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how to read bass tabs?

Discussion in 'Ask Michael Dimin' started by d_reissig, Nov 26, 2000.

  1. d_reissig


    Nov 26, 2000
    i've just started playing bass and i know this may not be the topic but can you assist me on how to read bass tablature?
  2. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    Tab is a system that is a graphical representation of how you play. Each line represents a string and the number on the line represent the fret that is pressed. Therefore the number 3 on the bottom line represents the note G played on the 3rd fret of the E string (4 string bass tab that is). What Tab does not do very well is give you an accurate rhythm. You need to refer to the original score for that.

  3. animechick


    Feb 19, 2004
    I'm new to the bass and really want to play I got some tabs off of a sight but its kind of confusing like when it has ---- like 17 times what does that mean and when it has ---0--- what does that mean I dont get it.
  4. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Check the guide to tablature found on OLGA - it gives a pretty thorough treatment of the subject.

  5. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999

    thanks for the link. I couldn't have said it any better

  6. Rope


    May 27, 2003
    Essexville, MI
    In one man's opinion, tab is a false hope. I feel it is a lot more difficult to read than traditional notation. If you follow the link above, look at all of the stuff you have to pay attention to in even a moderately complex tab. Traditional notation is a much better system for conveying the information necessary to perform an piece, plus it is easier to learn. I guess if you wanted to understand a couple of measures or a "lick," go the tab route. If you want half a chance at becming a musician, give the tried and tested route a shot.
  7. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    Absolutley! The other thing that is bad about TAB is that it looks at only 1 way to play a line - not the many that are available to you.

    But know that it's said - let's take a look at why TAb might come in handy.

    1. The original post said nothing about NOT learning tradional notation. They might be working on both. Tradional notation is much more accurate - that is a given

    2. Learning an instrument is a balance between practice, regiment, dedication, long hours, frustration AND FUN!!! If picking up a few TABs of your fav song helps push the other other elements, makes practice fun, helps develop technique -I am all for it. I do however think that TAB unto itself is not a great way to learn.

    3. TAB, like notation is just a tool to pass on information. Nothing more. Let us not make too much a deal of it.

    4. If you were to read my solo bass arrangements without TAB, I guarentee that you will not have as much fun as just being able to use the TAB to see the fingering and get a grasp on a totally new technique.

    5. Finally, I was asked a specific question and Wulf and I answered that question as asked. I tried not to necessarily demean the questioner or diminish their aspirations

  8. lpbassics

    lpbassics Guest

    Jan 26, 2002
    Tabs are a great way to quickly look up information. I know www.basstabarchive.com has almost every common song on file. Usually I only use them if I have to learn a usual song in a hurry (ie. less than 5 minutes, unless it's exceptionally complicated).
    I find one of the best ways to really learn how to play songs, once you've got some bassic technique down, is to use your ears. It can be frustrating at first, but it will quickly pick up! Try and figure some easier songs out using your ears, but if you can't quite get it glance at the tab for some help.

    Of course it's also recommended to learn how to read sheet music as well... all of these ways will make you versatile bassist! :D
  9. Im a sock

    Im a sock

    Dec 23, 2002
    Central MA
    I gotta chime in on this one.

    I used bass tabs pretty exclusively for a while, and alot of my music theory went right down the toilet because I had a TAB and a CD. Worst mistake EVER. Now I'm pretty much relearning all the stuff I used to (kinda) know.

    The moral of the story is.. and I know its been said here before... TAB is a nice tool and everything, but don't get sucked in by it's seductive ways.
  10. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999

    Yeah, I can vouch for that!! :D (sorry - couldn't resist)

    TAB, in the long run, has more cons than pros. IMHO, the worst of it is is that it dictates not only how something is played but where it is played. In the long run that gets us into some real ruts in our development as players. Understand what TAb is, use it for those small purposes and by all means learn how to truly read music (and of course transcribe it yourself)

  11. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    I think that's fair - especially since many tabs don't necessarily show where the original artist played it but merely where the tabber wanted to put it.

    I think the main pros of tab are:

    1) For beginners, who do find it helpful to be told where to put their fingers (that can be a good thing... but it's even better to learn how to figure it out yourself, so new players should try and wean themselves off tab quite quickly)

    2) For easy transmission across the internet - tab works really well in a quick and efficient plain text format, therefore, it is good for sharing snippets of information on a forum like this one.

    I can also see the value of the way some magazines and books give tab and standard notation, where a skilled transcriber does want to indicate where on the neck a particular passage was played.

    However, I'd definitely concur with Mike's advice to learn about reading music and to practise transcribing yourself (and, if you do those two things together, you'll find them mutually supportive).


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