Several of the groups of people I play music with use song sheets that are similar to lead sheets, but without the stave showing the melody line:

enter image description here

Note that unlike many chord sheets you can find online and in books, there is a time signature, bar lines, and repeat marks. Other musical symbols are also used - simile marks, accents etc.

  • Is there a name for this kind of notation?
  • What software can be used to produce sheets in this format? Everything I've tried that understands bar lines, also seems to insist on a stave.

Edit in response to comments

I realise that you can make a reasonable attempt at this format in ASCII:

 ||  C                             | C                      |
4||. Now here's a little story, To | tell it is a must.  A- |
4||. Some people make a fortune    | others earn a mint. My |

 | G                           | G               C          ||
 | bout an unsung hero, that   | moves away your dust      .||
 | old man don't earn much. In | fact he's flippin' skint  .||

However this is unsatisfactory in a number of ways.

  • It's ugly; you're forced to use a fixed-width font.
  • It leads to situations like this: How to read stacked chords?
  • Editing is unnecessarily hard work:
    • Whenever you change a lyric or a chord, you have to realign at least one other line with spaces. More if you include the lyrics to more verses, as above.
    • You have to manage line-wraps yourself. If you've written a couple of pages, then modify the first line and find it goes wider than the page, you have to manually re-wrap the whole song which is difficult (try it if you don't believe me). Because a "line" of "score" is multiple lines of text, the text editor's wrapping feature can't help you (indeed, gets in the way).
  • You have to compromise on positioning
  • Symbols such as simile are unavailable, or have to be improvised in ASCII-art
  • 1
    In light of your comments under "Editing ...", I wonder why anyone would choose the ASCII method...?? Feb 27, 2012 at 17:40
  • @TheChaz in practice, people tend to use a less precise format -- leave out the barlines, only put chords on one verse of lyrics, etc. -- because doing a thorough job in ASCII is too much like hard work.
    – slim
    Feb 28, 2012 at 10:13
  • 2
    I'm a software developer and I could code something that would output the desired format. I'd like to question two things: Will you use such tool? Will you have patience wait me to code, test and fine tune the software?
    – user8510
    Nov 29, 2013 at 18:56
  • @André I write up about 12 songs a year in this format - possibly not enough to warrant your work, unless lots of other people used it too. I would definitely have the patience though.
    – slim
    Dec 5, 2013 at 13:14

6 Answers 6


MuseScore, a free (and quite popular) notation software, will let you create this kind of score, although with a little effort.

You can create a score with a single instrument on a one-line staff, and then make the staff line and clef invisible. The staff will be filled with rests; color them white, or the same color as your page. (The rests can also be made invisible, but then your lyrics will no longer control your bar line spacing.)

Chord symbols automatically get placed above the (invisible) staff. Lyrics get placed below but can be moved between the barlines. Both are anchored to the invisible rests. Here's an example:

Example Image

  • Works like a charm! It would be very helpful for less experienced MuseScore users if you added step-by-step instructions -- or links to relevant help pages -- for how to accomplish the various tasks.
    – Aaron
    Oct 11, 2020 at 23:04

From Wikipedia:

Simpler chord charts for songs may contain only the chord changes, placed above the lyrics where they occur. Such charts depend on prior knowledge of the melody, and are used as reminders in performance or informal group singing.

I'd just call it a simplified chord chart. As to the bar lines and time signature, that might just be a modification on the notation. Most likely to assist the the performers.

As to a software for this notation, I've heard Lilypond can be tweaked to do this. I, however, have no experience with Lilypond.

  • @slim: lilypond.org/doc/v2.12/Documentation/user/lilypond/… though I have never omitted the stave (I've omitted the stems on tablatures setting transparent to true).
    – ninjalj
    Feb 25, 2012 at 20:39
  • 1
    The most common way of notating this doesn't use any special software whatsoever, only plain text (using | to indicate bar lines).
    – NReilingh
    Feb 25, 2012 at 21:00
  • 1
    @NReilingh indeed. But (a) it's ugly (b) you have to manage line wrapping yourself, which is labour intensive and just plain uncivilised, dammit.
    – slim
    Feb 26, 2012 at 17:08
  • 1
    @NReilingh can you suggest such an editor?
    – slim
    Feb 26, 2012 at 22:32
  • 2
    I found something like a solution here, although the verses are mostly written at the bottom of the page instead of with the chords, excepting a couple anchors - it might be something you could adapt. He also seems to get around associating lyrics to specific notes by adding it to other notation (\mark), although this does add the lyrics above rather than below the staff, and also isn't clear whether the bars will stretch to the size of the text.
    – Hannele
    Mar 20, 2012 at 19:26

You could use Word (or free alternatives), and separate bars with <shift-TAB> |. The point of shift-tabbing is that you can place the beginning of bars as you want, by moving the tab marks in the rulers (which you may need to activate in the "view" menu).

Select both the chord line and the text line when moving the tab marks, to make sure that they are aligned with one another.

This is also labour intensive, but I got nothing better.

An alternative would be to use excel, and to draw cell edge lines between the bars. That would make the whole song look like a matrix, though.


The iReal Pro software for iOS, Android and Mac OS X can generate this kind of chart, but with a big drawback--no lyrics. It's designed for use by jazz musicians who improvise. Moreover, it creates auto-accompaniment audio backing tracks from the scores you create or upload, and it can transpose any chart to any key.


I am the developer of Chordastic, I think this is the software you are looking for. It can produce really nice lyrics and chord sheets with minimum effort and with very easy UI.

  • Thank you for drawing my attention to this. Unfortunately none of the screenshots of Chordastic has bar lines. That is a very important requirement to me.
    – slim
    Jun 23, 2015 at 10:59
  • This is interesting, so you would like to have some vertical lines that can 'measure' the lyrics? Can you explain this a bit? Because I would love to include such a feature. Jun 23, 2015 at 11:50
  • As in the examples in the question - they are bar lines just as in sheet music. In the photo, it shows that "My", "Wears", "Wears", "Lives" are on the first beat of a bar. That the C/C/G/G chords coincide with the start of bars, and the final C is halfway through a bar. Although you need to know the tune to sing it, anyone can strum an accompaniment without having heard the song before.
    – slim
    Jun 23, 2015 at 14:24
  • @slim : I have created bar lines using the pipe symbol |. It's not released yet but you can have a look at snag.gy/nuM9k.jpg and tell me what do you think Jun 24, 2015 at 8:04

Through I realize this is not exactly what you're asking for, you can generate leadsheets with ABC quite easily. If you don't want to transcribe or notate the melody, just put a rest in every bar. Although this will show the stave on each line, I find this format easy to read and it doesn't need much more vertical space than yours and is quick to write.

Here's a template for a simple tune in AB structure:

T:Great New Song
I:linebreak <EOL>
"^Verse" |: "_oh la la la" "C" z4 | "_uh la la la" "am" z4  | "_shu bi du ah" "F" z4 | "_u-uh" "G" z4 |]
"^Chorus" |: "G" z4   | "em" z4  | "C" z4     | "D" z4 |]

Unfortunately, you can not use the normal ABC lyrics directive (w:) with rests, so you'll have to include the lyrics in each bar, as shown above in the verse, which makes the lines in the ABC code a bit unwieldy. The leading underscore places them under the stave.

Here's the output from this ABC code created with abcConverter. Image created with abcConverter

The PostScript output from abcm2ps will look much nicer and can be customized further and converted to PDF with pstopdf or similar tools. The whole conversion process can be easily automated with shell scripts or batch files, but there are also graphical interfaces for ABC for different operating systems. See the page behind the first link for a list.

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