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Thread: Breaking the TAB habit

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    Default Breaking the TAB habit

    I have recently found a summertime jam in my area I hope to join, and have been working on bluegrass music, for both mandolin and guitar. I have been told that the mandolin may be a better choice because most of the others are likely to play guitar. So it seems if I am chording, I am good if I know G, C, D, F, A, and Em. No problem there. But since most of my bluegrass music is for guitar (in standard notation and TAB), if I want to learn to play the melody, I have to play from guitar standard notation on my mandolin since obviously guitar TAB won't work. And I can do it! As I thought, the TAB was just a crutch, and I was unable to force myself to not use it until I had no choice. Yes!!!! Now if I can keep off the TAB when I go back to my mandolin music......

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    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Is there a Tab-users Anonymous group in your area?
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    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Hear the tune in your mind and find it on the fingerboard. If you don't know the sound of the tune in your mind, find a recorded source and get it from that.

    This simple approach to learning music will be of HUGE benefit down the road for you!!! Outside of classical music, it is how most of the music styles in the world are played.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    I agree with Pete. Your next step is to wean yourself off the paper. Memorize some tunes, esp those you love. Eventually, you should be able to pick out tunes others are playing and your fingers will find the melody notes. Start with common keys that you are comfortable in. You will get there.

    It is good to read notation too, of course but ear playing is great, too. I also find that memorizing helps in playing nuanced music and I try to do that even in classical pieces.
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Sound advice from all. Just think, too that with standard notation you can use the same sheet for guitar, mandolin, fiddle and many other instruments which use the treble staff, but getting the tune firmly into your head is the sure way of being comfortable playing it, and this will always come through in your playing.

    Many traditional tunes (and I'm pretty sure bluegrass tunes too, though I do not play bluegrass so stand to be corrected) have recurring phrases which your ear will quickly pick up and you'll find yourself noticing this more and more as you play. You will hear yourself saying things like "That's the same as that phrase in....", or "Oh, there's that run again...". Scale runs and arpeggios form a large part of many of the tunes.
    Last edited by John Kelly; Mar-03-2018 at 4:15pm. Reason: typos
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    I have played bluegrass for 50+ years and I seldom see even a book or paper with words never tab or notation. I don't think you can pay real bluegrass except by ear.yes playing from memory will help break the paper habit, but try to pick out the basic melody by the hunt and peck method ( in your practice time of course) then memerize that, play it until you can do it in your sleep then pick another tune and do likewise. Written music has it's place but not in a BG or for that matter any jam, too many variables

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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    You might also wish to improve your ability to play by ear. I did it on banjo 54 years back, & had to do it on mandolin when i began 13 years ago,just as Mandoplumb has obviously done. Being able to read standard music notation is an asset,but i can't recommend learning how to play by ear enough. It gives one the ability to listen & pick up on tunes 'by ear' very quickly. For many tunes / songs in many different music genres,there is no TAB or notation available.

    Take a favourite tune & listen,listen,listen.... & get the melody into your head. Then,do as Mandoplumbs says,find out where the 'sounds' are on the fingerboard. Forget what the notes are called - as long as you get them right & in the correct order,who cares ?. The notes will eventually 'name themselves; over time as you associate the 'sounds' with the 'names'. I've done that for so long on the mandolin now,that i reckon i can get them right a good 95% of the time. If i misss one,i'll get it the next time around.

    Eventually,doing it that way,you'll be able to pick up on a melody line (as long as it's not too complex) & find 'the sounds' with ease - as with all things,it just takes time,but the more you do it,the more you can do it,
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete Martin View Post
    Hear the tune in your mind and find it on the fingerboard. If you don't know the sound of the tune in your mind, find a recorded source and get it from that.
    What if you can't do that? I have sat with recordings for hours, plinking at the mandolin trying to find the same note.

    Just yesterday, I decided I was going to learn something simple and iconic. A song that's firmly in my head, and once I say it will be in yours too. The Meow Mix song.

