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Thread: How to read mandolin tabs?

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    Default How to read mandolin tabs?

    Just got my new loar lm 520 the other day and can't read tabs, any help would be great!

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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Bottom line is your G string, top line is your E. The numbers correspond with the frets as counted from the nut.
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    How to Read Mandolin Tablature by Elizabeth Knuth
    Excellent tutorial on reading mandolin tabs.
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Usually, tabs are explained at the beginning it he book.
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    As a relative newbie to the mandolin, I think it's just as easy and maybe easier to learn standard notation. A good place to start is "Standard Notation for the Tab-Addicted Mandolinist" by Deborah Chen. Despite the title, you don't need to know anything about reading tabs to use the book. There's nothing at all wrong with tabs, I've used them quite a bit over the years for the guitar. But there's a good chance you can just learn the notation with the same and maybe less effort than the tab, and it provides a much clearer picture of the music.

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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Wow, you're right. I've never really done TAB, but after reading the introduction that Ed posted, I'm thinking, "Why not just use standard notation?" TAB definitely does not look simpler or easier, and notation can give more detail that's not possible in TAB. If TAB was done like chord diagrams or something, I could see it, but your brain has to translate the numbers into fret position anyway, so it's not visually representative like diagrams. Are there advantages to TAB that I'm not seeing?

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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Dennis Ladd who contributed a lot of tabs to our archive also has a written tutorial here. Whatever works for folks is fine by me. Myself I strictly work with standard notation and have for ages but if tab works for you, great! I'm all for people being happy with music.

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    Registered Mando Hack dunwell's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Don't forget to check out Tabledit. The free version is quite good for just reading TAB and you can put up a mando fingerboard as a side bar. Best of all it can act as a great tool for reading both TAB and Std. Notation so you can learn both as you go. Tons of .tef files on the cafe as well to pull down for practice.

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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Quote Originally Posted by michaelpthompson View Post
    Wow, you're right. I've never really done TAB, but after reading the introduction that Ed posted, I'm thinking, "Why not just use standard notation?" TAB definitely does not look simpler or easier, and notation can give more detail that's not possible in TAB. If TAB was done like chord diagrams or something, I could see it, but your brain has to translate the numbers into fret position anyway, so it's not visually representative like diagrams. Are there advantages to TAB that I'm not seeing?
    Hi Michael;

    As someone who has used only tab (first guitar, now mandolin) since I was a teenager, I had to smile when I read your post. I often find myself asking the following question about standard notation: "why make my brain translate dots into fret position when it's so much easier to do it with numbers?!"

    One possible benefit of tab is that it can show actual recommended fingerings for notes. For example, in a particular piece, it might sound better to play the 7th fret of the G string as opposed to the open D string, and a tab will give you this instruction. Of course, this is a minor thing, and from a broader perspective using standard notion is clearly superior.

    Over the past couple of years I have learned enough about notation that I now like to have the note duration markers and other 'notation' things in my tabs ( with just the number/string indicators replacing those pesky dots! )

    Thanks;
    Ed
    still working (slowly and with little success) on learning standard notation
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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Ed, have you worked from a method book to learn reading standard notation? It's so much easier because it provides you a structure for practicing, and the exercises get progressively harder as you gain more skills. I use both the Mel Bay Mandolin Method, and Rich del Grosso's new mandolin method book - both are excellent ways to get started.

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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    I play standard notation, always have. I am a pretty good sight reader.

    I just recently taught myself tab. Its slow going and awkward, but there are cases where its useful. Stuff in cross tuning where the notation is how it sounds, I am just not picking up the tunes fast enough. Also trying to learn some stuff off a Sierra Hull album, and she is all over that neck. Reading the tab line gets me there quicker than trying to figure out which A she is using to make this or that transition.

    I woulds say that both are best. There's a down side to being ignorant of anything.
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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    Ed, have you worked from a method book to learn reading standard notation? It's so much easier because it provides you a structure for practicing, and the exercises get progressively harder as you gain more skills. I use both the Mel Bay Mandolin Method, and Rich del Grosso's new mandolin method book - both are excellent ways to get started.
    Hi August, so far I've tried using the Greg Horne book and a couple theory books from the library to learn notation.

