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Is TAB really that evil?


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#1 Nicko

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 12:46 PM

Rather than hijack the "where do I start" thread I thought I's start another on the specific subject of tablature.

Some pretty strong opinions have been aired but I'm gonna say here and now I don't see anything wrong with using it. I know my scales, I know my chord tones, my ear could be better - I'm Ok at intervals but struggle with chord harmony. Many tabs on t'net are not 100% right, but I see a lot that are pretty close.

I am a poor reader of dots, mainly cos I never bothered to learn past the basics and to be honest unless you're playing jazz standards or lounge music its hard to find sheet music.

If I'm learning a new song whats wrong with picking up the tab, listening to the record and deciding if the tab is right or wrong? If I'm learning a song and there's no TAB, I can do it but it takes longer and the only way I'll retain it is by writing it down in TAB form anyway.

I think this anti Tab thing is more a bassplayer issue. I've never heard a guitarist say that you should n't use a chord sheet.
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#2 dannybuoy

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 12:55 PM

Those that are strongly against tab seem to be those who play in situations where they are handed a sheet of music to play and are expected to keep up without having heard the piece before. Therefore they need something that can convey rhythm properly, which tab is not really capable of. For most other situations where you can read the tab alongside listening to an original recording, it does its job perfectly!

Edited by dannybuoy, 18 August 2017 - 12:56 PM.


#3 Daz39

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 01:01 PM

Elitism is a big thing: go to TB and there's no end of 'it's not for real musicians'.
I see nothing wrong with TAB. If you listen to the song you get the rhythm, and once you work out the pattern of the notes you can amend the fingering positions the TAB gives anyway, to suit your playing (e.g. I don't like open notes, they confuse my fingers.)

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 01:03 PM

There are literally thousands of songs from all genres available in standard notation. There's a whole thread pinned in the theory section,

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#5 Kev

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 01:05 PM

TAB is excellent, for its purpose.
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#6 Les

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 01:06 PM

No, it's not evil at all. It's just another tool.
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Posted 18 August 2017 - 01:09 PM

No its not evil , it depends what your goals are as a bassist or musician and what level of study you want to put time into or achieve



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Posted 18 August 2017 - 01:14 PM

As a fairly clueless musician my opinion is probably not much use, but the way I see it, standard musical notation is a very accurate way of showing what to play where and isn't instrument specific, tab is a less accurate way but IS instrument specific. I self taught myself using tab, online tutorials and by playing along to songs I love. Probably not the best way but works for me. I also found tabs very very useful when I had twenty songs to learn in a month.

Edited by T-Bay, 18 August 2017 - 02:19 PM.


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Posted 18 August 2017 - 01:29 PM

I find TAB useful for getting an idea of what the bass line should be but it is frustrating how many times TAB that is given a good rating for a song when it is clearly incorrect!
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Posted 18 August 2017 - 02:16 PM

Many have wrong bits in them, but as a starting point, and for bits that are difficult to hear, I find TAB is an excellent tool. Once you have the song pretty much sussed you can usually identify the bits that are wrong pretty easily.
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Posted 18 August 2017 - 02:19 PM

Before what is now 'standard' notation, tab (short for tablature...) was the means of communicating for all serious musicians and composers, including for song. It has its limitations; it also has its strengths. Nothing wrong with using tab and/or 'dots'; everyone chooses what they find best suited to their purpose at any one time. I use both, and other systems too.
As an aside, how, with 'dots' is one supposed to convey tone, such as fuzz, or 'grit'..? Dots have their limitations too, in some circumstances.

Edited by Dad3353, 18 August 2017 - 02:20 PM.

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#12 Jazzjames

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 02:39 PM

https://youtu.be/4X7qgBVnMfY

Seen this?

I don't like tab, except when you want to demonstrate a particular fingering pattern. Even then I prefer Chuck Rainey's method of 1A . 1A means play the note with the first finger on the A string, but you have to look at the notation to see what the note is. This note could be any fret, it is not necessarily Bb. Check it out in Rainey's "The Method".
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#13 lowdown

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 05:56 PM

View PostDad3353, on 18 August 2017 - 02:19 PM, said:

As an aside, how, with 'dots' is one supposed to convey tone, such as fuzz, or 'grit'..? Dots have their limitations too, in some circumstances.

It's just written on the chart, isn't it ? 'Overdrive', 'Chorus pedal'. Just as 'Mutes', 'Cups' etc are written on Trumpet/Bone parts.
Or String articulations for up and down bows etc. It's up to the arranger/orchestrator or engraver to put as much info on the part as they can.
But then again I am talking about professional scores. Parts written out for fun to share, or post up on YouTube, usually lack that kind of detail.

