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Is it me or is bass tab even less helpful than guitar tab?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by g-dude, Apr 10, 2021.

  1. Best thing that ever happened to me in terms of developing was figuring out how a lot of tab often makes playing a song much harder than it is (or needs to be).

    It often seems like this is worse with bass for some reason. Maybe it’s the lack of rhythm in the tab, or perhaps it’s the use of ghost notes, or maybe even the fact that it is easier to get it wrong in terms of hand position vs shifting.
  2. I don't like it without musical notation included, either.
  3. jdthebassman

    jdthebassman play to live live to play Supporting Member

    You would be better off learning to read music and open up the ears, tab is antiquated.
  4. saltydude


    Aug 15, 2011
    boston CANADA
    Version 1
    Version 2
    Version 3 —- closest to it sorta but still wrong.
  5. Tab is the ikea building instructions of musical notation. Good enough that almost anyone can make a simple thing, but never good enough to make that thing exceptional.
  6. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member


    learn to read music = don't need tab!
  7. The other thing about tab for guitar is that it's usually chord oriented so the order in which you play the notes isn't as critical.

    I am even worse at reading tab than I am at reading standard notation but agree it's often weirdly "wrong," at least to the way I intuitively play things. I learn more by listening, figuring out things by ear, and looking at videos to see how others are approaching things. With my smaller hands, I don't always play in a way that might be conventionally correct, so there's that, as well.

    Notation of any kind can be hit or miss; if you develop your ear you know this and understand not to take anything written down as gospel unless you're sight reading in an actual performance- then you'd better play it as written.

    But, in terms of learning, all of these things can be valuable aids. I just don't take any of them as the Undiluted Truth but rather use them to cobble together a version of things that works and seems correct to my own ear.
    starjag, bassista6, smogg and 9 others like this.
  8. Tab can be useful for fingerings - if it is correct - but sheet music makes certain things leap off the page that tab just can’t. For example, a riff that moves to a different part of the scale where certain intervals are different.
  9. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    For myself, I'd rather look at the bass tab for a little while, then at the chord sheets for guitar.
    The rest is done by ear, unless it's a complicated song - that's when I head off to youtube and look for bass covers of that song.
    digmeout, J Gold, smogg and 7 others like this.
  10. Plectrum72

    Plectrum72 Supporting Member

    Often bass tabs have the most ridiculous fretboard choices for playing a note. Zero economy of motion or lack the pedaling of an open string or playing a note in the first five frets that should be played higher up the neck or vice versa. I think these are often written by guitar players who just take the fingering from the root note of the rhythm guitar chord and call it good. Bass tab is useful for getting you in the ballpark for most songs, but if you are attempting note for note, it's often far off the mark.
    OldDog52, bassista6, smogg and 10 others like this.
  11. kmon

    kmon Supporting Member

    May 11, 2009
    Austin, TX
    This^^. It can provide a jump start on a tune but it's rarely totally correct. Adding in chord charts, keeping an eye out for alternate fingerings, and using your ears should fill in the gaps.

    Of course most of it is free so I don't have high expectations. :D
    smogg, obimark, Ralph69 and 1 other person like this.
  12. Nickweissmusic

    Nickweissmusic Knows all intervals from one Fred, to Juan octave Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2014
    San Diego, CA
    I teach lessons and perform live music in and around San Diego CA. Sometimes I even make money doing it!
    Absolutely correct, you can’t expect (most) tab to tell you anything about timing. Tab is a useful tool, but only in context, if you can’t hear what you’re trying to play, it’s more or less useless.

    I tab things out for my more casual students (only dreaded notes for the academic students :) ), and encourage my students to find their own tabs if they want, but I make sure they know:

    1) almost all free tabs have something wrong, very often many things wrong

    2) use tab to help figure out what you hear, don’t just play the tab and hope everything works out. If you’re not working with the recording, you’re not doing it right.

    3) don’t worry about ghost notes, slides, or other details, until you understand how the notes fit in time. Yes you have to figure out the timing by ear, but it’s good ear training. Anyway, don’t worry about the gravy until you get the meat and potatoes.

    4) expect frustration, be patient with yourself, and if you’re playing something that sounds completely wrong, don’t be surprised if the tab is wrong itself. Always trust your ears more than the tab. Learning to listen critically and correct things yourself is a huge step in musical development, and requires hours and hours and hours of trial and error to learn to trust yourself.