    I've had some success learning the "non-dot" notation stuff thanks to the Horne book. However, the dots, and the strange number of lines used in notation continues to stymie me . I'm also aware that I need to have a better grasp of the fretboard map for notation to work for me.

    Moreover, since I'm getting back into the game relatively late in life, I'm thinking that my time is best spent on other deficiencies (specifically ear training, timing, and, again, the fretboard map).

    Maybe I'll pick-up one of the books you suggest and devote some more time to learning to read notation.

    Thanks very much for your interest, comments, and suggestions. I really appreciate them.
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Quote Originally Posted by michaelpthompson View Post
    [What] ...Are there advantages to TAB that I'm not seeing?
    Simple. With standard notation you have to make mental association of the note (dot) on the score with a particular string/fret combination on the mandolin, in addition you have to keep in mind the key of the tune so that you make to appropriate automatic subsitiution of sharps or flats.

    With tablature you have none of that. The string and the fret are given and if the key calls for a sharp rather than a natural then you just raise the fret number 1 (i.e., 5 to 6) on the tab.

    There is essentially no learning curve with tab.
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Funny, this same discussion is going on over on a guitar forum.

    Me, I prefer standard notation for guitar, ukulele, and now the mandolin. Having just recently picked up the mandolin I find TAB is easier at first to learn a song but over time I find more benefit of knowing the notes and how they relate on the fretboard. In TAB it only tells me where to put my finger - no key signature, tempo, and all the other musical notations that help when playing a tune - standard notation tells me all that. In addition, I have run across music in TAB that is somewhat confusing with the fingering and I'll think to myself "why don't I just do it this way since I know this note is here, here, and here."

    Some will say string players need to know chords, not notes but I think that knowing the notes is key to knowing the chord. If I know a chord I can apply that to the fretboard and play the music. In fact, now that I have this mandolin I find I sit with it and think well, I don't know anything about this thing but I know how it's tuned so I know the notes (after reconciling in my head that it's 4 strings are upside down as related to the guitar top 4 strings) and I know chords so let's just figure this out and I have been working my way thru the chords and fretboard.

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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    as you probably already know.. download tefview.. it has both and definitely helped me learn. Tefview has been my best friend as of late..
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    Simple. With standard notation you have to make mental association of the note (dot) on the score with a particular string/fret combination on the mandolin, in addition you have to keep in mind the key of the tune so that you make to appropriate automatic subsitiution of sharps or flats.

    With tablature you have none of that. The string and the fret are given and if the key calls for a sharp rather than a natural then you just raise the fret number 1 (i.e., 5 to 6) on the tab.

    There is essentially no learning curve with tab.
    Interestingly, what you perceive as the great advantage in TAB is to me its greatest drawback. I certainly want to keep the key in mind, because it puts all those notes in context. E.g., just looking at the score and seeing where various accidentals enter gives a good picture of the harmonic and tonal complexity of the tune.

    Essentially no learning curve? Depends on your goals. It would take an awful lot of work to get my own tab reading "skill" to the same level as standard.

    But the first question is, why bother with notation at all? I grew up with standard, I can read grand staff, and I've learned a lot of standards (on guitar) from piano scores. In the mid to to late 60's I learned to play the mandolin in the context of Bluegrass, and played with a group. I didn't learn one single thing from any kind of notation and of course no notation was used by the group. It was all about ears. What genre does the TS want to study?

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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    I always find these discussions interesting and informative.

    I believe that tab and notation are very much like languages, and the familiarities and characteristics of the one a person was first introduced to will always make it seem superior. Moreover, when I am forced to work with notation, I always 'translate it' into tab (just like someone who is working with a second language). Hence, I 'think' in tab.

    Extending the analogy even further, I am very envious of folks who are bilingual when it comes to notation and tab, and who can actually 'think' in either without the need for internal translation.

    Interesting stuff.
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    As long as you don't look at it as either/or. To be a more complete musician its best to know how to read notation, to know how to read tab, and to be able to play by ear. Ear training is great, its essential, but it doesn't help one to learn to read music, or gain the advantages that being able to read give you. You don't want to limit yourself to playing only the music you have heard or has been recorded.

