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I can only read tabs?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Ambra, Feb 18, 2017.

  1. Ambra


    Feb 18, 2017
    Hello everyone, I've stumbled upon a very weird situation - I can't read anything besides tabs. Do you think this could become a problem? I'm a beginner and I never needed to read anything really.
  2. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    I don't know if it's a "problem," but it's a limitation. Tabs can be useful as a learning tool.

    But, of course, if you don't learn to read standard notation, you'll never be able to play a song written in standard notation.

    Also, a lot of people get dependent on just following a tab and never step beyond it to being able to learn a song by ear or create a part off a chord chart. That's very limiting. A lot of popular music isn't written down in standard notation, either, or at least most people don't get copies of it in that form; but if a guitarist tells you the verse of the song goes from G to C to D, you should know how to build a bass line off of that.
    ColdEye, hintz, HolmeBass and 8 others like this.
  3. Chains


    Jan 22, 2014
    Tabs only are OK, better than nothing, but it really depends on what you are using them for. Personal practice, cover band, exact reproduction of originals? and so on....

    As a beginner, train your ear to tell you what is right or not, especially if you are familiar with the original recording. Most internet tabs are not 100% correct so that is where your ear will help.
  4. Being able to read standard notation is another tool in your toolbox
  5. Oddly

    Oddly Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2014
    Dublin, Ireland.
    Honestly no.
    Obviously learning to read standard notation would be great especially if you have any notion of becoming a pro session player.
    But using tabs to get you started then using your ear to fine tune will get you a long way.
    Personally I can't read standard but if you give me a song to learn I'll listen to it a few times, then play along on my bass until I find the notes that seem to work.
    If there's a particularly tricky riff or chord change I can't nail down then I'll check out a tab for it.
    Now I was out of playing nearly 30 years, but since I got back to it in the last 2 years I've played jam sessions, and several gigs and am currently putting together a pretty tight covers band with a setlist of almost 100 songs so far.
    In my situation, standard notation wouldn't really have made things any easier as almost none of the folks I've played with use it.
    Ambra likes this.
  6. RoadRanger

    RoadRanger Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2004
    NE CT
    Learning and practicing scales is an important next step IMO. Then learning the notes on the neck up to the fifth fret, then beyond :) . I myself use a notational system similar to the "abc notation" that the folkies use:
    Index of /abc
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2017
    Oddly likes this.
  7. Jloch86


    Aug 1, 2016
    New Jersey
    If you don't plan on being a professional musician, it doesn't matter. Trust me.
    old spice, Pirate Captain and Oddly like this.
  8. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    I wouldn't go entirely that far. To be sure, the average bar band isn't using full sheet music. But, for instance, I also play in church. Sometimes we're working off a lead sheet or just a lyric sheet with chords, same as a bar band might do. Other times, though, we're given a page out of a traditional hymnal to play from. In that situation, if you can't read, you can't play, professional or not. I can imagine other situations, like if you were to want to help out on a school musical or community theater and they were using a written score.

    Most of the animus about tab is really aimed at the "tab monkey," the person who can put their fingers where the tab says to put them but has no idea what notes they're playing or what key they're in. If a singer asked to change the key they'd be completely lost. That's a very limiting place to be.
  9. Ambra


    Feb 18, 2017
    Thanks everyone for replying. So far I never had to deal with standard notation, I honestly almost can't find anything on the internet about it. I'm definitely a tab monkey right now but I'm a beginner and I want to improve and train my ear so that I will be able to recognise the key or the notes, but I don't know how to start. I'm not in a band because I wouldn't feel comfortable yet, though I already can play a lot of songs - following tabs, obviously.
    hrodbert696 likes this.
  10. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Looking for a gig around East Islip, NY!