TAB is not evil, but it's not something I have ever used or indeed ever seen on a gig/show/session. Not to say it hasn't appeared for other folks.
If someone doesn't read the dots or is not so good with the ears, I can see TAB being useful.
Just another musical tool I suppose. :)

Edited by lowdown, 18 August 2017 - 08:15 PM.

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 06:10 PM

My (slight) issue with tab is that although it does basically the same thing as standard notation it only does it for one specific instrument at a time, and only for stringed instruments. It feels a little isolated, almost like guitar and bass players consider themselves guitar and bass players, not musicians.
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Posted 18 August 2017 - 06:40 PM

I used tab for 20 years and then started on notation.

I'm not a strong reader by any means, but I'm getting there - and I'd recommend it to everyone. I wish I had swapped earlier.

Even books with tab and notation require the reader to look at both for rhythm information. It's more efficient to only need to look at one.
And just like every other type of reading it really does only need 5 mins per day practice. That is far better than 1 hour at the weekend.

I bought the ABRSM Double bass books - sight reading and the scale book. They are for DB, but I just ignore the bow information. they start dead easy, and slowly build. Worth every penny.

Now when I get given a piano part to try and work out a bass part to accompany my far more talented kids, I don't just sh*t myself!

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 06:52 PM

For me, you should view every weakness as an opportunity. The biggest weakness of TAB is the lack of information you get. The best thing about this is that in order to get the same end result as reading the dots to a tune, you have to use your ears to help you fill the gaps. It's a great chance to mix-up your ear training!
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Posted 18 August 2017 - 06:52 PM

View PostMykesbass, on 18 August 2017 - 06:10 PM, said:

My (slight) issue with tab is that although it does basically the same thing as standard notation it only does it for one specific instrument at a time, and only for stringed instruments. It feels a little isolated, almost like guitar and bass players consider themselves guitar and bass players, not musicians.

The same could be said of drum parts, which are instrument-specific. It's just the nature of the beast, really.
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Posted 18 August 2017 - 07:14 PM

View Postfretmeister, on 18 August 2017 - 06:40 PM, said:

I used tab for 20 years and then started on notation.

I'm not a strong reader by any means, but I'm getting there - and I'd recommend it to everyone. I wish I had swapped earlier.

Even books with tab and notation require the reader to look at both for rhythm information. It's more efficient to only need to look at one.
And just like every other type of reading it really does only need 5 mins per day practice. That is far better than 1 hour at the weekend.

I bought the ABRSM Double bass books - sight reading and the scale book. They are for DB, but I just ignore the bow information. they start dead easy, and slowly build. Worth every penny.

Now when I get given a piano part to try and work out a bass part to accompany my far more talented kids, I don't just sh*t myself!

Great post. :drinks:
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Posted 18 August 2017 - 07:15 PM

View PostT-Bay, on 18 August 2017 - 01:14 PM, said:

As a fairly clueless musician my opinion is probably not much use, but the way I see it, standard musical notation is a very accurate way of showing what to play where and isn't instrument specific, tab is a less accurate way but IS instrument specific. I self taught myself using tab, online tutorials and by playing along to songs I love. Probably not the best way but works for me. I also found tabs very very useful when I had twenty songs to learn in a month.

You play bass? Then your opinion is a relevant as anyone's. We all learn in different ways. The only people to avoid are the one who say "There is only one way to do it.".

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 07:18 PM

View PostDad3353, on 18 August 2017 - 06:52 PM, said:

The same could be said of drum parts, which are instrument-specific. It's just the nature of the beast, really.

Not really, as they are standard notation minus specific pitch. The nature of the bass/guitar beast is that they could be written in standard notation, but bass/guitarists choose not to use that form.
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Posted 18 August 2017 - 08:00 PM

View PostDad3353, on 18 August 2017 - 02:19 PM, said:

As an aside, how, with 'dots' is one supposed to convey tone, such as fuzz, or 'grit'..? Dots have their limitations too, in some circumstances.

For my BMus end of course project I had to compose and record up to 40 minutes worth of stuff, my own stuff, so ambient solo bass. It all had to be notated in standard notation. Each piece took hours to do, and was on average about 30 sheets of A4 when printed out.

I use an ebow a lot, plus numerous effects pedals. I devised a key that accompanied each chart, this showed which effect pedal, and identified the various techniques used in the piece. There was lots of annotation regarding effects etc. This would have enabled someone to interpret what was going on in the piece.

Some show tunes that I've played dictate the use of effects pedals, they usually just state overdrive on, then overdrive off etc.

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 08:17 PM

TAB isn't evil, it does have it's drawbacks though, and is one of the shortcuts that people use when they want to play a line, instead of understanding what's going on, and working it out for themselves.

I learned to sight-read music when I was studying violin at school. I started playing classical guitar at age 14 or so, again reading music.

