Lead Sheets

Lead sheets, also called fake sheets are used by pianists for pop and jazz music. They are melodic structures that are used to give basic indications of melodies and chord changes. Harmonic structures are not included. They are skeletal in form which allows the pianist freedom to create his or her own improvisation (music creations that may be created on the spot and not written down) based on the parameters given in the music.


Fake sheets are often the only form of written music used by a small jazz ensemble. One or more musicians will play the melody while the rest of the group improvises an appropriate accompaniment based on the chord progression given in the chord symbols that are written above the melody. A skilled jazz pianist should be able to accompany a singer and perform a song by himself/herself using only the melody and chord symbols.

Collections of these songs are included in fakebooks. Many pianists who can play by ear and improvise say: "I don't know the song but if you hum a few bars I can fake it." There are many of these types of books on the market. Each book may have over 1,000 or more songs. One staff only is used for this type of notation. Songs are written with chord symbols above the melody and may or may not have lyrics below the melody. It is commonly used in popular music to capture the essential elements of the song without specifying how the song should be arranged or performed.

Chord inversions, voice leading, bass line or other aspects of the accompaniment are not included. An arranger or performer adds these items in his or her improvisation. They are considered aspects of the arrangement or performance of a song, rather than a part of the song itself.

Another kind of written music used by professional musicians playing jazz or other forms of popular and big band music is in the form of a chord chart. The chart does not contain melodic information at all but provides the detailed harmonic information.


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