    Jan 13, 2008
    It depends on what you're trying to do. Knowing how to read music notation is valuable but only in certain situations and environments. That said, it never hurts to learn even if you don't use it for any purpose besides home use.
  11. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    You start by taking lessons with a qualified teacher that you get multiple referrals for. ;)

    People that say you don't need to be able to read don't really know what they are talking about. It's true that I've rarely read any standard notion in a rock band, but standard notation opens up a whole world for you that you can apply to your playing in any situation. I don't know anyone who says that they wished they'd never learned to read music.
    Malarkey, Leo Smith, hintz and 2 others like this.
  12. Ambra


    Feb 18, 2017
    I haven't been able to find any bass teacher near me, let alone a qualified teacher with multiple referrals! I'm self-taught :D
  13. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Reading standard music is not a necessity, but a tool. You may never need it if you don't go beyond a guitar/bass/drums classic rock band, but it comes in handy, especially if you want to go further.

  14. dawelsch


    May 18, 2009
    Upstate New York
    Endorsing Artist: Fodera Guitars, MJC Ironworks Strings, Gruv Gear
    The concept of learning to read standard notation is no harder than learning to read English. The symbol on the page represents a sound. The basics of reading standard notation can be learned in the time it has taken to do the online research you referred to. From there it's just a matter of practice. Learning to read standard notation increases your Musical opportunities exponentially. And.... It's FUN!
    Leo Smith, salcott and foolforthecity like this.
  15. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Looking for a gig around East Islip, NY!

    Jan 13, 2008
    Truthfully, there are enough online resources that you can learn to do it in your own if you wanted to. You don't necessarily even need to learn to read in bass clef if you don't want to. Same goes for theory.
  16. Ambra


    Feb 18, 2017
    I have to say in Italy the standard notation is different from the chords notation (G, E, etc..) I've found on the internet. That's another reason why I had/have trouble learning it and I don't know where to start from. I realise it is extremely useful to be able to read standard notation though.
  17. Ambra


    Feb 18, 2017
    Could you please send me some links, if this doesn't bother you too much? I couldn't find anything anytime I looked :rollno:
  18. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    I learned about 40 years ago (long before the internet) totally on my own. Time and patience. Find sheet music for a song you already know. That's a good way to start.
    comatosedragon and Ambra like this.
  19. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    • Only able to read tab: Very limited opportunity. Dependent upon others. At the mercy of others - most internet tab is wrong.
    • Able to learn by ear: Many more gig opportunities. Much more growth potential.
    • Knowing how to read standard notation: the best tool to have, but useless if you have poor timing, and all the other skills which go into being a good bass player.
    • Ability to learn by ear and a general knowledge of theory: enough to do lots.
    • Ability to learn by ear, a general knowledge of theory, and ability to read standard notation well: the sky is the limit. You will have the most opportunity, provided you work on the above mentioned skills also.
    Being a beginner and saying you can't read anything but tabs can be a cup half empty or full kind of thing. If you're saying it thinking you want to and can learn other ways - then your cup is half full. If you think you have some sort of mental block and that it's impossible for you to learn other ways - then you're in trouble.

    You can only grow as a musician if you want to and believe you can.

    I think it's important to look at your goals. If your goal is to play bass as a hobby and just play a show here and there with a few friends - then you're all set.
    If you want to become the best bass player you can, and possibly earn some money (or play happening shows with a happening band), you're going to have to move past the tab stuff.

    I'll add this. Truth be told, where there's a will, there's a way. If you wanted to ONLY read tab, or had some sort of deficiency that truly made it impossible to learn any other way (I don't think any such thing exists), then you still could be a successful bassist. You'd have to work like crazy to find ways around it though, and you would be somewhat dependent on others. You could always find someone you trust and hire hire them to write basslines for you (if you're doing originals), or to write out accurate tab to songs you need. Would you want to do that?

    AND, it's important to note that bass playing (for some) is art. There are no rules. There are always ways of reinventing things. If you hate the idea of learning to read music, or play by ear and you want to create music - none of that is necessary. All that's necessary is creativity. A little passion helps too.
  20. Ambra


    Feb 18, 2017
    I will surely try, thank you :D

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