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How Does It Work?

Instead of requiring a custom chord chart format, Chord Maestro just displays PDF files. In my case, the PDF files are chord charts, but I suppose you could display sermon notes or other things as well. The PDF files can be created using whatever means a person is comfortable with (Excel, Word, Power point, text file, Planning Center, Chord Pro, etc.). This is waaaay easier than imposing some application specific format (which requires training and inevitable grumbling). Since we (and a lot of other churches) use Planning Center Online, Chord Maestro has a Planning Center integration feature that allows pdf chord charts to be imported directly from planning center into the tool (in one step). It doesn't get much easier than that. For those that don't use Planning Center, you can just drag/paste pdf files into a project or use a simple wizard to create Chord Queue files from local or remote PDF files.

For click-track synchronization, it made sense to store chord chart navigation timing with the chord chart, not the click track. That way, if the chord chart changes, you just need to update the chord chart and not the click-track; for example, if you need to change the text size or move things around. Fortunately for me, I have a strong background in MIDI (ever since the 90s) and thus knew about the existence of MIDI Time Code (MTC). MIDI Time Code can be used to synchronize several MIDI devices so that they don't get out of sync with one another. Since the main goal I was trying to achieve was to synchronize a chord chart with a click track, MIDI Time Code seemed to be a solid approach. The idea is to associate locations (i.e. page number, position) within the chord chart with specific time values. Then when the song is played back, we just need to display the appropriate location in the chord chart at the right time. As an added bonus, the use of standard MIDI protocols ensure that Chord Maestro can be synchronized with just about any MIDI device. That means you can drive your chord chart navigation using your old Casio keyboard, a drum machine, or a modern Digital Audio Workstation (like Sonar, Logic, etc.). This level of flexibility means you get to use whatever tools you want with Chord Maestro. If it sends MIDI Time Code, then Chord Maestro can use it.

Perhaps you are wondering what happens if the click track needs to be turned off during a performance. Sometimes even the best bands have to abandon the click track because they have strayed too far off the proverbial "beaten path" to recover. This was a question my worship pastor (who is as far from being a techie as the east is from the west) asked me early on. How does the band go from click track driven chord chart navigation to manual navigation? Murphy loves to disrupt our worship services so we needed to have an easy way to fall-back to manual mode in the event that the click track was killed. Once again MIDI came to the rescue. Chord Maestro navigation can be driven by two separate MIDI input sources. One of the sources is called the "sync source" and refers to a click track, drum machine, or other type of source that sends MIDI Time Code. The other input is a "controller source" that receives user specified MIDI events that enable manual navigation through a chord chart. The idea is that one message moves to the next song while another message jumps you to the next navigation anchor within the chord chart. The fact that the controller input is driven by MIDI messages means that the messages can come from any type of device. I purchased a cheap MIDI foot pedal that I use to control chord chart navigation when we we're not using click-track synchronization. I've also been able to drive navigation using my iPhone or iPad (with the help of some cheap apps). You can also drive Chord Maestro using a keyboard or other MIDI device.

The point is that if the click-track needs to be shut down, the application can still receive navigation events from a manually driven control source. For my band, I'm usually the one responsible for driving the chord chart navigation when the click-track needs to be abandoned during a song. I'm a guitar player so foot pedals are part of my DNA. I definitely don't prefer to manually control navigation, but it's important to have a fall back when Murphy decides he wants to derail your best laid plans.

In summary, Chord Maestro is a proven-to-be-useful tool that can hopefully help churches and bands everywhere to declutter the stage and reduce confusion when it comes to managing chord charts. I'm sure the tool will evolve and improve over time, but I'm already using it at my church and it works great. Check out the fully functional trial version to see if it works well for you!

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