Charts In Worship

Yay or nay?

While charts are a staple among some worship teams, others won't let them see the light of day.  Are they a necessity or a barrier? What do you do and why? Discuss...

Jason Houtsma serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA, Husband to Alli, Father to Bjorn and Asher, and guitar instructor for

Charts In Worship

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As a member of the congregation, I don't feel they detract from the performance, at least, visually.

As a player, I wonder if you are narrowing your experience by concentrating on the chart in front of you. In other words, is it more "musical" if your head is out of the chart and you are interacting and responding more with your bandmates?

I am not competent enough yet to memorize all my charts. Often I am trying to learn/review 4 or more songs a week. It's difficult to commit that much material to memory, especially since I'm new to the "band member" experience.

Straight memorization is TOUGH!!!

Especially if you the changes are more rote memorization than ear. I find if you naturally hear the change it becomes much easier to commit everything to memory. Usually all the changes come naturally and you just have to remember that one weird chord in the bridge :)

Rhythm guitarist here . . .

I started playing a lot later than most. My ear is getting better, but I still struggle with finding the right chords to songs sometimes if I'm trying to just learn them by ear. Our WL provides charts for us, but I strive to memorize as much as possible. I'll sometimes steal a glance at the music stand if I'm not sure what's next. It helps me to think of the chord progressions using the number system, instead of as letters of the alphabet. Another technique I try to practice is listening for the chord changes to familiar songs when I'm listening to CDs, and trying to pick out the 1, the 3m, the 5, the 4, etc.

I've heard Paul Baloche say "get the words and music off the pages and into your hearts.". Great advice which I try to follow as much as possible, but it's tough with those songs we may play once or twice a year.

thank you

Thanks for starting this thread Jason. I feel that excellence means giving your best for God, and for me it will translate to memorising my music. Of course there are also musicians who feel that is is better for them to deliver good music by being sure of what they are playing with the charts in front of them, as well as others who do not have the time to memorise etc. I'll try to lower my music stand bit by bit every time I'm on worship. I don't think that people who need the charts are wrong or what but I just don't want to rely on the sheets too much personally :)

There's no one best answer to this question

It all depends. Ideally the worship team will have the music committed to memory but so many things factor into who plays and what gets played on a Sunday.

There are weeks when I'm committed to family most of the week and having charts to read off of on Sunday is essential or I'll get a call late in the week (Sat night sometimes) to play on Sunday so for those times charts are a necessity. When I have the luxury of time, I do my best to commit my parts to memory and will either not use charts or keep them close by just in case I need to reference them mid-song.

Like I mentioned before, ideally we commit things to memory if circumstances allow - I agree with the person who quoted Baloche; it's great/best when you can focus on being in a moment of authentic worship and connecting with the Holy Spirit as well as the entire congregation to celebrate Jesus. But, in the end, I believe God wants worshippers not necessarily professionals/perfection so do what's best for you and your church.

I think you nailed it.

When you're working with volunteers, it's important to both encourage excellence while at the same time holding reasonable expectations. Most people who balance a family and a 40-50+ hour work week are going to find it difficult to also completely master a set. In those cases, I think the willingness to serve on the team is an awesome act of worship in itself so chart away!


I think it is fair to say that if you know a song cold you are going to play and present it better.



Charts vs no charts

I wish I could play with no charts. But every week we're often getting songs that I haven't played for a while or have never played and I don't have time to memorize them. So I need the charts to keep in step with everyone.

Interestingly, when I learn rock songs that I like, ie Rush songs, I learn them by watching youtube videos and so I learn them without charts and they get locked in to my brain very easily. But if I'm learning songs by charts like I do for Sunday's music, I rarely am able to learn it by heart. It's like if I learn it by chart, I'm forever chained to the chart with that song. If I learn it through a youtube video or if I just follow the worship artistry video lessons, I learn them by heart and never need to turn to charts.

