Update 2016-04-01: Ultimate-Guitar.com print versions no longer save properly from a browser when you’ve transposed at all. Chordie.com also has problems printing since their last site redesign. These were my two go-to places for chords :( I find I’m falling back to TraditionalMusic.co.uk, GuitarHymnBook.com, guitarvideochords.com, and gospelguitartabs.com for hymn chords these days. It’s really whatever is turning up in my google searches besides Ultimate-Guitar.com and Chordie.com. On the bright side, I’m more frequently finding my own stash of chords while searching! :)
Update 2016-03-17: Added section about viewing music on a Hipstreet Phoenix tablet rather than print outs.
Update 2015-08-15: I’m now storing my chords for things like Sunday services, VBS, etc., over here: http://www.selah.ca/chords/. There’s a search, too, although Google seems a little slow on indexing that part of the site.
Update 2015-05-23: Added How to Print section
Update 2015-04-11: Added some tip sections about preferred chord layout and alternate version cautions.
How to find Church Guitar Chords Online
For the past half year I’ve been part of a small church where most of our music comes from the hymnal. They’re very, very nice people, though, and are happy to have myself and another man playing guitar in the front pews. We really enjoy it but it takes some effort to work with the piano players and their music so that we can find guitar chords to play from. This took me down the path of finding guitar chords for hymns and worship songs online. Here’s my tips for finding them…
Finding the Right Sites for Chords
Firstly, I simply do a google for the name of the hymn and append “chords” on the end of it. For example, “all hail the power of Jesus’s name chords” returns results from Ultimate-Guitar.com, HymnChords.net, TraditionalMusic.co.uk, and plenty of others. Watch out for poorer chording work, though, some of it is in weird chords or doesn’t quite sound right. Some are based on modern takes on the music rather than a traditional take, or vice versa, so you’ll have to watch out and get the right one.
Changing Music to a More Comfortable Key
The next thing I’ve learned is the best sites that allow you to transpose music. When I transpose music I’m converting it from one musical key to another. For example, the piano players may want to play in a key that is not as friendly on guitar as another key. For example, if the pianos want to play in the key of Ab then I will play guitar in the key of G with a Capo on the first fret. The best sites for this are Ultimate-Guitar.com, Chordie.com, and, surprisingly, KlangWesley.com. Each of these has a way to “tranpose” the key up or down which automatically adjusts the chords displayed on the page.
Keys and Capos and Frets
Speaking of keys and capos, you’ll find you need a handy chart which tells you on which fret to put your capo for the key you want to play in when the key being played by others is different. Take a look at the chart below and find G along the left-hand column (this is the key you want to play in) and then scan along that row for the key others are playing in. As mentioned above, if I have music in the key of G but others are playing in Ab then I find the G row, then look to the right and find Ab in the first column meaning the first fret.
Reading the Key from Piano Sheet Music
Also on the topic of keys, you’ll want to learn how to read piano sheet-music keys. Don’t worry, I haven’t really learned it either so here’s another chart to help you:
You may find this page helpful, as well, as it goes a little more in-depth.
Chords in a Key
You’ll probably also find it handy to know what chords are in a given key. This is more theoretical at first but helps you in identifying what key a song is in if you find it without an explicit key stated. For example, you can know a song is probably in the key of C if it has C, F, G chords. Here’s a chart rundown of each key and its chords:
And if you get really, really good you can start jamming along to songs even if you don’t have the chorded music if you just know the key they’re playing in because you start to get a feel for the few chords in a key and what the common chord transitions are and you’ll be able to play right along. I’m lucky enough to have a grandfather and uncle who can do this like magic.
When I first started googling I came across a number of hymn and praise song chord books in different formats. I thought these would be great, sort of authoritative sources for hymns, but they didn’t really turn out that way. It doesn’t mean they aren’t great resources, just that, for me, I needed the transposing tools the websites provide. Regardless, here’s what I found on the internet. There’s the St. Mark’s Battersea Songs Chords January 2002 Word doc, Deerfoot Lodge Song Book (backup link), Guitar Chords – Gospel – 100 Songs (backup link), Christian Hymns Guitar Chords (backup link), Hymns and Praise Songs (can’t find original), When I Consider the Heavens – A book of Songs of Worship and Praise (backup link). All of these are quite professionally written and presented and would make a good source for solo work or where you’re in control of the keys. The only drawback is you can’t transpose the songs like you can with the websites.
