[sib-access] Re: Off-Topic: Guitar Tablature

  • From: Chris Smart <csmart8@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: sib-access@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 03 May 2012 17:25:20 -0400

Hi Dale.
I'm not sure that it is off-topic actually.. If you play guitar or 
deal with sighted guitarists, it is bound to come up, especially 
since so few guitarists learn to read music as part of learning 
their instrument. The only exception would be classical guitarists.

I try and talk my sighted guitar students into learning standard 
music notation whenever possible, because it tells you a lot more 
about how to perform a piece of music, and because I can produce 
standard notation a lot more easily than Tab. The exception I make 
is when I'm dealing with someone really young, who is new to music, 
is just trying to get decent sound out of the guitar, and has a lot 
of new information to cope with, without throwing the idea of the 
staff at them as well. In their case, say a seven year-old who has 
never tried to make a musical sound before, tab can help simplify 
things and at least help them remember where to place their 
fingers. It's a visual aid, but a very limited one.

Guitar tablature is pretty simple as a concept.  Imagine six 
horizontal lines going across the page. the top line is your first 
string, usually tuned to E. The next line down is your second 
string, usually tuned to B, etc. All the way to the bottom line, 
which represents the sixth string, usually tuned to E.

Now, imagine numbers written on those lines. The numbers refer to 
frets.  a 0 on the first line would mean play that string open, 
i.e. unfretted. A 1 would mean play that string at the first fret., 
a 2 would mean play the second fret etc.

If fret numbers appear as a vertical column they represent a chord. 
That is, tab is read left to right, but anything that lines up 
vertically is meant to be played simultaneously.

Reading tab with a screen reader is annoying at best, since we 
usually read things a line at a time, so we miss the vertical 
aspect.  Plus, who wants to listen to their computer say something 
"dash dash dash dash 1 dash dash dash 3 dash dash dash dash dash 
dash dash 6 P 8 dash dash dash dash dash dash 4" I sure don't.

There are some other notations included in tab, like H for hammer 
on, P for pull off, some sort of punctuation mark like a slash 
between two fret numbers meaning slide along the string from one to 
the next.

So, Tab shows us fret numbers and a little about which left-hand 
techniques to use, but not much else. There is no timing shown, 
except that what happens at the left side of the page happens 
before the stuff to the right. No rests either.

I've seen tabs where people try to devise a way to show this, for 
example writing E above every fret number meaning E for eighth 
note, Q for quarter, etc. So above the lines for the strings, now 
imagine e e e e e e e e  e e e e q e e e e e e e etc.
But once you start adding all of that, you may as well learn 
regular notation which already conveys that stuff right? *grin* It 
gets a bit rediculous the more information you try to add.

This is just one guys opinion. Some of the popular guitar magazines 
only show things in tab, and every book out there is going to show 
tab and standard notation. Nine times out of ten the sighted guy is 
going to glance at the tab, and then listen to the recording to 
figure out things like rhythm and articulation. That can work, if 
the person has a good ear. I'm not totally against it, for most of 
the hobbyists out there who just want to play their favorite Led 
Zeppelin riffs.

One area where I think tab can be very useful is when someone 
writes a piece outside of standard tuning. This happens a lot in 
the folk or fingerstyle acoustic guitar world. In that case, even 
if you have a great ear, you might go crazy listening to a 
recording trying to figure out how some of those chord voicings are 
being played. Tab can clear up the mystery in a hurry.

I used to advise students to look up tabs for popular songs they 
wanted to learn. But I don't do this any more. 99% of the tabs you 
find online probably have mistakes, since you're depending on 
whatever skills the transcriber has or doesn't have, and since 
there are always a few ways to play a bunch of notes on guitar.. On 
most of the huge tab Websites, you'll see 5 or 6 versions of a 
given song, and lots of comments from people about the relative 
accuracy of any of them.

In a perfect world, guitar students would learn to read standard 
music from day one, just as piano, saxophone, violin, trumpet, and 
all the other instrumentalists do. I'm not sure why guitar has this 
anti-intellectual stance connected with it; perhaps because it is a 
popular folk instrument? And, that isn't meant as a slight against 
the folk crowd either.


At 04:04 PM 5/3/2012, you wrote:
>Would you be willing to write off-list and explain a little about 
>tablature? I am not a guitarist in the least, so be easy on me, 
>OK? <smile>
>Thanks, Chris.
>If you wish to unsubscribe, send a blank message
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