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Why Not Tabs?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by michaelkoss, Aug 25, 2011.

  1. djaydjay


    Mar 14, 2010
    I have been using standard notation for ~18 years and tabs for only 4-5.
    I use an "improved" tabs notation: I add the rythmic notation :)
    I tend to try a lot of different tunings and move the "height" (?) of the songs a lot. In that configuration, I find standard notation quite tyring. Tabs help "visualising" the intervals and makes moving the songs around easier.

    so for me:
    playing with my guitar / standard tuned bass = standard notation.
    playing with alternative tunings = tabs

    (I think only this year my basses where tuned in: D, C, C#, B, A, drop C, ACGCF, A# standard [current] and CGCG [current])
  2. Great points all.

    TAB with note values, stems, flags, etc. is becoming more and more common (not on the hack internet upload circuit, but professionally- or teacher-produced TAB). I use this combo with students alot.

    And yes, my sympathies go out to players using low drop alternate tunings. Leger lines and octave marks are a bitch.

    In short, if it's done judiciously and appropriately, TAB is yet another tool in your belt. I understand misgivings about it being the only tool in your belt, but it's not a sin for even experienced readers to use TAB on occasion.

    I have students who, after a very short time, are ready to play live music in combo with other musicians because of TAB. They have achieved serious entertainment potential. While they strive to become more astute academically via standard notation, they can actually go out and practice the performance end of music in the real world.

    Sounds like a good thing to me, why poop on it?
  3. avvie


    Oct 12, 2010
    Maui, HI
    Tabs are like paint-by-numbers: you can maybe get a nice picture out of it but by the time you've finished you STILL don't know how to paint.
  4. I try to use bass tabs as a last resort. Most of the time I try to play by ear. If I cant get it then I just look at the guitar chords, figure out the key and mess with different patterns till I figure it out.

    There are alot of good songs out there that people havent gotten around to tabbing yet. So you will either have to pay $20 for a book for one song or wait for someone to post it online for you.
  5. mcblahflooper94


    Aug 31, 2011
    Ehh. I can't throughly read music yet, and I've been playing since Christmas (wow... already...) and I think that they do get you into it. C'mon, let's be honest... When you first started, would you rather have been learning Paranoid or learning scales? Of course, now I'm trying to learn theory and scales, but I've already played around for awhile. Victor Wooten once said:

    "In my opinion, [the] acedemic part is the smallest part. The same way when we're talking, we're not thinking nouns, verbs, and pronouns, right? We need to know it, but we don't need to know that stuff until after we can already talk."
  6. TAB was essential to my learning of bass. I value it more than sheet music.

    If it weren't for TAB I wouldn't know any songs.
  7. BobaFret


    Jan 22, 2008
    For me I can learn a song more quickly by ear than TAB. There is also the issue of the many TAB's that are far from accurate. The second reason is why I avoid them.
  8. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    LOL, when I first started, my teacher decided what I'd rather have been learning. :D

    However, now that my kids are learning music, I've observed that small kids love classical music, and they love reading. It's only when they get older and self-conscious that reading becomes a problem if they haven't already learned it.
  9. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Yep. Also, what if your're on the bandstand and someone plays a riff at you to copy. Are you going to ask them for tabs?
  10. The accuracy thing is an issue. Admittedly I use em when I need to, but I would much rather make a song my own anyway and have fun with it. To me thats the only way i enjoy playing a cover. Besides, tabs take all the challenge out of learning a song by ear.

    They have their uses but they are a crutch after a while.
  11. emor


    May 16, 2004
    So the only creative aspect of music is in the composing?

    Well that's just ridiculous.
  12. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I might humbly suggest that if a person hasn't actually gotten beyond the beginner level of playing music involving extensive reading, then they will probably never understand it. And I wonder if it can even be explained.

    Likewise, I doubt that I will ever understand the appeal of heavy metal.

    I don't push reading on non-readers because I know that with rare exceptions, it simply isn't going to happen. And that's OK. Instead, I think the best reason to discourage the extensive use of tab -- beyond the beginner level of course -- is to encourage players to develop their ears.

