Living in the Real World
Last year I was on vacation in Japan with my wife when I got a call from Larry Carlton’s manager who informed me that Larry’s bassist (who is also Larry’s son) was sick and couldn’t make the tour. I was hired to go in and play bass with Larry, and this meant I had exactly one afternoon and night to learn his set before the rehearsal the next day (and the Tokyo Jazz Fest the day after that). I got all the MP3s and some of the charts, but I had to chart out most of the tunes myself. My chart for “Ink Blot 11” from Larry’s Fire Wire album was in the set. Ex. 5 is the chart I made to cram for that tour.

This tune has a variation of a lick on each time through the repeats. I memorized each lick and instead of writing it out, just came up with a name (“Triplet,” “Low end,” and “Long 6ths”) for each variation. This would be an example of using a chart just for chord and song structure, since I’d memorized the bass line and all the fills.

Mixing It Up
Often I’ll use a hybrid version of standard notation and the Nashville system, but it’s usually just for me. The reason for this is that I’ll write out any hooks, signature licks, or riffs that are important in standard notation, and keep the chord chart in numbers. I’ll also write any rhythmic hits or punches in standard notation above the numbers.

If I’m doing a gig with an artist that includes more than five songs, I sometimes will use cheat sheets so I don’t have to have the charts on a music stand. This makes you look much more pro to the artist and assures them that you have spent many days learning their material ... even though it may only be the night before!

Ex. 6 is an excerpt of my cheat sheet for a gig I did with singer/songwriter Marc Broussard. I was able to cram 15 songs onto three pages.

You can see how I use the hybrid mish-mash version of the above methods. On “The Beauty of Who You Are,” I wrote the signature lick in standard notation so I would remember that, as well as the rhythmic hits in the chorus. That’s all I needed to get through the song. For “The Wanderer,” I relied on the Nashville system because when I use a capo on a guitar, it’s easier for me to read numbers—this is where the flexibility of the number system comes in. You could also use index cards for this method as well.