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Background

Chord Maestro was born out of a desire to get rid of music stands on the stage and to ensure that everyone was truly "working off the same sheet of music." The music stands clutter up the stage and result in the musicians staring down at the stands instead of out into the congregation. It's kind of hard to lead worship if you look like your staring down at your feet the entire time. Another issue our worship team often had was multiple versions of the same song. We were constantly discovering that each of us had a different version of a chord chart. Having songs in multiple keys made things even more complicated. Not to mention the mountain of paper that resulted from having 2+ copies of the each song in the library. I still remember carrying my huge song binder to every practice and spending 10 or 15 minutes digging through the binder to find a particular song that inevitebly was missing. I'm sure we've spent a ton of money on paper copies over the years.

Our church was moving into a new building and we wanted to ditch the stands in favor of some sort of confidence screen because the stage was small and we wanted to "engage" people more by not looking down at music all the time. We had recently started using a "click track" to keep our timing solid and everyone thought it would be great if the confidence screen display could somehow be synchronized with the click track. Having the click track synchronization would ensure that the appropriate chords were on the screen at any given point in the song without requiring an additional volunteer to basically just be a button pusher.

As a software developer, I thought, "no problem, surely there is existing software that does what we need." I quickly volunteered to be the guy to get our chord chart confidence screen system up and running. I was excited to find one or two affordable products that looked like they would fit the bill. I told everyone on worship team that we would soon be saying goodbye to paper music and music stands. I payed my money and purchased software only to realize that these existing products were either too buggy or required too much work to feasibly use. Our church uses Planning Center Online and so we've already got a fairly sizable chord chart library. The tools I looked at would have required me to re-enter all of the chord chart information into whatever custom format their program used and maintain a separate song database. Why should I have to maintain two separate song databases? That means I have to do twice as much work to create/update a single song. I wanted to have a single song database that could be used for printing copies of songs (for practice) and displaying on the confidence screen. None of the tools available provided this capability.

Existing tools also do not provide a good mechanism for synchronizing chord charts with a click track. Although a couple do provide a means for turning a page in response to a single MIDI message, this means that I have to "hard code" navigation messages into each click track. This proved to be very time consuming and error prone. Plus, if I needed to change the chord chart arrangement, all of the navigation queues had to be modified. I tried to make it work, but it was just too time consuming. It was back to the drawing board for me.

After I reached the conclusion that existing tools did not fit the bill, I did more research and discovered a lot of people online expressing similar desires for an effective chord display tool. Being a software developer, I said, "hey, I can build something to do that." Thus began an intense period of brain storming and development that ultimately produced Chord Maestro. Fortunately for me, my church worship team allowed me to test out my software prototypes during practice and eventually on Sunday mornings (as the tool matured). This proved to be invaluable because I could immeadiately determine if my technical approaches were reasonable. Initially, there were a lot of things that I had to change because the process of getting songs ready to display on the confidence screen just wasn't easy enough. If it took me more than five minutes to get a chord chart imported and ready to display (including navigation points), I tried a different approach. I wanted the process of getting a song ready for display to be a 3 or 4 minute task rather than taking an hour. Over the course of several months, I refined the interface and features of Chord Maestro to get to a place where using it was no longer a chore. 

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