Charts or No

I'm a worship leader. I use Lead Sheets during band practices and during services. Finding and using high quality transcriptions of a song, is the best way of knowing without fail the phrasing, pickups, dynamics, etc., etc. of a song. Most of my team prefers to use chord charts and I'm fine with it. Usually, if there is a problem with any of the aforementioned musical items, I can resolve it by looking to a high quality Lead Sheet or grand staff music.

I use a combination of lead sheets and chord charts to play and sing. So, I have a mic stand (boom stand), a music stand, and of course, I'm holding my guitar. So, to start with, there are several items combining to create a significant barrier between myself and the people I desire to touch and to lead in worship. Additionally, I play lead and use a pedal board rather than an multi-effects box. I confess that I am, at times, concerned that I'm not connecting at all with the people not to mention the warm, open, unhindered way in which I would like. I do have to look at my music and I'm often changing both the pedal I'm using and some aspect of the settings on that pedal.

I am older than {probably} most worship leaders and, frankly, it is harder to memorize now than it was when I was working on memorizing songs in my twenties or thirties (or, forties!)

I've recently decided that I really want to connect with the people more completely, more openly...just more. I do not want to lose a visitor or lose the ability to lead even one in worship because I find it more difficult to memorize and need the crutch of music\charts. Like many who've responded, each week I bring in music that we may not have played for sometime. But, they're not necessarily new; so, I can practice them....I just need to change my practice routine a little. So, even before I saw this thread, I'd decided to try to memorize my music and I will be pursuing that. Failing that, or maybe even if it succeeds, my fallback is going to first be implementing the Nashville method of song notation and make quick glances at the floor to read the notation. Only failing that am I going to continue having my music in front of me.

A word to the worship leaders by which we can help our teams: I know its difficult, but, publishing the song list to the team two or three weeks ahead of time gives much needed prep time.


hey there i really love your sharing and I just want to encourage you not to give up in starting on this decision of not relying on your music stand or charts. I am sure your congregation and team will benefit from this positive change. You can do it!

A little more....

Thanks for the encouragement Isabel! Since I wrote the note above, I've been working toward memorizing each week. However, I've noticed that, as I play in the service, I'm realizing I know more of the songs than I credited myself. That makes the memorization of the remainder of each song a task not so overwhelming. Further, the change in practice needed to be intentional about memorization is very easy to accommodate!

Charts R Us...

We use chords sheets both on Sunday (playing the bass guitar) and on Tuesday nights (playing the piano for the most part). It would be tough for me to memorize 8 different songs on a weekly basis. I do tip my hat to those that are able to play via memorization.

Challenge yourself!

I would challenge you to attempt to memorize at least some of them. I do 8-12 songs a week. After a while it's not that you memorize everything but your ear becomes well trained and will assist you in recalling what is coming next. Use the the number system and chart out your own chord charts, compare them to the actual chart, where did you differ, why, what chord type.... This is the work you should be putting in if you want to learn your instrument versus just being able to play along to charts every week. God bless!


We use confidence monitors for lyrics but no paper or charts on stage. We believe everyone on stage is a leader and should be making eye contact with the congregation, not a music stand or iPad. The extra time memorize is well worth it.


My preference is no charts. Does it require more time to learn? Yes. But for me the songs become more embedded, just using the charts, songs seem to vanish from my memory. I also feel more free to worship and express without having charts in front of me. My challenge is we play different songs almost every week, many are more complicated than the just 4-5 chords over and over, songs with complex parts, many layers of instrumentation (we sometimes have full orchestra), key changes, especially hymns. In those instances, charts are very handy, if not necessary. For simpler songs, I don't even use them even though they are in front of me.