When I took up bass, it didn't actually occur to me that you could play without having a piece of music in front of you. I knew the guys that I was really into, Patitucci, Stanley Clarke etc could read music too. I just thought it was what everyone could do.

Sight-reading is a skill, it's vital really if you want to play on cruise ships which I've done, I've also done theatre pit work at Birmingham Rep and Alex theatres, and done dep gigs where I've just turned up and been given a pad of charts.

It's great being able to look at a piece of notation, and just understand what's going on from the visual information there.

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#23 lowdown

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 08:39 PM

View Postambient, on 18 August 2017 - 08:17 PM, said:

It's great being able to look at a piece of notation, and just understand what's going on from the visual information there.

That's a great point. I learned a whole show (Grease) on a ten hour flight to the Far East.
With my headphones and the show on mini disc, along with a copy of the show pad, I wasn't turning up completely cold.
There was no surprises and I had complete confidence in what I was doing. I had become familiar by visually taking it all in
beforehand.
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#24 bazztard

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 04:16 AM

View Postdannybuoy, on 18 August 2017 - 12:55 PM, said:

. Therefore they need something that can convey rhythm properly, which tab is not really capable of. For most other situations where you can read the tab alongside listening to an original recording, it does its job perfectly!

Apart from snobbishness, this above would be the reason if reading a new piece.

For learning covers, a TAB is perfectly fine because you know the rhythm and where the notes go from listening to the song.
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Posted 19 August 2017 - 07:22 AM

I'd feel better disposed to dots if they were accompanied by words from my own language.

Sorry but I'm a bit too thick to understand the terms used otherwise. I've been exposed to them since childhood but they still mean little to me unless I stop to think. It kinda defeats the objective.

Tab is clear and concise. Not too much information but enough to get you going. If additional detail is required then I might crawl through the more abstract stuff in score. I sometimes spend a little time doing so but more usually I rely on my ear to fill in the detail. If there is no recording to listen to it takes me a bit longer to get there but I never regret my inability to sight read all of that squiggle. Even when I had clear sight I didn't get on with it.



The following explains my background so you can get off here if you are easily bored as I have addressed the OP above;

I was just started on how to read and write music at an English Primary school but at age ten we emigrated. Had we stayed I was all set to take up violin as part of the normal school curriculum but I couldn't follow through because of the move.

The next school taught music more by example and by ear. Music was in the everyday culture as well. Nearly every house in Ireland could hold a ceili at the drop of a hat. Most houses would have a tin whistle at least but more usually there would be fiddles, bodhráin and guitars handy. In addition, we hosted a band every Sunday at our pub near the border with Northern Ireland. I'd meet working musicians from all around the country, north and south.

It wasn't until secondary school that music was available to me on the school syllabus and I had had a further change of school by then! The teachers there were mainly clergy. Not such an unbiased education as I would have chosen in hindsight. I was also in puberty so I was a lost cause. Boarding school is not the best place to experience those sort of hormonal changes. Celibate priests and nuns are just plain weird to live with.

Everything I learned from English Primary is still there and I can use it but it is only the beginnings of an understanding of written score. Events in my youth meant that I had issues with the education system and I rebelled. It turns out that being taught history first in England and then in Ireland caused my mind to reject History as a subject having heard both sides of the story. They weren't taught the same even though they were the same set of events.

I have no trust in the education system as a result and I've never relied on it since.

I'm not knocking a classical education but I find those who push it as THE way are ignorant in thinking that it can work for all musicians. It doesn't.

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#26 drTStingray

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 08:25 AM

I have made several attempts over the last 40 something years to learn to sight read notation fluently. I suspect the lack of a requirement to do so virtually ever for my bass playing has contributed to the fact that I still can't - other reasons being laziness etc. The vast majority of my requirements have been fulfilled by learning material from recorded work. It's only in more recent years that notated (or tab) bass parts have become readily available - many years ago the closest you would get is a piano left hand part which often did not reflect the bass part - more it provided pianists with an ability to play the piece unaccompanied rather than reflecting any part of the artist's recording.

I don't think tab is evil - it has helped me to learn quite complex things I could never have worked out by ear - and would probably have struggled with from the notation - but by using reference books or magazine transcriptions which show both notation and tab, it has given me a speedier reference to the notes and has also helped me to recognise notated rythmn and rest patterns thus helping my ability to sight read (I struggle less with the notes than with the rythmn when sight reading). I have learned (from notation) examples like the entire piano part and trumpet part for Cantaloupe Island - to both supplement my understanding of the piece and also allow me to concoct a solo bass piece. This is purely for personal interest and development - I've only ever played in one project where the song was played and I was required to play the bass part (and a short solo).

If I'm depping I might download tabs as a quick reference to speed up the learning process - I'm far more likely to write my own chord charts for reference on the gig.

