Sunday, July 12, 2020

Beyond the lyrics: now you can learn to strum and sing any Scott Cooley song quickly for free!

I am pleased to let you know about a significant project I’ve recently completed that you may have interest in and benefit from.  A while back, you may have noticed I posted the lyrics for all of my songs on  Now you can find out the chords for them as well.  There is now a Scott Cooley songbook, believe it or not.  It’s available now to anyone, and it’s absolutely free.  Why would I produce such a thing, you might wonder?  Read on to find out.

This is more of a long-form news item covering in greater detail what I previously covered in the more condensed post on the News page of "The new songbook is here!".

As a guitar player, if I ever want to learn how to play a popular song, I do what most of you probably do:  I google it.  Typically I’ll put in the song title, followed by the word ‘chords’ and click on the results.   We all have our influences, and learning from listening to recordings alone can be a tedious process.

There are issues with these guitar chord sites.  One is that they’re often wrong.  Another is that they don’t use the screen real estate smartly.  What happens is you get a bunch of annoying introductory information, and then usually the first verse and the chorus, but that is all that appears “above the fold,” which means you’re forced to scroll vertically down to see the rest of the song. 

Wouldn’t it be great if you could see the entire song on one screen or page?  That’s difficult even when you are trying to learn a song from printed sheet music.  You have to turn the page.  It impedes your progress to have to scroll or turn the page. 

I know some people back in the day would write with pen on paper the lyrics with chord above word where played, and they’d try to write small enough, sometimes using a two-column approach, to get it all on a single sheet of paper.  The online chord sites often try to cram in a bunch of tablature as well, sometimes tablature-only, when you expected lyrics and chords, presumably to satisfy the apparent demand for the lead guitarists of the world who want to master the riffs, solos and melodies.  The sheet music publishing companies throw in a bunch of notes on staffs to satisfy the people who read music. 

All that said, the average joes of the world just want to know the chords and words so they can play the song and sing it to close family and friends without the subtle detailed nuances of notation and tablature.  This is the dilemma for most, I suspect.  A great way to start is by knowing the chords and words and basic structure of a song first, and then you can always figure out the melodies, riffs and solos later on.

I realize a few people out there in the world will spend like a whole year learning one song on guitar, perfecting every single note exactly like the recording, becoming a true master before moving on to another one.  There are kids on YouTube who can play Eruption by VanHalen perfectly all the way through, for example.  Nothing wrong with that.  

I'll never be that kind of person.  If I learn part of a cover song at all, it's from looking up the chords with words online.  I have recorded and released for free recordings of me covering songs I like by other artists, however, and find it a fun thing to do when the songwriting muse is temporarily absent.  You can check some of those out here if interested.  

It's an extension of studying songs you like to become better at songwriting.  You try to figure out what about a song you like makes it good, which can inform your knowledge when you write your own originals, and then attempting to record a song you like by another artist takes it a step further and is always great practice and a learning experience.

With the internet, you typically don’t waste your time paying for sheet music or guitar books anymore.  I did buy one once though:  it was called The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook, and although it was too thick to hold it open to any song due to the binding, I thought it was designed and laid out well.  Most songs spanned two pages, though some were only one, while others were up to four.  Then an idea occurred to me.

What if I used the same way of notating the lyrics, chords and song parts as that book, but made sure every single song spanned exactly two pages?  Further, what if I then printed and bound it with a coil ring binding that would allow it to stay open?  I thought it would be possible, so I set out to make it happen – with my own songs.

The result is a book containing the chords and lyrics of every song I’ve released on my first 10 studio albums that can be opened to any page, set on a music stand, and have the even numbered page at left be the first half of the song, and the odd numbered page on the right be the last half of the song.  As a bonus, the electronic pdf version of it can be used on a computer, while taking advantage of search, electronic table of contents and index, so you can find and display any song in the same way – provided you have it set to show two pages side-by-side.

I’ve never memorized any of my own songs really, enjoying just writing them and recording them, then repeating, but never revisiting any of them to be able to learn them and play them live for people.  I’ve just always thought it was more fun to spend my time writing and recording new songs rather than be able to perform past songs from memory.  People think that’s weird.  They hear you write songs, hand you a guitar, and want you to perform them, understandably.  When you can’t do that, it’s embarrassing.

My motivation, therefore, was to properly type up both the words and chords so that I could at least open a book on a music stand in front of me and be able to perform my own songs in their entirety in front of people.  If I dedicated time to do that alone repeatedly, I may even be able to memorize some of them.  I guess since I’m not a live performing type of musician, I never gave it much attention.

