Fretboard Patterns versus Notes and the big TAB question!
I'm going the play devil's advocate and go out on a limb with this article. I'm actually going to put up a fight for fretboard patterns and tab, the two big dividers in music education.
I once had a head of department reprimand me for using tablature as a teaching aid in a music college and it's been a bone of contention for me ever since. I know the EXCLUSIVE use of patterns and tab can lead to problems (depending on what you want to do in the music world) but I hate this elitist crap that says one way of demonstrating a concept is wrong. If it helps a player assimilate the relevant information then it's fine by me. Fingerings can be displayed clearly with tab and if I want to show a certain fingering for a phrase, scale or arpeggio then it's the quickest way. If I'm teaching sight reading then I obviously use a different approach.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the post.
Let me know when the smoke clears!
PS. I've just written my next blog article on note and spelling drills that is in direct opposition to fingerboard patterns. I like to give both sides a fair shake.
The link won't open. Can you please try another? I'd like to read the article.
I just tried it and it was OK. Took a few seconds loading for some reason. Server might be a little slow today. Let me know if it still doesn't work.
Thanks for the article Mark. I tend to agree that the idea of TAB as simply bad is a nonsense, I am also currently learning to read notation, so I can also see the value there. I like the idea that TAB can lend support to notation and can see where you are coming from with that idea. Also, for many simple bass lines (provided that you have actually heard the song already) TAB is an easy way to pick them up quickly.
I also agree about the "this is a bad thing" mentality, and it seems to apply to any number of things musical. Many forums are full of the "TAB is rubbish, you are not a proper bass player if you can't read notation" type posts; similarly "if you play with a pick you are not a bass player" or "if you can't get to play like John Paul Jones, Nile Rogers etc, you are a lightweight, and should be heckled from the stage". I dread to think how many fledgeling musicians have been deterred by this sort of nonsense.
The box pattern issue just seems like logical common sense; as you say, why make things more complicated?
I can't see any problem with using or teaching TAB. I have seen many great bass players who can't read notation.
I suppose my point is not to defend tab as a form of notation. As I say in the blog, using it as a professional form of music notation is ridiculous and pretty much impossible. I only defend its use as a means of demonstrating a fingering or positioning when used as a supplement to standard notation. I have 100% NEVER been handed anything with tab involved in any way in any pro gig ever. I get annoyed by people slagging it off just for the sake of it and without realising how it can be used but, by the same token, I would never, ever push the use of tab or basic finger patterns ahead of learning to read standard music notation and general music theory. That WOULD be counterproductive.
Be that standard notation sheet music, tablature, lead sheets, fake chord, Nashville numbers, or whatever.
Of course IMHO.
Great article...and a great topic for debate. I am a high school band director and we teach patterns, as well as learning notes, on all instruments. I relate it to speaking. We think in sentences, not individual words. We have learned complete phrases that fit in a particular social settings and just let them go.
"Hey, Man. How was your weekend?" doesn't come out of your mouth as, "Hey. Man. How. Was. Your. Weekend?"
As you say, it's not that Tabs or patterns are bad learning tools, they are just bad if they are allowed to be the whole of the learning experience.
We cannot stop learning......we learn at conscious level (being aware of what we are learning) and we learn at an un-conscious level (not being aware of what we learn).
Patterns are what we come to recognise with in or musical learning, they are in fact frameworks that we can move to apply to other ideas.
So it is a conscious level to learn the framework, but it is an un-conscious level of how we can apply it.
When applied the un-conscious learning becomes conscious learning and there will be certain elements of that learning that will be un-conscious learning. This shows itself as "realisation" of the knowledge, something we know but never connected with other information we have.
Classic examples of framework are scales, the pattens are the same, but the note information changes changes with each new position.
Chords are frameworks, 1-3-5 makes any major triad, 1-3b-5 makes any minor triad.
It stands the test of learning that if we teach someone how to construct a C Major/minor triad in this manner, we in fact teach them every Major/minor triad applicable.......if they realise it.
The temptation to stop learning the all notes being used and just play the shape a root note is an easy one because it sounds correct and lets the player get on with playing.
Once this habit develops it takes over other learning, or not learning, other musical ideas. The one we see most is in the question often posted 'how do i learn the fretboard'?
If a student/player learns the note names with any shapes they learn, they cannot stop themselves from learning the fretboard and such questions becomes a mute issue.