    I've never heard a skilled reader complain of having a hard time figuring out bass parts to poplar songs by ear.
  13. +1

    Anyone can learn to hear music, but there are degrees of efficacy. It's just about training your brain to make the right neural linkages. It's hard but it's not "you've got it or you don't"
  14. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    Here's my comment. People answering this thread have all kinds of varying experience and levels of ability. Until you have done something, you don't know anything about it, so you need to listen to advice from people that have done something, right? If one has never learned to play by ear, or by reading notation, they can't say much about it. It's like how opinionated I was about how to raise kids -until I had one :)

    So, consider the source of the comment when reading the responses. Yes music is fun and you should have fun and do whatever you want for fun and it's fun etc etc But the issue is, once you have learned to think of music in tab, it will be hard for you to change that habit.

    Start off on the right foot. Get a real music teacher, and learn to hear, then learn to read real notation. Life is too short to waste your time. Do the hard work, you'll still have fun, and it is utterly worth it!
  15. rymiraflores


    Jan 17, 2009
  16. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    The relative accuracy of tab is not really germane to this discussion. Whether the transcription is noted in tablature or in standard notation, it could be very accurate or a figment of someone's imagination and not have any impact on the utility of tab versus standard notation.

    Tab is a quick and dirty way to find one way to finger something. Not necessarily the best way, but A way. But even "advanced" tab which uses rhythmic indications from standard notation never gives you any musical information. It perpetuates the fallacy that playing music is all about physical technique. Standard notation clearly communicates melody, harmonic relationship, and most rhythms. It's weakest point is rhythmic notation and tab has exactly the same problem.

    Tab can be useful for "I gotta learn the key riffs to this song in forty minutes". It's useless for actually learning to play bass in a working gig. That's because learning to play in a working gig requires that you understand how music works together, you know what to do when something goes wrong, and you know how to play with other people.

  17. younggun


    Jul 19, 2008
    San Antonio
    Just wanted to point something out. Its been posted a few times that the one advantage tab has over notation is that it gives fingering information, whereas notation does not. This is not true. There is a quick, easy, and much cleaner method of adding fingering cues to notation. It involves adding a Roman Numeral to indicate fret position underneath the staff, and a small arabic numeral to indicate which finger above. Its only necessary to make these markings when changing positions too, not for every note.

    I'm not an advocate of tab. IMO (and most professionals) its a crutch that easily leads to avoiding having to actually learn to read music, thus limiting your ability as a musician.

    As others have pointed out, the time you spend using and reading tab could be put to better use in learning to read actual notation. Tab is simply another example of instant self-gratification that is inherent to our society in general. Its usefulness is limited to those who don't want to become a complete musician, or have the mistaken notion that there is some short cut to becoming one. As beginners we all want an easy way in, and that's understandable, but as you start to grow as a musician the best way to expand your knowledge is to slow down and use a proven method. You'll waste less time if you simply start using the proven method from the beginning instead.

    Learning tab is like only learning only how to say "Please, "Thank you", "Excuse me," "Hello," and "Where's the bathroom?" in a foreign language. You can communicate enough to get around the country for a visit, but you're not actually speaking the language. Learning notation is easier than most think, its just requires practice...and hey, we all want to spend more time on our instruments anyway, right?
  18. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    How would Wagner communicate the Ring cycle to his musicians? Sing all the parts into a tape recorder and give it to his orchestra and singers to learn and memorize? Do you realize how many lifetimes that would take?

    This is like saying an actor's craft is worthless because he's not forming his own sentences.

    Utter garbage.

    Here is a quote from my blog regarding the subject of tabs v. notation that I think is relevant to the discussion.

    Pardon my use of a word that more often than not evokes imagery of lolcats, CATS, keyboard cat, longcat, and various other forms of cat, but a common “meme” in guitar education is teh evulz of tablature. Guitar and bass tab, apparently, is sleeping with your girlfriend, stealing food from the soup kitchen, eating all of your chips so that you have to buy more to make nachos (thankfully it missed that cheddar cheese you stuffed in the back of the fridge), making fun of you when you say you really liked “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and routinely shows up reeking of horrifically cheap whiskey that one weekend a month he has custody of the kids. Tab really is just that much of a ****. Standard notation is, however, way cooler of a guy, and would never steal your girlfriend, ever, and always makes sure to tip 20 percent.