    I found a video of the commercial and set at it. I got nowhere. Is that first note an F# or a G? Can't tell. The second measure, is it the same or higher than the first? Can't tell. Tried both, neither sounds wrong.

    I'm not bad at recognizing music either. When I see a band I know well, I'm pretty quick to pick up on what song they're playing. When I listen to a live recording, I'll hear a fiddle tune, identify it, and be right most of the time when I check the setlist. I can actually hear, I just can't match what I'm playing to what I'm hearing.

    How do you train this skill? Practice, yes. But how do I practice in a way that I get somewhere, and not just reinforce how bad I am at this?

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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Quote Originally Posted by hatta View Post
    What if you can't do that? I have sat with recordings for hours, plinking at the mandolin trying to find the same note.

    Just yesterday, I decided I was going to learn something simple and iconic. A song that's firmly in my head, and once I say it will be in yours too. The Meow Mix song.

    I found a video of the commercial and set at it. I got nowhere. Is that first note an F# or a G? Can't tell. The second measure, is it the same or higher than the first? Can't tell. Tried both, neither sounds wrong.

    I'm not bad at recognizing music either. When I see a band I know well, I'm pretty quick to pick up on what song they're playing. When I listen to a live recording, I'll hear a fiddle tune, identify it, and be right most of the time when I check the setlist. I can actually hear, I just can't match what I'm playing to what I'm hearing.

    How do you train this skill? Practice, yes. But how do I practice in a way that I get somewhere, and not just reinforce how bad I am at this?
    Not sure how long youíve been playing but learning by ear can be difficult at first. Iíd suggest songs like twinkle, twinkle little star, Mary had a little lamb, somewhere over the rainbow, when the saints go marching in...if you donít know these go find a recording and listen then pick them out on the mando. It doesnít matter if you get the exact key the recording is in youíre learning how to hear something and reproduce it on the instrument...over time you will begin to recognize chord tones and maybe even get good enough to hear the key...maybe youíll never get there but you will learn how to pick out melodies and in a jam most likely the key will be known so youíll have your starting point.

    We have all spent hours with those first few tunes we tried to learn either slowing down the vinyl, rewinding the tape, or now loading into the slow downer and looping...there is no shortcut for that. Again, over time you will find it gets easier and who wants to play it exactly the way someone else played it anyway...make it your own using the recording for a guide. Have fun.
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Yes start with songs you know, Nursery tunes, hymns , Christmas music. Start on one string say G go note by note up the string until you identify the note the matches your first note. Once you have determined that it is say a C you can continue on with the process to the rest of the notes to the tune, possibly in the key of C. Tunes often start or stop on the key note. Not always!

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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    A few years ago I took Marla Fibish’s Irish class in SF. She previewed all of the songs via sound files, and then we’d come to the class and crank it up. No charts or tabs...just your ears. Swannanoa last summer sealed the deal. Enroll in a class or take a lesson from someone with that as the feature...just ear training. Super fun stuff!
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    For me, TAB is like wearing a suit made for someone else - just don't work for me. "Hear" the tune in your head, and then find it on the finger board. Start with a simple tune you can hum. Once you find it in G, work on it in D and A and....you get the idea.
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    When you’re at the hunt & pick stage apps such as ASD (Amazing SlowDowner) are very useful.
    You get to hear the tune at whatever speed your brain can process with your current level of experience, so building the association between the notes and the fretboard.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Quote Originally Posted by hatta View Post
    What if you can't do that? I have sat with recordings for hours, plinking at the mandolin trying to find the same note. Just yesterday, I decided I was going to learn something simple and iconic. A song that's firmly in my head, and once I say it will be in yours too. The Meow Mix song. I found a video of the commercial and set at it. I got nowhere. Is that first note an F# or a G? Can't tell. The second measure, is it the same or higher than the first? Can't tell. Tried both, neither sounds wrong. I'm not bad at recognizing music either. When I see a band I know well, I'm pretty quick to pick up on what song they're playing. When I listen to a live recording, I'll hear a fiddle tune, identify it, and be right most of the time when I check the setlist. I can actually hear, I just can't match what I'm playing to what I'm hearing.
    How do you train this skill? Practice, yes. But how do I practice in a way that I get somewhere, and not just reinforce how bad I am at this?
    First, stop listening to recorded music and trying to follow. I've been playing for 50+ years and that is difficult for me. In a lot of cases as you mentioned an F# or a G both sounds right, if it sounds right it is right. Get to basic, start with 3blind mice or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or something simple that you know well. A simple tune will have less notes that sound right. As you do this for one song then another you will learn without realizing it that you somehow " know" if the next note is one fret or two higher. As you progress more complex songs will become simpler. Don't get discouraged just start simple and advance as you learn.

