A question about chord names written on sheet music

I often see sheet music—likely intended for vocalists?—that has chords written above the staff. I find this very confusing because I can’t tell when the chord starts or stops. How should I treat something like that?

When chords are written above a melody like that, they’ll change on the corresponding note underneath. So, in that example, Bb lasts until “see”, where it changes to Gm, and D comes in on beat 3 “by”. The Gm over “the” I don’t like - I’d wait until “dawn’s”.

As far as rhythms to use for the chords, that’s up to the player.


^ This.

Also, the chord voicing can be interpreted. In bar 2, the brevity of the Gm - D - Gm may (or may not) be doable on guitar depending on where you are on the neck. 3rd fret with a 6 string root? Nah…I’d likely just accent the root (D) on beat 3. Triads at the 7th fret with? It could work…if it sounds good.


Yes, the chord will change on the beat it is written, and until a new chord symbol you stay on the last chord. Also I agree that usually that second Gm would be on “dawn” and not “the.”

It can be a little weird to see beat 1 with no chord when the last chord was changed in the middle of the preceding measure, but the logic isn’t hard to follow.

I’m not sure if the following is kosher engraving, but when I’m charting something for a student and I don’t want them to get confused, I might put the chord in again on beat 1, possibly in parentheses.
For example on “dawn’s” simply write Gm or (Gm) again over the word.

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Notation wise*, one can start the first chord, switch to a new chord, but how can one stop a chord for a while?

(* This edit was added thanks to @JakeEstner’s question, below.)

Sorry, I don’t understand. Do you mean how would that be notated? In a lead sheet format like what you posted, rests in the accompaniment would not be indicated; they’d be up to the discretion of the performer.

That’s the kind of thing that would be shown in a different format. The attached image is a section from a big band chart, showing the chord and the rhythm to be used, rests included. Different format/context for notation.

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Exactly, thank you, I edited my post to make more sense.

Aha, now I know its name! Lead sheet - Wikipedia

I see! Thanks!