Chord Symbols


Song writers and composers who use Pro Tools to create their songs will often find themselves collaborating with other musicians, it may be to add another instruments or perhaps even sending their sessions off to get orchestrated and transcribed for performers.

The sessions sent will need to be clearly organised and informative to ensure the recipient can get to work as soon as possible, and what can be more time consuming then having to listen through the song over and over to work out the chords being played?

Thankfully Pro Tools has a simple, but very useful tool, which is often overlooked by users although it can save a fair amount of time… Let’s check it out.

What are Chord Symbols?

Chord symbols are primarily timeline markers which denote the chord being played at that time and are displayed as a small yellow arrow which don’t look too dissimilar to tempo and key markers. It is worth mentioning here to save confusion that the chord symbols are entered manually by the user, as opposed to ‘PT analysing the session and placing the markers by itself which is not a feature unfortunately! Thankfully, the program makes it easy to add the markers into your session so you’re not spending more time adding markers than writing music!

While they may be mainly associated with the timeline in the edit window, the markers also come into play when working in the MIDI and score editing windows. We will look into its score abilities a little later on once we have a better understanding of what chord symbols are and how they can be applied to your session.

Quick Tip: Chord symbols are not contained when exporting a sessions MIDI data, and in fact have no effect on MIDI data within your session whatsoever.

While Chord Symbols have no MIDI relation, they can still be treated just like memory locations and tempo maps in that they can be imported into a session.

Chord Symbols In The Timeline

Below you can see a screenshot of the edit window timeline in Pro Tools, the image shows both key and chord markers although yours may look a little different, this is because you can customise your timeline to display only the tools you will be making use of in your sessions.

To choose which tools are available in your timeline simply navigate to View > Rulers > Chord Symbols.

You can also make the Chord Symbols visible by selecting ‘Chords‘ from the Ruler view selector or MIDI editor window as shown below.

Adding Chord Symbols

Chord symbols can be added in a number of different ways, it is most common for them to be placed at specific timeline locations with playback stopped.

Place your cursor in the timeline position you wish to add a symbol, grid mode is probably the easiest to use here to ensure the placement is precise. More information on edit modes can be found on our post here.

When you are happy with the cursor placement, you can either click the ‘+‘ symbol to the far left of the chord timeline ruler, or you can also perform the task by holding the control key (Mac), Start (Windows) and then raising your cursor up to the chord timeline ruler where the cursor will change to a ‘+‘ symbol allowing you to place them manually.

As soon as you have placed a chord symbol you will be presented with the Chord Change Dialogue window where you can set the specific values, let’s take a look at customising the chords now.

Chord Change Dialogue Window

The chord change window will appear anytime that you either create or modify a chord and allows you to set the specifics of how the chord is built.

As you can see, the dialogue window is quite straight forward and simply asks you to select from the following options:

Chord (1): This is where you set the main chord key (eg. C, D, Eb…)

Chord Quality (2): Allows you to set the chord quality (eg. Major, Minor…)

Bass Note (3): Allows you to set a specific bass notes, for those who are not familiar with this kind of chord build, simply changing the bass or ‘root’ note can give the chord an entirely different sound.

Diagram (4): After you have set the previous options you will be given the final choice to choose which guitar tablature diagram you wish to use which will appear in the score editor.

When you are happy, simply click ok and you are done.

Making Adjustments

Should you want to change a chord which has already been placed, you can simply double-click the chord symbol, make your changes in the dialogue window and then click ok once more.

Chord symbols can just as easily be deleted by either Option_Clicking (Mac) Alt_Clicking (Windows) the chord symbol, or by making a selection across the chord symbol timline and pressing the delete key.


As mentioned, Pro Tools now also supports the feature to ‘Export to Sibelius’ from the file menu, this of course will include your chord symbols created in your Pro Tools sessions and would be particularly useful if you are a songwriter who wishes to transcribe your song for other musicians to play later on.

It is very common for musicians and songwriters to quickly record their melodies within Pro Tools making use of great sounding virtual instruments, and then sending it across to Sibelius when it is finished to tidy the notation up for performers and add more definitive directions such as slurs.

Final Words

We hope that you have found this article useful on what we believe to be a hidden helping tool for songwriters! If you have used chord symbols in your sessions then please do leave us a comment below or say hello on Twitter.

  1. Rick Zander
  2. Ryan
  3. withnold Green
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    • Admin
  5. Richard A. Harrington

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