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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Quote Originally Posted by hatta View Post

    How do you train this skill? Practice, yes. But how do I practice in a way that I get somewhere, and not just reinforce how bad I am at this?
    I'm more or less a perpetual beginner myself, so take this suggestion with a grain of salt. But I have made the most progress in trying to figure out a tune by ear when I started with pentatonic scales. That reduced the number of notes to choose from, and if I come across a note not in the scale, it's generally somewhere close. And, as Mandoplumb suggests, this seems to work best for me when I'm dealing with tunes in my head or played slowly by one of my kids and not on a recording. Probably just too much information for me to sort out in most recordings. There are a couple of youtube videos about this; here's one that I found helpful to start with:


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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Quote Originally Posted by hatta View Post
    What if you can't do that? I have sat with recordings for hours, plinking at the mandolin trying to find the same note.

    Just yesterday, I decided I was going to learn something simple and iconic. A song that's firmly in my head, and once I say it will be in yours too. The Meow Mix song.

    I found a video of the commercial and set at it. I got nowhere. Is that first note an F# or a G? Can't tell. The second measure, is it the same or higher than the first? Can't tell. Tried both, neither sounds wrong.

    I'm not bad at recognizing music either. When I see a band I know well, I'm pretty quick to pick up on what song they're playing. When I listen to a live recording, I'll hear a fiddle tune, identify it, and be right most of the time when I check the setlist. I can actually hear, I just can't match what I'm playing to what I'm hearing.

    How do you train this skill? Practice, yes. But how do I practice in a way that I get somewhere, and not just reinforce how bad I am at this?
    Learn to sing the tune, then find the tones on the fret board. Start with songs where you know the melody very well, such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, etc. It's a skill that needs to be practiced.

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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Learning tunes by ear without frustration takes a little time. I was well into my second year before I could "hear notes then find notes". I also have a software app that allows you to highlight a small section of a tune, slow it down, and loop it until you have it.

    I'm slowly getting better at listening to a section in real time and repeating what I 'hear'. That produces a version that is similar but at same time different. Have fun with it - play it like you hear it and don't get hung up on a note for note copy.

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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Quote Originally Posted by hatta View Post
    How do you train this skill? Practice, yes. But how do I practice in a way that I get somewhere, and not just reinforce how bad I am at this?
    Just a general statement.

    I always have felt and feel the same kind of thing whenever I work on something new to me and hard. Things I don't want to practice because it just keeps giving me humiliating messages about my ability. And these messages seem harder to take the more mandolin experience I have. In the beginning who cared, I was bad at everything. But as I progressed the frustrations and bad feelings were (and are) felt more deeply and personally.

    Add to that the better one gets the more other things one can be playing rather than practicing the techniques or pieces that need work. There are more distractions that make me feel good about myself.

    It never ends. It never gets better.

    There is a pop psych term I heard, that I hate, something like "embrace the pain". I think it means that feeling the bad is the way to become good. That if you don't feel bad about it, your not working on the right thing.

    Just a general comment. Probably not as useful as you would have liked.
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  36. #19

    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Quote Originally Posted by hatta View Post
    What if you can't do that? I have sat with recordings for hours, plinking at the mandolin trying to find the same note.

    Just yesterday, I decided I was going to learn something simple and iconic. A song that's firmly in my head, and once I say it will be in yours too. The Meow Mix song.