I prefer to memorize

I only use charts as a "cheat" or quick way to learn a song if I need it. In essence it takes a lot of the work away from actually learning the song. When I started playing I knew nothing about charts and had no access to any. I learned by ear and figured out songs that way as well. Eventually I started writing my own chord charts. Any jazz guitar teacher will tell you that transcription is where you learn.
Charts are good but they are a crutch to truly learning your instrument. Today I merely use them as a guide during rehearsal. I also have them on my iPad as PDF documents which I will have ready on the day of the service in the case I didn't have the time I wanted to practice a brand new song or just for a possible reference. I usually never reference it.
Anyhow, my suggestion is to aim for memorization. It will be a struggle in the beginning but you will gain a better familiarization of your instrument, will grow as a musician and be able to concentrate on what is happening in the service at a deeper level.

Charts are ok!

I've been a worship guitar player for about 3 years now every Sunday 2 and sometimes 3 services and ever Wednesday. songs that we play often I never look at my ipad/chord chart. But if you're working a full Time job and have kids and try to learn new songs every week to memory I think it takes a toll on you and many times we show up Sunday and someone that was to lead is sick or pastor decides to request a song and in those cases I would rather have my safety net of a chord chart then stand there with my guitar turned down. There has been times that the songs were changed too late to prepare and if I didn't know it then I became on onstage worshipper and I'm ok with that. As a spectator it isn't at all a let down to see musicians with music in front of them and no one should feel like they aren't given their all. Bands that your have the same song set the same show the same thing over and over and rehearse it over and over. Even the best touring bands in the world couldn't memorize 3-4 new songs every show and pull it off without errors. We have errors with the music on hand at time. Worship comes from your heart regardless of what's on the stand in front of you!!! BRING ON THE CHARTS!!!!!

Charts vs No Chart

I keep a chart handy and steal a passing glance as needed but react to the music as it happens. I do like the crutch but would love to get rid of it. The stand the chart rests on is the biggest barrier to overcome. I would love a way to keep my crutch handy and not rely on the metal sentry standing guard in front of me. With 300 songs, almost no repetition throughout the year, changing tastes and a complete set list change ten minutes before service it is hard to commit it all to memory. Today I had 5 songs memorized and the lead called in sick and it all went south. Three new songs in different keys make me glad I can react to the music and, to turn a phrase, let "Jesus take the wheel". If you come up with a solution please share it with the flock.

Charts or no charts

Im a worship leader and I've always provided charts for my team to use during practices. Ive encouraged them to use them during practice but try not to during the service. I encourage them to use our rehearsal time as a time to work and get the song in our heads so that when we play the song during the worship service we can truly worship and not stare into the music stand the entire time.

Ended the chart struggle from within!

I've been on our worship team for 5 years and was having an internal struggle regarding moving from using charts (with copious notes written on them) to trying to play without them. I work a full-time job, hold the roles of husband, deacon, son, friend, and volunteer worker. Time is something that there is no surplus of. I get up at 5AM Sunday morning to practice the current week's set list and spend the 3 hours between morning and evening services to run through evening set and next week's set list. I strive to play well enough to provide the necessary lead guitar parts to give the song the power and familiarity that made it popular for worship without distracting from that purpose. I was told, not by our worship leader, that ditching the chord charts would make me a better player and would make the song authentic and inspired so I began trying to work towards that. It was a big struggle as we have quite the library of songs with some of them being very similar to each other in structure but with significant differences in key places. My dilemma was solved as I was travelling on business and saw a symphony orchestra on the hotel TV. The music they generated was heavenly and then I caught sight of the music sheets that each member of the orchestra had in front of them. A choir was singing with them and each choir member was holding a songbook and turning pages. I felt release in my spirit right at that moment. It is OK to use charts! I may not be able to immerse myself totally into worship and get lost in the song, but me and the charts can be a tool for God to use to enable others to have that worship experience.


one hundred times over.

I try to memorize

I chart like crazy. I want every note that I need to play on my chart. I run through them again and again with the goal to memorize them. I see myself as leading worship on the stage or in front of the congregation. I need to be leading not watching a chart. BUT remember you and I are leading. So to not mess up, have the chart for when you need it so you can still lead. When you don't need it, move on to the next song.