    And it’s all true, but of course for none of the reasons that are actually given. The actual reason why tablature is the inferior form of musical notation is actually more interesting than generic dictates from people on the internet claiming to know the right and proper way to learn music. Yes, you’ll here tired arguments about how tab doesn’t notate rhythm (except, of course, when it does notate rhythm) and how all other instruments only use standard notation (except of course, when they don’t like some lute, organ, harmonica music). But there’s an actual reason why standard notation is better, and it directly relates to how the human brain works and processes information.

    It’s called chunking, and it’s the process by which the human brain can process a large amount of material at once by recognizing patterns of smaller components as individual units. Let’s do an experiment. Below are two statements, one written with letters of the alphabet, one written with digits. Both have the exact same number of characters. Study both of these for about 15 seconds, then look away, and write down what you remember from each one.

    Hello. My name is Adam, and I’d like to perform a piece of music for you today. It is pretty freakin’ awesome.

    10567. 49 2349 45 1034, 245 2’6 1852 64 1865177 7 52001 48 86124 147 411 21332. 12 07 856447 4651244′ 15885643.

    A couple things should be obvious. One, 15 seconds was more than enough time to fully understand the first statement – really, 3 seconds is plenty. There are 110 separate characters in that statement, and the human brain not only can instantly understand, memorize and replicate all 110 of them within half the time it takes to watch dramatic chipmunk, but also very easily can understand the syntax and larger semantic and meaning that the 110 characters add up. The second one? Ha, good luck. You have 16 less characters to deal with (26 letters in the alphabet, 10 numerals), and you’d be lucky if you remembered the first three numbers after 15 seconds. And what they mean? Good luck, you tell me.

    The parallel, I think, should be obvious here. The human brain understands words as indivisible units – no matter how slow you read, nobody processes a word letter by letter. You recognize the visual shape of a word and all of its component letters, and process it as that shape. Speed readers are able to process groups of words at once or even entire sentences or paragraphs (or pages!) This is how a trained musician reads a piece of music. They aren’t caught up in recognizing or understanding individual notes, rather, they’re processing the visual shape of the notes on the page and pairing that with muscle memory that has already been hardwired to understand what that shape means and how to play it on their instrument. This all happens in real time with performed music – not trying to pick out notes slowly in your bedroom as you’re learning a song.

    The question is, which system is best for parsing visual units of music into recognizable chunks of musical information? Now, granted, there may be some people out there who have attuned their brains to chunk tab, I don’t know, I can’t really say. The fact of the matter is, however, that because standard notation has become the, well, standard notation, there are virtually no situations where one would genuinely need to “chunk” tablature in order to understand and sight read within real time. I very much doubt that anybody has developed the ability to read tab anywhere near the level that professionals do with tab simply because there is no need to – nobody writes in tab at the professional sight reading level. More importantly, though, I believe that the entire idea behind tab – showing how to recreate a sound versus describing the sound itself – is one that would make chunking difficult. Instantly recognizing the shape of the voice leading of four to five chords in four part harmony at an instant is routine, but it’s difficult to say if it would be possible to chunk the same on tab.

    So yes, tab is evil. But for the most part, if you’re just somebody that wants to learn songs in their bedroom and rock out, tab is more than fine – it does the job of conveying musical information. If you ever want to get serious, though, tab simply doesn’t have the same ability as standard notation to chunk.
  19. I used to use TAB to figure out fingering. Now I use it to figure out which notes to play (assuming I can't figure it out by ear).

    I think I went about TAB the "right" way, in that I got that fingering down, and then experimented with other fingerings.

    For example, The TAB could be instructing me to play a line at the first and third frets of the D and G strings, but i could play the same line on the 6th and 8th frets of the A and D strings. So then I decide which is more comfortable to me, or which sounds better for the song, and use that.

    But again, the reason I use it is to figure out what notes to play. Sometimes a line is too complex for me to figure out by ear (or more likely, the bass is so buried in the mix in the recording that I can't make out what they're playing) for parts like these, TAB is a big plus.

    If you're asking "why not use sheets?" my answer is that there are no sheets for about 80% of the music I play, but there is TAB for about 90% of what I play.
  20. Savage_Dreams


    Jan 8, 2007
    to me tabs are the cliff notes of music. they can be helpful at times, but it shouldnt be the ony way you learn how to read or play music.

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