    Reading with out ear training is equally ill advised. You don't want to be too paper bound, and never get a feel for the music. And when playing with others there is often no paper around.

    The real music is not in the dots, you can take a piece of paper with all those dots, roll it up and stick it in your ear, and you won't hear a thing. Its out there, and one would be severly handicapped not being able to go get it.

    Tab gives you where you want to put your fingers. Its got a learning curve (I find) but its not as steep as notation. It helps with cross tuning and playing up the neck, but gigantically limits your repertoir to stuff tabbed out for mandolin.

    Notation is universal and you can peruse Mozart horn concerto scores or Astor Piazolla tango scores, and play right off the music. Notation makes the world of music available to you right away. Also, some of the best tunes ever have not been recorded, and are hiding in tune books of the last 100 years or more, waiting to be found and re-animated. Notation also gives a common language with other musicians. I can't conceive of learning music theory, asking and answering musical questions about theory, etc., without having a foundation in notation, as a language in which to see all this stuff.

    Heck, you probably should learn the Nashville number system too. Tab and notation don't help much reading a chart.

    So its all good, its all necessary, and everything you are ignorant of will bite you on the tailpiece.
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    Registered User DSDarr's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    Ed, have you worked from a method book to learn reading standard notation? It's so much easier because it provides you a structure for practicing, and the exercises get progressively harder as you gain more skills. I use both the Mel Bay Mandolin Method, and Rich del Grosso's new mandolin method book - both are excellent ways to get started.
    August, Are you referring to Rich's book from Hal Leonard "Mandolin Method Vol 1"?

    thanks, David

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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    One advantage to learning standard notation is that it will open up a huge world of tunes--tons of Irish tunes, fiddle tunes, even classical music.
    Just about the only time I ever look at tab is to see if there's a better/easier fingering option than the one I've been trying.
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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Quote Originally Posted by DSDarr View Post
    August, Are you referring to Rich's book from Hal Leonard "Mandolin Method Vol 1"?

    thanks, David
    yes, that's the one!

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    Registered User DSDarr's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    yes, that's the one!
    Good book for sure. I picked it up a year or so ago when I decided I needed to learn to read standard notation (still a work in progress I have to say). I wish I had something like that years ago. But "Vol 1" begs the question -- where/when is Vol 2?

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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    TAB is a pretty painless way of learning for quite a few newbies. Perhaps its greatest use and value is for an adult learner who may have perceived notation as enormously complex and difficult, especially with the sharps and flats. TABS may be easier for some to acquire the concepts of playing music and melodies--it certainly has aided me, an "older adult" who did not begin playing until I was 62 but now feel confident enough to play at jams. The bottom line representing G and the top line representing E just seems to be so obvious to my mind. But, many learners learn in different ways, manners, and styles.

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    McReynolds-Style Jordan Ramsey's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    I've been reading standard notation my entire muscial life (many years of piano and school band), and advocate it completely to young people or serious mandolin students, but pelone hit the nail on the head about adult beginners with no prior musical experience. Reading standard notation requires a whole pile of info: note names on the staff, where those notes are on your instrument, key signatures, time signatures, rhythm symbols and counting values, etc. It's a process learning that amount of info, and doesn't even get you near motor skills that allow you to actually play the instrument. Tab, along with a recording, is a lot less info. The majority of people that I teach are busy adult professionals who want to play ear musics (bluegrass/folk/etc.) with other people asap, tab is an easier way for them to understand basic notation with a minimal time commitment.

    Initially, I was very reluctant to use tab, hated it, in fact. When I found David Peters' "Masters of the Mandolin" book around '05, I was a proud notation reader and remember being upset to find it was only in tab. Luckily, the content made it impossible for me to stay away. After biting the bullet and spending some serious time with that book, as well as Statman's "Bluegrass Masters: Jesse McReynolds" and Jack Tottle's "Bluegrass Mandolin" (specifically the crosspicking stuff), I eventually grew to prefer the numbers. Today, when I sightread something that has a tab line, I'll usually read the tab.
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    Registered User pickloser's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to read mandolin tabs?

    Check this out: http://www.johnmcgann.com/tab.html

    John McGann offers his thoughts, and there's a link at the top of the page to The Tab Reader's Guide to Standard Notation, a free pdf.

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