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REDUX: Excel for Musicians - Oz du Soleil

Today we have some fun and will revisit Excel for Musicians. No complicated techie tips today. More interesting however, is a simple data management exercise that will even appeal to non-musicians. Whenever we take on something new, it often helps to break it down into pieces, look for patterns, and see if there’s anything weird going on. Maybe there are no patterns. It helps to know that so you can prepare to use brute force instead of elegance.

Previously we looked at a section of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature as I urged songwriters to provide charts for their bands. Songs are easier to learn this way, and I reinforced this in a post about Attention Deficit Disorder.

Today, we come back to this topic because I recently found a song chart I made in preparation for playing Roberts Cray’s I Shiver and want to share it with you. Also, this is an opportunity to separate 1. the use of  Business Intelligence (BI) tools and 2. the analytical preparedness to use the tools.

(For a scary-good music-related Excel example, in the Worth Checking Out section at the bottom of the page, there’s a link to the blog Clear and Simple. Definitely worth checking out.)

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robert cray


The lyrics, instrumentation, arrangements, rhythm, melody, chords and song structure are all data. Data has to be managed, organized and interpreted.

I Shiver is a blues song. There is a standard structure to a 12-bar blues but I Shiver doesn’t follow it. So, let’s do some data management and analysis.


For the musically uninitiated, focus on the patterns, it’s ok if you don’t know what a C-minor chord is. But if you’re interested, here’s a quick tour of the chart:

  • The letters in the cells represent chords.
  • If we play the song in the key of C, the “i” in the Intro says that we play C-minor for 4 measures before going into the Verse.
  • The Verse is played twice, then the chorus once, and then the Verse again twice.
  • If the song is extended, the Intro is not played again.

I Shiver - UA


Laying the song out on a clean grid shows

  • The Verse is the same every time. (EXCELLENT! No tricky stuff.)
  • The 2-chord (ii) isn’t played anywhere else in the song. That’s why it’s highlighted yellow. The 5-chord (V) isn’t highlighted because it’s common to end a section on a 5-chord.
  • In the Verses, 6 consecutive bars of the 4-chord (iv) is a little odd.
  • The 16-measures in the Verses can be viewed as 2 8-bar sections, but that doesn’t help us much. So, let’s treat the Verses as the full 16 measures.

It’s so plain and it’s a powerful headstart to getting a whole band playing the song as a unit.


 I Shiver - a2


We didn’t use any fancy tricks. Actually, Excel wouldn’t be needed at all. Scrap paper and a pen would work for managing this data. But don’t be fooled. Taking time to break a task into pieces is a skill that is under-used even though it can save hours of grief. This applies not just in learning songs but also in working with business data and using BI tools.

When we work with Excel and other BI tools, this kind of work has to happen to prepare for tasks like data scrubbing and writing formulas. We have to inspect what we’re up against, notice patterns, flag anything that’s unusual and see how the components hang together as a whole.

For some of us this is obvious and second-nature. You might be a trainer or your company’s Excel guru, and when we’re helping people who are struggling with data we have to determine if the problem is with 1. the tool or, 2. the lack of a clearly defined inventory of the objective. Said another way: pivot tables are easy; preparing to use a pivot table is not easy. They’re 2 different processes.

For some way out, sophisticated use of Excel in music, look at this spreadsheet at Clearly and Simply:

Bruce Springsteen Discography in Excel

Robert Cray photo credit: xmith xmith via photopin cc