds me of the old joke:
Q: How do you know there is a chick singer standing outside your window?
A: She can’t find her key, and doesn’t know where to come in!
Spotting Chick Singer Syndrome Symptoms
In order to find out if you have CSS you must exhibit at least 3 of the following 13 symptoms:
- Be late for every gig and rehearsal.
- Always before you sing a note, start off by saying your voice isn’t warmed up yet or you are just coming down with (or getting over) a cold or something.
- Insist on getting paid at least as much as the other musicians, even if you only sing half the set.
- Count on band members to schlep and set up a P.A. just for you, and when the gig is over assume they will wrap the cords and put it all away so you can get off your feet.
- Never carry more than your own microphone to a gig because of your high heels, fingernails, or delicate back.
- Don’t know your range or keys you sing in? A sure sign of CSS! Just start singing Summertime and expect your bandmates to follow!
- Look totally confused when the band plays a standard tune but it is not exactly like the CD you learned it from. Say, “I just don’t get it! I sounded great at home singing along with Michael Bublé or Ella, or Adele, or whoever…
- During the soundcheck, tell the guy with the controls, “More of ME in the mix!” Memorize and repeat this very important communication with the sound tech.
- When told you will be given an 8 bar intro, look puzzled and ask, “How long is that again?” and miss your intro completely during the performance.
- Be sure to cut off the guitarist 13 bars into his solo and come back in at the top.
- Cause relationship drama when one or more band members gets smitten with you and leaves their significant other for you.
- You can run out of gas to get places, run out of breath, run to get coffee, but never run out of excuses!
- If you do bring in music (charts) make sure they are confusing and hard to read, plus insist that for tonight’s gig, they should be a teensy bit lower…no, a little lower than that…no, maybe a little more lower….until you get to some interval like a minor third lower for the pianist to transpose on sight.*
Which leads into this next topic…
HOW TO (or NOT TO) WRITE CHARTS LIKE A CHICK SINGER
The worst kind of chart is no chart at all. A person with CSS insists they can sing in any key, or ‘usually in B’, or some such nonsense. We will rate no chart as a ZERO (0) on a sliding scale of ‘Chick Singer’ Charts to Professional Arranger Charts. Next up the scale:
- Chart has just the lyrics printed, names the key (maybe), with random chord changes scattered here and there (no telling how long the measures last, or where the downbeats are). Lyric sheets like these may be gotten from the internet, often with lousy chord changes and weak sounding bass notes, probably transcribed for the ukulele or by a guitarist with limited music knowledge.
- Like the above, but with a few penciled in directions, such as “VERSE” “REPEAT” “CHORUS” and “BRIDGE”.
- Bar lines are drawn on the lyric sheet, and all chords are included above the words, even during ends of phrases where there are no lyrics below. Tempo markings such as “UP TEMPO” “MEDIUM” (or specifically =120) plus feels such as “SWING” “LATIN” “FREELY” or “WALTZ” are written in. There may be specific chords indicated for an “INTRO” and “ENDING” with instructions like “TRIPLE THREAT”, “3X”, or “Watch for CUE” & “CODA last X” just to make things clearer. This type of chart could possibly be good enough to hand experienced musicians who are used to backing singers (provided the singer knows what they are doing, how to count off a tune, cue the ending vocally and also with body language).
- The vocalist hands each band member a copy of the same chart including the melody written out (plus all the above level 3 directions). Pianists like myself who accompany many singers love to see the melody. Accompanists can then appropriately voice chords to enhance the vocal line, perhaps play off the melody during a solo, understand where the singer is during the music by seeing the lyrics/chords/melody, and just in case the singer gets off track they can reel them back in. Additionally, when jazz musicians can see the melody with chords it gives them an idea for appropriate substitute chords that won’t clash with the vocal line.
- A specific chart is written for each band member, with color coded cues, rhythm marks for the drummer, instrumental fills, lines, and punches are fully written out. Intros, first and second endings, correct measure line types, and final endings are all legibly and neatly printed into approximate 4 bar phrases on each line, with new sections starting on the left side of the chart so musicians can suddenly hop to the BRIDGE or find a D.S. or CODA. This totally Type A Chart should ideally fit onto 2 pages max (in case it needs to be clipped down for an outdoor gig thus avoiding page turns in the wind).
Chick Singer Benefits (besides not having to do as much work as other musicians):
- Chick Singers relate more directly with the audience
- They schmooze club owners and get more gigs
- Singers bring in more tips
- They have a great excuse to dress fabulously and buy flashy clothes (and write it off their taxes)
- Chick Singers can chat with customers during breaks and after the gig while they sip expensive drinks bought just for them by adoring fans and visiting sheiks!
Once a Chick Singer begins to sort of know their stuff and realize their value, they can move on to Diva Status!
A Diva gets to blame the musicians for going “flat” while she was singing, taking the tune too fast or too slow, ‘forgetting’ the arrangement, messing up HER intro etc…She gets all the Chick Singer benefits, but gets paid even higher than the other band members and keeps all of HER tips. Divas get to practice the onstage glare, stare, & snap while hissing through gritted teeth, “Follow ME!” at the musicians behind, and then the whip around immediately flashing the audience a brilliant charming smile! On the flyer the former Chick Singer turned Diva gets her name in large print like:
DIVA DARLENE DELIGHT
(and her minions of music)
at The Coconut Lounge Tonight!
Divas can turn on the million watt charm whenever they wish, but never can seem to ‘remember’ how to pronounce the other musicians names correctly:
D.D.D. Flashing her biggest smile: “Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together and let’s give it up on guitar for Misssttterrrrrrr HUBERT FINKLE!!”
Mr. H.F. muttering to himself, it’s herbert feinstrum.…sheesh….
*Disclaimer – In all fairness Debbie Denke works with many talented, kind, gracious singers who know how to work very well with musicians, and she appreciates sharing the stage plus great rapport with them!
Pianist Debbie Denke is a jazz/gospel/church performer, teacher, and vocal accompanist who also sings on occasion. Now and then she succumbs to Chick Singer Syndrome and hands out bad charts.
She purposefully wrote the most misleading CSS chart she could on page 52 of her instructional book, The Complete Church Pianist: A Piano/Keyboard Method with Tips for Inspired Improvisation and Worship. Find out how to write a clearer version of this repetitively confusing etude by Ms. Denke, Praise Hymn on page 55.
Look for CSS LEVEL 1-5 examples under Insights & Ideas blog, Do You Hand Out Bad Charts? For more information on how to interpret and improve lyric/chord sheets check out the book/audio below.
The Complete Church Pianist Audio (digital download)