I love praising the Lord.

Charts or no charts.

I use charts depending on how much time I have had to learn the song. We usually are playing different songs every week and I work full time with kids so finding good time to learn my stuff is hard. Once I am confident with a song and have memorised the charts or lead, I find my worship is more free to concentrate on God but I do feel I put a lot of pressure on myself bc I am relying on myself to remember the song. I don't think they are a barrier between band and congregation. If it is, then the congregation member has there thoughts on the wrong thing. I find that I learn the lead pretty easy (Thanks to everyone at WA) and struggle learning the chords my memory but when I do, I have a lot more fun.
You guys are all awesome here at WA. Thanks for YOUR hard work to make OUR hard work easier.


I find that if I start out by learning the chords WITHOUT a chart - by figuring them out, I can remember them. If I start out with a chart, I'll be stuck with the chart forever. That said, for me at least, figuring out chords without a chart is a time-consuming process. It's all fine for a professional group that does specific sets in concerts to go without charts because they learn a limited song set and play them a lot. In our worship team which is made up mostly of part-time musicians and tries to absorb 1 to 2 new songs per week going chart-less would be really difficult.

To use, or not to use, that is the question....

Hello, I have been on various worship teams now for the last twenty years or so, and this has been a great debate amongst just about every single team that I have served with. I believe that the answer that sets best with me and all this experience is this - you should do what your experience allows you to. I personally play without charts as much as possible. Especially when I am leading a song. Over the years I have discovered that it is easier for me to engage the congregation and actually lead them in to worship when I am not struggling to keep up with a chord chart. That being said, there is no way that I or anyone can expect to get to a place where we can play a song without charts and not commit to diligent practice. I have been told that I have a great memory but in reality what it is happens to be good practice. A tip to those trying to practice - and this works for any team, whether they stick to the way a song is written or change where the song is going on the fly - learn a section at a time. Knowing how a section is played individually is great when the worship leader asks the team to either repeat a section consecutively or go back to a section or maybe even skip a section(intentionally or not). It really gives you freedom to play what is asked and creates a better, less overwhelming, short time to focus on. That is one of the many things I love about this site, the section based practice!

Location matters

I think there are positives to both sides of the idea. But I think a more important question to ask is where are you on a Sunday morning? Are you out in front of the worship team leading/singing a song? Are you in the back? Do you have a big spot light on you? Do you stand out?

I think for a vocalist, whether you are playing an instrument or not, a lot of your connection to your congregation comes through eye contact and energy. After all, our purpose is not to entertain or put on a good show, but to engage our congregations, and give them life/energy to encounter God through worship. If you are buried in your chart and never once actually look/engage the audience, your overall energy level is going to be stiff, and you aren't going to look like you are truly engaged with what you are doing.

However, I also am a volunteer who has a very busy week and rarely have time to practice. There are many times that I have to use a chart just because I don't have time to learn it by memory. But, theory goes a long way to helping me out.

I highly encourage people who are wanting to move away from charts to learn some basic theory. Know what keys you are playing in, and know the basic scale of that key. Most modern day contemporary songs are the based off of the I, IV, and V chords (Nashville Numbering system). So in the Key of A, that would be the A, D, and E chords. Every once in a while you will see a minor VI chord or some other random chord thrown in the mix. But just knowing what chords go well with each other and basic chord progression scales will help you move out of the chord charts a bit more.

But if you just aren't ready to move out of the chart, definitely use one. It is better to use a chart and not be a distraction because you don't know what you are playing, than it is to not use a chart and be totally lost.

Charts in Worship

My comment will echo some of those already posted, but I do think the rationale behind either using them or not depends on a number of variables, such as;

Is yours a volunteer or paid band?

