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Short Hand for Chart Writing
PHP JavaScript
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ChartDown is shorthand for chart writing. It can turn a shorthand chart like this into an awesome pdf like this.

The ChartDown codebase is based off the Twig templating library.


  1. Download the package
  2. Create a text file using ChartDown syntax
  3. Render the text file as you see fit

You can render the chart as follows:

$chartdown = new ChartDown_Environment();
$chart = $chartdown->loadChart(file_get_contents('my_chart.txt'));
$renderer = new ChartDown_Renderer_Pdf();
$renderer->render($chart, 'my_chart.pdf');

The result will be a file named my_chart.pdf. Leaving the second argument to render empty will add the file in your system tmp directory. You can use any renderer you like. Another renderer which may be useful is ChartDown_Renderer_Html, which renders a valid HTML document which you can modify and then render to PDF, if tweaking is required.

// render your chart into html...
$renderer = new ChartDown_Renderer_Html();
$renderer->render($chart, 'my_chart.html'); // saves to "my_chart.html"

/** do manual customization here... **/

// and then generate your PDF...
$renderer = new ChartDown_Renderer_Pdf();
$renderer->render(file_get_contents('my_chart.html'), 'my_chart.pdf');

Syntax Guide


The following expressions are valid on a chord:

  • ^: Accent
  • >: Anticipation
  • \*: Diamond
  • !: Fermata
  • _: Tenudo
  • ~: Tie

The following expressions can be used anywhere in your chart:

  • %: Repeat a bar
  • {: ... :}: Repeat start and repeat end
  • {1}, {2}...: First ending, second ending
  • $: Coda
  • &: Segno

These can go before or after the chord, as long as they are contiguous.

Page Characters

The following characters are important, as they determine basic page functionality. The Metadata and comment character is used to determine your chart's title, key, time signature. etc. It can also be used to change the key or time signature for any line of the song. The double dash is for separating lines, and will be used often. The double equals is for separating pages, and will be used only in the rare case where the default page break is not good enough.

  • #: Metadata
  • -- (double dash): Line Break
  • ==: Page Break
  • [...]: Group two or more chords into one beat
  • . (period): Rhymic Separation (explained below)


Rhythm can be performed by using the period to designate beat divisions. This is called Dot Notation

G . B . | G B . . | G B . . | . [G B] . B

G . B . . . . C | G B . | . . . . G B

In the above example, the first measure would split G and B evenly across the bar. This is the same as G B with no periods. The second line indicates the arbitrary amount of periods that is possible with this style of notations. Additional periods will divide the bar into the appropriate number of sections. The first bar of the second line contains five periods and three chords. This will divide that bar into eight subsections. There are no restrictions, so nine, ten, or even thirteen subsections is appropriate, although the rhythm should be kept in mind, as thirteen is not a valid beat division in most time signatures.

Note: Rhythmic Notation can be devised from Dot Notation, so it is recommended to use a subdivision of your time signature for the number of divisions. For a 3/4 time signature, subdivisions of three, six, nine, or twelve are encouraged.

Labels and Annotations

Labels and annotations are created using textile. They can be added above or below the chord lines, and are created by prefixing a line with text:. Here is an example of a Chorus header:

text: h2. Chorus    
G C | D G | C G | G*

The following is an example of how one might add lyrics:

G C | D G | C G | G*
text: There once was a man | with a fork in his hand | who wanted | to eat

These are not phenomenal lyrics, but the technical requirements for better poetry are the same. Below is a more complex example of how text can be used to create complex chart requirements:

text: h1. Chorus
{: G C | D G | & C G | G*
text: There once was a man | with a fork in his hand | who wanted | to eat
text: | | | p>. *D.S. Al Coda*
G C | D G $ | C G | G* :}
text: The poor man cried | when the food arrived | because it smelled of feet

In this example, not only are the poor lyrics continued, but a D.S. Al Coda is added. The text for the coda will appear above the final bar and be aligned right, so that it will be directly over the repeat, as is appropriate in a chord chart. Read more on Textile Syntax, I assure you it's easier than you might think.


  • | (pipe): Bar Break
  • Numbers 1 through 7: Chord Value
  • Letters A through G: Chord Value
  • b: flat
  • #: sharp
  • - (dash): minor
  • dim and °: diminished
  • aug and +: augmented
  • (...): Separates articulation from chord
  • 2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, sus, dim, add: Chord Extensions


Please contact me with any suggestions or feature requests. My goal is for this to be as useful and usable as possible. All feedback is appreciated!

Below is a list of possible future enhancements.

Additional Notation:

  • ' (apostrophe/singlequote) - Staccato
  • x/o: Rhythmic notation for beat subdivisions
  • <mod:C>: modulate to the key of C
  • <mod:+2>: modulate up two half steps

Miscellaneous Features

  • Auto generate fingering charts and place at the bottom of the chart for quick reference.
  • Riff Shorthand - A quick way to tab out a guitar / piano /bass lick
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