In the back of my mind I thought someday, I’ll get out the scraps of paper I scribbled lyrics on and type them up, try to remember the chords and type those where appropriate on there too.  I guess I always thought I’d wait until I had a bunch of really good original songs first, before I even bothered attempting to actually learn them.  Still not sure if I’ve attained that yet!

For many non-musicians they figure that if you wrote a song yourself, well then you certainly should know how to play it from memory.  For me, that’s not the case.  I have it fresh in my head enough right when I complete it to get it recorded, then I promptly forget it forevermore thereafter.  Most of my songs I only played through once or twice before hitting record.  It’s hard for people to fathom, but that’s just how I’ve always approached the hobby, never intending to be a public performer.

Like most people, eventually, I could actually play several popular cover songs all the way through when I first started playing guitar.  That was the original goal – to just get good enough to play songs you liked by other artists.  Singing and playing at the same time was no problem for me.  I also knew a lot of little parts of famous songs, never learning how to play them entirely.

When I did jam with duos and groups, I always just sort of naturally gravitated to being the lead guitar player, the role in the band where all you had to know was the key the song was in, and you were good to go.  Classic rock and blues were the main types of songs we played, and playing some variation of a pentatonic scale worked well enough to entertain most crowds and appear somewhat competent.  The solos were no problem, and throwing in a few fills between chords here and there were adequate enough.  Somehow, I instinctively knew how to make it sound good and not interfere with the singer, while sounding like I knew what I was doing.

So, the background of being a lead guitarist, rather than a lead singer or rhythm player, was such that I could play with people and never need to know all the chords or words from memory.  After a few years of jamming with others playing covers, I realized I loved trying to make up my own songs.  Being primarily a songwriter and home recording hobbyist has always been what I love most about music.  Probably in the back of my mind I thought that some day when I had a bunch of really good songs, I’d learn them so I could play them in front of people, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.  The motivation just isn’t there.

Now the only excuse I’ll have for not learning my own songs is procrastination.  I’ll still focus on writing and recording new songs as my primary hobby, but now that I’ve got a songbook, it will be way easier if I ever decide to learn a few of my own songs.  I’ve heard you have to play them regularly too, or else you’ll forget. 

It’s why famous bands have to rehearse for a month before they go on tour.  Lots of famous bands and singer/songwriters actually use teleprompters when you see them perform live these days.  Practice and rehearsal would allow me to be the person who claims he’s a songwriter to be able to back it up when handed a guitar and play from memory some of the best originals.  Maybe enough to play a live set at a bar or coffee place sometime.  You never know, but the point is, if I had the desire, it’s more possible now for it to become a reality due to the tool of having everything properly typed up.

Publishing companies are traditionally into charging for songbooks and sheet music for their artists’ and songwriters’ songs.  Going against that norm, I thought in this modern age, why not make it free and easy for people to learn my songs?  It was never a motivation, and there’s never been any demand for it to speak of yet, but maybe, just maybe, someone other than me might want to learn how to play and sing my songs someday. 

Maybe in the future someone might want to record and release a cover of one of my songs one day.  It would be really cool to hear someone else’s version of a song I wrote, so why not make it easy if anyone ever had such a desire?  If that someone is you, you can easily fill out the simple form on the Licensing page of to get official permission - that is, only if you intend to try to commerically sell your cover recording of one of my songs.

Check out the songbook here:

It’s got 126 of my original songs in it.  It’s professionally done, and I should know, since I’ve been a professional technical writer for over 23 years now.  This is what is possible when you’re a skilled technical writer who has a period of unemployment. 

I did 100% of it myself – the design, the layout, the formatting, the typing up of the lyrics, the perfect placement of the chords, the electronically linked page numbering, table of contents, index, and discography, the acknowledgements, preface, and introduction.  A ton of work went into this – particularly listening back to the recordings with guitar and figuring out the chords and words I never bothered to write down for many of them, so it was a labor of love. 

It’s a passion hobby of mine.  I love doing it all myself – the writing, the singing, the multiple instrument playing, the recording, the mixing, the mastering, the cover art, the packaging design, the arranging, the producing, the web site design and maintenance, the social media and blog posts, copyright registration, various label and distribution duties, the production of videos, the rights administration, and now this expansion of song publishing in the form of a book.  It’s a passion to write songs, it’s fun to record them, and all the rest is in support of that hobby, including this songbook, and I’m proud of all of it.

Hope someone, someday (maybe you?) will actually want to learn one of my songs, and if so, find this book and appreciate the ease at which they are able to use it to do so.  If not, maybe I’ll learn some of my own songs as a result.  It was definitely worth the hard work, because at the very least I can lug a music stand and my printed version along to any place and open to any page, and have a complete song in front of me that I can perform in front of people.  Pretty cool.