What sort of time requirements are there to your worship ministry. If you rotate songs on a frequent basis, it would require more time and effort as opposed to those who have a stable of songs to choose from, with new ones being added only once in a while.

The level of musicianship. Some small churches using only volunteers may be dealing with relatively new musicians.

So, taking all of these things into account, I will say, definitively, and unequivocally.....wait for it......

It just depends.

If we do choose to to use charts, I do recommend being comfortable enough with what we do, having practiced our parts, so that we can go off the reservation from time to time and just play. Even if it is just for the chorus or bridge or whatever. Just to enjoy what we are doing and to really express our worship to our Father.

Charts in worship

As a Worship Pastor, I believe chord charts during service take away from connecting with the congregation. If you are truly called to be on the stage and lead people, then you should do everything you can to prepare your heart, mind AND talent to play the song from memory. Yes, we use confidence monitors for the vocalists, and that is really sort of negative. It takes a special sort of singer who can use it as a reference point only and not stare at it the entire time he/she is singing.

Having said that, you have to meet people where they are. My entire worship team is voluteer. The majority of our musicans do not use music stands but there are a couple that still do. However, those that do are VERY good about not being tied to it. They actively engage the congregation as much as possible.

If your team was paid, I would absolutely insist no music stands of any kind on the stage. The best way to do this is to lead by example. I used to use a music stand when I first started leading worship but I have moved past it, because it was the right thing for me to do...


I practice enough during the week that the song is deep in my memory, but still have charts onstage for reference. I usually never look at them, but once in a while I can look down and just make sure I know where I am. We are called to lead worship skillfully and anything that helps that only makes our worship greater.

I'm the same way

The only problem I run into is I play songs twenty different ways during the week to find what will work best for the set so I have to make sure I'm on the same page as the rest of my team :)

WLs ... You set the tone

I never use charts. My feeling is that I'm paid to be the worship pastor, and it's my job to know what I'm doing.

Now, having said that, I also know what it's like to be on the volunteer side of things. You work 40+ hours at a job, take care of kids, mow the lawn, etc., and it's tough to find time even to practice, let alone memorize. So I never "make" anyone else go without a chart.

But here are a few things I believe:

1. As the leader of the worship team, you set the tone. So if you use charts, everybody else will. If you DON'T use them, your team might still use them, but I can almost guarantee that at least one of your members will try to go without. Teams follow a good leader they trust.

2. Creating your own charts for yourself and the team is the best way to memorize songs. It also gives your team consistent charts that are formatted and annotated in a consistent way. Yes, you can just download charts off the Internet or buy them from reputable online sources. But you rob yourself of the chance to REALLY LEARN how a song is put together.

3. From a physical positioning standpoint, I put myself and other singers in front, with instrumentalists behind. I play both guitar and keys. Anybody on the back line is free to use charts. Those in front are highly encouraged to use only the lyrics monitor on the back wall. After about a year, nobody on the front line was using charts or music stands, and our worship has soared as a result. The front line really engages with the congregation ... almost nobody notices that the back line is using them.

4. Finally, the best way to get instrumentalists to put down the charts is simply to ask them to do it -- at rehearsal. After going through a song, especially one your team has nailed, simply say, "Now, I'd like everyone to put your music away, and let's just try it once without charts." If it's a train wreck, who cares? But I guarantee you, it won't be, and your team will likely be surprised at how well they do. Eventually, that could grow into confidence, leading to members WANTING the freedom that comes with no charts.

In the end, the worship leader sets the tone. If you're not willing to memorize, why should they? But if you know your songs cold, and you come to every rehearsal fully prepared, it will rub off.

Be blessed, and sing a new song!

Love those charts

For those who like to use charts, don't feel bad. I stand in the back row every Sunday with my iPad with Lead sheets straight from CCLI with copious handwritten notes and I'm sticking to it. So there :).

Seriously, I'd love to be able to play from memory. God willing, some day I will.