    I’m all for online self education, but these are the kinds of hurdles a good teacher can help you out with more easily than you can do on your own. People see and learn things differently, so if you’re giving a solid effort for a week or 2, and still feel like you’re drowning, even 1 or 2 private lessons could help immensely.

    Good luck! And use your ears ;) !
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2021
    legalbass, BigJohnAZ and Bass4Brkfast like this.
  13. Hevy T

    Hevy T Supporting Member

    Jan 11, 2011
    Lethbridge, AB Canada
    I find tabs mostly useless! Unless its a solo I just learn the song structure from the rhythm chords and embellish where I feel it should go.

    ***CAUTION*** True story ahead

    I went to a jam a couple years ago and it was the first time I ever met the hostess. Well we got to talking and she asked me what I wanted to play, I asked her what she knew. Well we decided on 5 or 6 songs we both have played before. Well then I told her that I dont know the bsss lines to any of the songs I know. I told her this on the way up to the stage. She looked at me with panic in her eyes like she was wondering what she was getting herself into. Well after the set she came over to me and said, "you were excellent, where did you learn how to play like that?" I just said that I just play what I feel the song needs!
  14. Tabs are really hit or miss from my experience. Kind of like getting you’re news from social media posts or cable news or something. Depends on who made them really. Sometimes they are decent and other times they are just flat out wrong. Part of the problem i think is that tabs isn’t a super respected form of writing music amongst experienced players so often times it’s a blind leading the blind scenario. I have been playing for 27 years and was a school taught musician from age 9 so I can sight read. I honestly very rarely write tabs. I’ll use them here and there if I can’t find any other form of the song and don’t feel like taking time to transcribe a piece by ear. Sometimes it’s helpful and other times I wonder if the person who wrote the tabs was drunk lol. For learning cover songs lately with how far technology has come I find it a lot easier for me to just find a video of someone playing the song well and just pay attention to what they play and learn the song from that. But yeah as far as music on paper, personally I prefer to use shorthand these days especially if Im bringing it to a gig. The problem with shorthand is there’s no standards for it. Everyone kind of has their own way to do it. So it’s not an easy thing to share. But for pop and rock songs in particular where the music is fairly simple and repetitive I honestly think shorthand is the easiest thing to work with. It’s definitely the easiest to see onstage. You can even do it so you can set it on the floor and still read it which you can’t do with tabs or traditional sheet music. For some more complicated styles like jazz with walking lines I’ll just write out the chord structure and improvise because it’s too many notes to write down but I’m kind of used to that because even some traditional sheet music is written like that. For example, when I was playing in jazz band in high school some of the songs where just chord charts. Here’s a good video on shorthand by Janek Gwizdala if you’d like to check it out.

    for melody stuff I do definitely prefer standard sheet music. I think the extra detail really helps. But for basic pop and rock basslines standard sheet music is overkill in most situations.
    Pocket4 likes this.
  15. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Tab has its place. But it’s only as good as the tabber. And most tabs are predominantly amateur efforts.

    Best way to look at tab vs standard notation is in the same way you would an electronic schematic vs a wiring diagram.

    A schematic shows the actual circuit. A wiring diagram shows one of several possible ways to build that circuit. Likewise standard notation captures the actual structure of the music whereas a tab illustrates one of several possible ways to play it.
  16. At their worst tabs will tell you what notes to play in what order. (assuming the transcription is right) Where you decide to play those notes can be changed if you like. For timing and rhythm, listen to the music and or read the notation if you can read music.

    Tabs are are limited format, but they can still be useful, just accept them for what they are.;)
  17. Pocket4

    Pocket4 Supporting Member

    Dec 9, 2013
    New Hampshire
    I search any chords post first to get a sense where the tune is based. I just have to use my better judgment with any tab transcripts. It does make me wonder why anyone would just take on the tab as so many don't make sense for performance.
  18. OkayistBassist

    OkayistBassist Supporting Member

    Jun 17, 2017
    Learn it by ear and you don’t need any of that! :taps forehead:
  19. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    ears are involved whether you use tab or written notation. my comment was really about the ability to read music. ;)
    foolforthecity and bolophonic like this.
  20. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    Guitar tab can be useful, depending. Bass tab, maybe, if it's learning some sort of solo or lots chords or double stops. But for normal bass lines, learning songs etc. I use my ear. Can't see tab for that.
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