Preferred Layout of Chords
If you’ve played guitar long enough, or sung from hymnals long enough, you’ll realize the hymnal style of printing multiple lines of verse over the same sheet music is a much better way to read music because it’s compact and easier to read. It takes longer to find but you’ll be happier and less stressed playing when you can find this layout:
Sometimes the major sites will have the preferred layout but most often not. I’ve found that it takes looking through some of the lesser known ones to find them.
Beware Alternate Versions
I really prefer the transposing tools provided by some of the major sites but the downside is often you’ll come up with the wrong version of songs, by different artists, in different tunes, etc. So make sure you find the right version. On Ultimate-Guitar.com, for example, when I’m not sure I do another search on the site for the song title and often you’ll see many results. Check the higher rated ones and, if you’re looking for a common song, look for an author of “traditional”, “hymn”, “praise”, etc. rather than a real name. That usually indicates it’s the common version of the song. Watch out for versions by popular artists where chording may be very different than what you’re used to. Of course, all this works in the opposite direction, too. Watch out for traditional versions if you really do want modern versions.
While it might be nice to get multiple versions, in different keys (just in case, as I usually do), I’m learning that to get the right version I sometimes just have to go to the smaller sites and find the right song in the right key and capo it even though they won’t let me transpose to other keys. You win some you lose some, I guess. Better to be playing and playing the right song than not playing at all or playing some horrible version that doesn’t go along with anyone else. :)
How to Print
You might be surprised there’s more to printing than just clicking print. I use Firefox because its Print option in the menu provides a preview of what it will look like printed out which is often not like you’ll see in the web browser!
It’s also pretty accurate as far as paging goes. If you see the Preview windows says it’s on two pages then try Scale/Zoom feature at the top. Usually you can shrink it down to one page and still be readable. Then, when clicking the Print button, be sure to select “Print range” Pages option and tell it only print the first page.
Remember, some sites provide PDF download links and these tend to be easier to print with as they’re sometimes formatted differently. Some sites, like Ultimate-Guitar.com, allow you to show and hide certain things like chord layouts. These options can help you save space and get your print on one page.
Viewing Music on Tablets
In mid to late 2015, I was considering buying an iPad or some Android tablet to use when playing guitar at church. It had to be at least about 10″ wide for readability about 2 to 3 feet away (think music stand distance). I would’ve loved to have been able to afford an iPad but I found what I think is still a very good deal in the 10″ range: The Hipstreet 10.1″ Phoenix tablet:
I bought my Hipstreet Phoenix at Walmart when it was on sale for $120 (Canadian) so for about $140 after tax I had a 10″ Android tablet. Compared to all the other 10″ options, at that time, nothing was really close. It turns out to have a great amount of features and a decent amount of horsepower for such a low cost item. It’s 10″ with 1024×600 resolution, comes with Android 4.4 KitKat which is still quite capable, 16GB storage, quad-core processor, microSD slot, and micro USB slot. It’s not the fastest tablet out there but it’s fast enough to simply display chords in church. Battery life is actually very nice. It can stay lit up at full brightness all service long if I needed it to. It could probably last twice that at least on a full charge. Turn off the screen when not in use and it’ll last a long time.
As far as screen resolution goes, at 1024×600 it’s a little too narrow, I would’ve liked iPad aspect ratio, but it gets the job done at its price. Build quality is actually not bad. It doesn’t really feel cheap at all. It’s got a real metal backing and the front is a quality plastic.
It took me a long time to get all this together and understand all the parts of it. Before this I only really knew chords on guitar. I didn’t know about all the keys, and what chords were in a key, and how to capo to play in a different key, and how to read keys from piano sheet music, but now I do and it’s so much easier. I hope this helps someone out there! Good luck!