The same learning applies to lots of musical ideas, learn one and apply it. Because this requires thinking and best done on paper, students/players do not see it as a viable use of their immediate time. But such learning is not about immediate learning, its about sustained learning, these ideas underpin ideas around them and give students/players a deeper learning to support their thinking.
So pattens are a great thing to recognise and use when supporting musical ideas, as you say they are part of it, not all of it.
Tab is the same idea, we learn to count as children, we are learning tab from the minute we learn to count, we have not applied it to tab is because the realisation that we could is not yet formed.
So when a student/player comes to learn songs using SN they have to learn a new language, a new framework if you will, so it is not an immediate use as opposed to using numbers which they already can do.
Because they are looking to learn a song they like, the number apply to what they already know, the brain organises the info to suit.
Tab is a great tool, but again it is part of it not all of it.
Players that use tab do so because it suits their learning needs, what the do not realise is the practical restriction when it is opened up across musical ideas.
Some teachers and educators see this as a flaw, but many see it as an opportunity to learning, and develop it side by side with tab.
My experience in teaching with Tab is to use it as a framework to reinforce SN, to it to help students/and players make a transition. The student/player will soon decide if it is worth there while stick with tab or learn SN.
But i make my point further by suggesting that if you learn SN you can read in Tab by the use of un-conscious learning anyway.....but learning Tab does not automatically mean you can use SN.
To prove my point i take a Tab, have the student/player to point to any numbers and then i name the note it corresponds to, i show them that you can see the notes within the numbers as part of associated learning.
I then reverse the idea, take the notes, G-B-D-F# and you have 1-3-5-7, so you can see the numbers within the music, or see GMaj7 chord, or arpeggio, within it you have GMaj triad, also a Bm triad or the 1-3-5 of Bmin...etc. all these things are in there and are learned if the student/player takes the time to realise it......if they learn it.
I think any teacher that sees tab as a bad thing is maybe missing an opportunity, they should see it as a good thing, but take the time and teach something more useful in the long run such as SN within theory and let the student/player come to the realisation which is the better for them to learn music with.
Great article and points well put Mark, but if some teachers are just not willing to use whatever tools are at their disposal i see that as a weakness, or maybe an opportunity missed, after all when a teacher excludes a student/player from themselves just because they want to use tab, they send them into the arms of someone who will just maybe use only tab and so the chance to make a case for SN, or theory based learning they have to offer to that student/player is potentially lost as i see it.
We have it quite easy in the strings instrument world and a lot easier if you have frets. We have two box pattern the : tone tone semi etc and the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th fret A strings.
But other instruments don't have that second level pattern ... play a flute and you'll see that none 2 scales is the same. Same thing for a piano ...
So we do have it quite easy and instead of playing more intricate stuff we play more pattern and boxed shape and never venture out ...
Thanks Fergie. You're dead right about the loss of a case for SN. I think the key to teaching many bass players today is adapting to the modern, web influenced outlook. Nowadays, kids start playing and instantly gain access to a world of tab sites, youtube videos etc. etc. that can steer them away from the 'boring' world of traditional music study.
Teachers that accept and understand these influences can then integrate them into the wider spectrum of music theory related areas and reading
Unfortunately I get a "Server Not Found" message when I click on the link.
I have been playing bass for 2 years now. I'm teaching myself and fingering was an initial hurdle until I came acrosss the 4+2 Todd Johnson/Garry Willis concept.
For the most part I've been reading standard notation and reading a lot of walking bass lines from various sources. Not a week goes by now that I'm moving a bit faster to new material that I don't find some passage that plays much cleaner if I move away from my original 'key center' even if the key hasn't actually changed. I've been practicing a nice transcription of 'Take the A Train' for about a week and it took me that long to recognize a 4 bar passage (2 chords, 2 bars each) was the same pattern moved up a couple of frets. (I suppose it could be argued to be a quick out and back key change.)
My sense is 1) if I had a teacher they'd point this out 2) I'll get better at recognizing these 'interval' patterns and translate them to fretboard patterns as I progress 3) it would have been clear from the start with tablature
For the most part I would agree with you.
