Scores and Editions 101: Pop Formats

Written by Claire on Wednesday, 13 June 2012. Posted in What's New at Middle C , Print Music

PVG, Tab, and More

Why do we have fifteen different books for Adele 21? Why do we run to four different places in the store when you're looking for Taylor Swift? Different formats, my friend, different formats. Here's a quick guide to the most common formats you'll see when you're looking for non-classical music:

Piano/Vocal/Guitar (PVG) or Piano/Vocal/Chords (PVC)

pvg 001This is the format you'll see most frequently in our "personality songbook" section. The music is written for a vocal line with a piano accompaniment, and shows guitar chord charts above the vocal line. Most often the vocal line is written into the piano part so that you don't need to sing along.

Fun fact: Back in the day (the day being the 20s-40s), sheet music and books in this format often gave ukulele chords instead of guitar chords. It's not uncommon to see accordion chords in old sheet music as well. With the insanely high level of interest in ukulele right now, I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing more music that includes uke chord charts along with or instead of guitar chords. Great book in this format: Adele 21

Piano Vocal

pv 001This is pretty much the same thing as PVG, with a few small differences. These books are designed with singers in mind, so sometimes you'll see the same song in different keys - the original (often higher) key for serious singers in the Piano Vocal book, and a (usually easier for both piano and vocal) key for piano players and casual singers in the PVG book. The vocal line is generally not written into the piano arrangement, so if you want to hear the melody, you'd better be ready to sing. While these books usually list chord names, they often don't include chord charts and thus aren't as friendly to beginning guitar players. Great book in this format: The Singer's Musical Theatre Anthology (four voice parts, five volumes each, plus two volumes of duets)

 Transcribed Scores


Every note a band plays with each instrument given its own line. Lyrics and vocal lines are included as well, though chord symbols usually are not. These books make awesome gifts for anyone who likes to really study the music they're listening to. Great book in this format: The Beatles Complete Scores





Lead Sheet/Fakebook/Real Book

lead 001This is the most commonly used format in jazz and folk books. You get a melody line, sometimes lyrics, and chord symbols, and "fake" or improvise a full arrangement from that information. Great book in this format: The Real Books


Chord Songbooks

threechord 001

  These are very similar to lead sheet notation, but with a chord songbook you don't get the full melody. The books typically show just a bit of the beginning of a song or a particularly famous riff to jog your memory, and then just list the chords and the lyrics. Great book in this format: Rise Up Singing





Easy Piano

blowineasy 001

If the PVG songbooks look too difficult, you might want to try Easy Piano. These arrangements simplify the left hand accompaniment, keeping the melody in the right hand. You will see arpeggios and three note chords, but not much beyond that. Usually the books include lyrics, but not always. Great book in this format: 100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll - Easy Piano


Big Note Piano

blowinbig 001

Slightly easier than Easy Piano books, Big Note arrangements are printed in larger type that's easier for small kids to read. The songs do involve hands together playing, but typically only two note "chords" or very basic patterns in the left hand, while the right hand gets a simplified version of the melody. Great book in this format: 2012 Greatest Pop and Movie Hits



Five Finger Piano

blowin5 001

This is the easiest piano music you can get. It is designed to be played with one hand at a time, and usually includes simple duet part to be played by a teacher or parent. Great book in this format: the Pretime Piano series (companion books to the Faber Piano Adventures series, available in a variety of genres)




Guitar Tab

tab 001

These books usually have three lines; a vocal line with lyrics, a line with the guitar part in standard notation, and a line of tablature. Tablature is musical shorthand. Guitar tab shows six lines (for the six strings on the guitar), and puts numbers on each line designating which fret to play. Tab also includes instructions on what effects pedal to use, bends, slides, and other guitar-specific techniques. You'll often see these books labeled "guitar recorded versions" or "artist approved" - this means that the book is a direct transcription of the artist's recording, and is not simplified or arranged differently. If a book isn't labeled with one of those phrases, it's safe to assume changes have been made from the recording. These books often include chord symbols and charts as well.

Fun fact: though guitar tab is the most popular tablature you'll see today, there have been tablatures created throughout history for many different instruments. Bach even created a particularly crazy-looking organ tablature. 

Great book in this format: The Rolling Stones Singles Collection: The London Years


Easy Guitar


Here you'll find a melody line and a simplified tablature part, or sometimes just a melody line, chord symbols, and a strumming pattern =. The chords in these books are generally much easier than in a regular tab book - mostly open chords and simple melodies.

Great book in this format: 100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll (Easy Guitar)

There are plenty of other formats out there, and the more you play, the more you'll run into. This should give you a good start understanding of what to ask for next time you're in the shop.!


About the Author


claireClaire worked at Middle C Music from 2005-2012. A singer by training, Claire was the mastermind behind our print music operation. She should have been born in the 16th century. She now lives in Chicago, where she continues to be both a musician and an atiquarian.