I'm quite in awe of people who can read fluently - several brass players I know turn up for dep gigs with their own hand written notation and play standards (I'm talking things like Pick Up the Pieces, Watermelon Man, Autumn Leaves) accurately - I guess the brass parts do need to be spot on.

So I think it has its place, and has its limitations, but can be a quick reference to play at least the notes accurately....... the question of incorrect transcription affects notation as well as tab - the fact there is (possibly) more tab available may result in more inaccuracy (certainly I've seen tab from web sites which is completely wrong - simply using your ear and playing along will clarify if something is wrong!!).

This is probably anathema to purists but it works for me and I think has helped my reading of notation. I think a significant proportion of what I play is about feel and even notation is limited in its ability to convey that - I think that's something the player provides.

Edited by drTStingray, 19 August 2017 - 08:40 AM.

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#27 Jazzjames

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 09:05 AM

View Postbazztard, on 19 August 2017 - 04:16 AM, said:



Apart from snobbishness, this above would be the reason if reading a new piece.

For learning covers, a TAB is perfectly fine because you know the rhythm and where the notes go from listening to the song.

So you can easily recognize rhythm, but not pitch? Why should one be easier than the other?
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#28 Coilte

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 09:18 AM

An interesting article on tab (with responses) from Damian Erskine :


http://www.notreble....ation-and-ears/

Edited by Coilte, 19 August 2017 - 09:20 AM.


#29 peteb

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 09:36 AM

View PostdrTStingray, on 19 August 2017 - 08:25 AM, said:

I have made several attempts over the last 40 something years to learn to sight read notation fluently. I suspect the lack of a requirement to do so virtually ever for my bass playing has contributed to the fact that I still can't - other reasons being laziness etc. The vast majority of my requirements have been fulfilled by learning material from recorded work. It's only in more recent years that notated (or tab) bass parts have become readily available - many years ago the closest you would get is a piano left hand part which often did not reflect the bass part - more it provided pianists with an ability to play the piece unaccompanied rather than reflecting any part of the artist's recording.

I don't think tab is evil - it has helped me to learn quite complex things I could never have worked out by ear - and would probably have struggled with from the notation - but by using reference books or magazine transcriptions which show both notation and tab, it has given me a speedier reference to the notes and has also helped me to recognise notated rythmn and rest patterns thus helping my ability to sight read (I struggle less with the notes than with the rythmn when sight reading). I have learned (from notation) examples like the entire piano part and trumpet part for Cantaloupe Island - to both supplement my understanding of the piece and also allow me to concoct a solo bass piece. This is purely for personal interest and development - I've only ever played in one project where the song was played and I was required to play the bass part (and a short solo).

If I'm depping I might download tabs as a quick reference to speed up the learning process - I'm far more likely to write my own chord charts for reference on the gig.

I'm quite in awe of people who can read fluently - several brass players I know turn up for dep gigs with their own hand written notation and play standards (I'm talking things like Pick Up the Pieces, Watermelon Man, Autumn Leaves) accurately - I guess the brass parts do need to be spot on.

So I think it has its place, and has its limitations, but can be a quick reference to play at least the notes accurately....... the question of incorrect transcription affects notation as well as tab - the fact there is (possibly) more tab available may result in more inaccuracy (certainly I've seen tab from web sites which is completely wrong - simply using your ear and playing along will clarify if something is wrong!!).

This is probably anathema to purists but it works for me and I think has helped my reading of notation. I think a significant proportion of what I play is about feel and even notation is limited in its ability to convey that - I think that's something the player provides.
I completely agree with this.

In 40 years gigging I have never once been asked if I can read. I have played with plenty of guys who I know can read, but it has been completely irrelevant on any gig I’ve done with them. Of course, reading is an essential skill if you want to play in a pit and if I had wanted to do that then I certainly would have learned to read a lot better than I can now.

I can’t imagine that you will ever see tab on a gig but it has its uses. After years of trying to work out Portrait of Tracy by ear and coming up with various things that sounded a bit like it but obviously not correct, I found an accurate tab and now I can play it – OK, the Eb artificial harmonic can be a bit hit and miss but still… There is no way I could have learnt that from notation, even if my reading was a lot better than it is.

Of course, you could say that I probably learnt a lot more trying to figure it out by ear, but the same applies there for both tab and notation.
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Posted 19 August 2017 - 09:54 AM

View PostLozz196, on 18 August 2017 - 02:16 PM, said:

Many have wrong bits in them, but as a starting point, and for bits that are difficult to hear, I find TAB is an excellent tool. Once you have the song pretty much sussed you can usually identify the bits that are wrong pretty easily.
this^ the reason I've never learned to read 'proper' music is rather like why I've never learned finger style, I've never had too, bit like learning a foreign language, if you're not going to need it what's the point?





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