In my mind, tablature is simply a written expression of visual demonstration. It's no different than a student watching his/her instructor as the instructor fingers the notes in the pattern. Yes, it is very much lacking in terms of musical information, but sometimes you don't need that much information. It's no less lacking in data than many charts or lead sheets. I've played tunes I've never heard from progressions written on napkins!!
The truth is, I believe most players - even if they have put in the work to learn many different methods of musical communication - will ultimately translate it all (at least in their mind) back to their roots. For example, my musical brain thinks in intervals and Nashville Number. It's how I first learned. So, if you give me any chart, lead sheet or even SN, my brain tends to "translate" as I go. I can make do with them, but I have never been able to make them equally "native." I believe that to be a very advanced and impressive skill.
I compare it studying German in college. Although after three years, I was fairly proficient speaking, reading and writing the language, I always was thinking in English and translating to German. Or, even though my ears heard German, my brain "hears" it translated to English.
I think the real issue is not so much tab itself but rather what it represents in the musicians' community. As mentioned, the web allows aspiring players to begin independent study and progress as rapidly as their talent allows. Unfortunately for some, they are either unable or unwilling to break from the tab cycle.
I have run across far too many who "shred" on the instrument and appear to have amazing skills to the observer, but they have done nothing to develop their ears and other skills needed to actually function as a musician. Those who tend to focus on "learning songs" are at a disadvantage. This is absolutely not the fault of tab, but it somehow wears the face of the phenomenon.
Tab is fine for what it is, but it paints an incomplete picture, making it inherently worse than standard notation.
As for whether tab should be utilized, i say sure, utilize it. But know its limitations, and know that it is not a replacement for standard notation. Be aware that it is a simplified way of communicating music to another human being, and is not as universal as standard notation is that it only applies to one type of instrument.
If a student can readily identify where tab is lacking, then they should be educated enough to make their own choice as to whether they should utilize it and when.
Great article! Thank you for posting. Sums up the way I came to view the whole subject (eventually, after long wandering).
Tabs are indeed just another way of "let me show you how". My own use of tabs stops at a picture of a short pattern (e.g. octave scale)
The ideal end goal of learning an instrument is to be at a point where your brain makes a sound, and your fingers *know* how to make it. I doubt that note names play any role in that process.
Where they do play role is similar to learning how to speak: in learning how individual letters make syllables. We learn speaking not by combining individual letters into words - there is a whole process in between, and that is - learning syllables which are *patterns* (hehe). From that point on we learn speaking by combining those small patterns into larger ones - words, then sentences, and off we go blabbing away.
It's same with playing music. I think it's important to make sure is that "patterns" should be "sound patterns", not "visual patterns". The visual side of things ideally better be used only as a tool - here's how to make a tone-tone-semitone on your instrument. So by the time you get to play longer passages - you are making them out of sound patterns that live in your head, and your fingers play them automatically.
Now, that is not to dismiss using note names - not at all. Continuing comparison: that is like learning how to read. Speaking and reading are two, related, but different, abilities/activities. There are people who are decent speakers, but poor readers; and vice versa. You wanna be able to do both.
But whichever one you are learning - notes/letters seem to disappear as soon as you get past the point of patterns/syllables.
I have always viewed the "Tab Wars" with some amusement, as someone who learned music as a trombonist, and learned bass because I was a teenager in the grunge era and wanted to be in Pearl Jam. The whole beauty of a stringed instrument tuned in 4ths or 5ths (as I saw it at the time) was that it was comparatively easy to visualize and express most intervals and patterns without changing your hand position. In this light tab notation struck me as pure genius - why add a layer of abstraction between the notes and the fingerings, especially if transpositions might be involved later?
Of course the flip side is that because it is so easy to visualize and express intervals and patterns on the bass, it is also easy to not internalize the one-to-many correspondence of notes on the page to notes on the fingerboard. And that's the real issue with over-reliance on tab specifically or "thinking in fingerings" more generally.
In my own case, 20-odd years after first picking up a bass guitar I still can't sight read effectively on bass, despite being a quite good sight reader/singer in general (for an amateur). Because it's not the reading that's the problem! It's that I never developed the mind-instrument link like I have on trombone and voice. Tab notation isn't to blame, because I almost never used it myself - I was able to pick up most songs by ear, having developed those musical skills long before I ever picked up a bass.
Thus: blaming tab notation for a player's lack of reading skills is silly. As my own experience proves, you can learn to be a lousy reader all on your own, with or without using tab.
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