    I found a video of the commercial and set at it. I got nowhere. Is that first note an F# or a G? Can't tell. The second measure, is it the same or higher than the first? Can't tell. Tried both, neither sounds wrong.

    I'm not bad at recognizing music either. When I see a band I know well, I'm pretty quick to pick up on what song they're playing. When I listen to a live recording, I'll hear a fiddle tune, identify it, and be right most of the time when I check the setlist. I can actually hear, I just can't match what I'm playing to what I'm hearing.

    How do you train this skill? Practice, yes. But how do I practice in a way that I get somewhere, and not just reinforce how bad I am at this?
    I'm so glad others have provided support for this. And I agree with starting simpler than the songs/tunes you hear on the radio. But I'd like to offer a solution by analyzing your process. The trick to playing by ear, I think, is having a "malleable" internal key. I don't know of a good way to explain this other than, when I notice karaoke singers always sings the songs in the key that the song was written. (obviously, because that's how karaoke works) The truth is, the tune may be simple/straight forward but in a difficult key. This is the reason why people stress being able to know a song/tune well enough to sing it, before one attempts to play it by ear. Thing is, when I hear a tune in my imagination, it's most often in the key of D. Easy. Right in the middle of the fingerboard. I guess it actually helps to have an inaccurate memory in the aspect of key. So taking this to the next step, hopefully, if a person is versed enough in the first position G or D or maybe A scale, the melody can pop out of one of these scales. IOW, where's the note? It's within the scale. Simply walk up or down the scale until you find it. Also remember this a Melody. A single linear line of notes. Sometimes confusing harmony lines can cloud up a melody line. Obvious or not, most folks whistle a melody line. Not difficult, but I think harmony/chords need to be dealt with separately, until one develops a bit.

    It's just as painful to me to try to read from notation to play as it is for you to try to play by ear. Making new neurological connections is physically painful. But I know sight readers can look at a page and hear the music. Just like if somebody plays me a melody, I can play it back to them. Neither happened overnight. But it is no longer painful to me, just as I trust it's not painful to a site reader.

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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    Quote Originally Posted by hatta View Post
    What if you can't do that? I have sat with recordings for hours, plinking at the mandolin trying to find the same note.

    Just yesterday, I decided I was going to learn something simple and iconic. A song that's firmly in my head, and once I say it will be in yours too. The Meow Mix song.

    I found a video of the commercial and set at it. I got nowhere. Is that first note an F# or a G? Can't tell. The second measure, is it the same or higher than the first? Can't tell. Tried both, neither sounds wrong.

    I'm not bad at recognizing music either. When I see a band I know well, I'm pretty quick to pick up on what song they're playing. When I listen to a live recording, I'll hear a fiddle tune, identify it, and be right most of the time when I check the setlist. I can actually hear, I just can't match what I'm playing to what I'm hearing.

    How do you train this skill? Practice, yes. But how do I practice in a way that I get somewhere, and not just reinforce how bad I am at this?
    There are music teachers who specialize in this process: ear training. I used to be one of them. This is the sort of learning that's difficult to do on your own, and much easier with someone who can analyze the problems you're having, help to identify solutions, and build a productive practice routine. You can often find classes like this in your local community college or adult education center.

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  40. #21
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    To my sensibility I find notation much more user friendly than tab. I just never had the patience for tab. Notation first came to me after I found "Teach Yourself how to Read Music". Much simpler than I had anticipated. It is not rocket sciece. After reading "Music Theory for Dummies" I realized music theory may be rocket science.
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    One trick to make learning by ear a bit easier is Youtube's new ability to play any video at 3/4, half, or 1/4 speed. Just click the gear in the corner of the video and an options menu will be pulled up where you can choose the playback speed.

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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    There's also a great app for smartphones/tablets now called "Loop2Learn" that let's you slow down YouTube videos, and also isolate sections of the tune to loop, allowing you to hear it/play it over and over - very handy for ear training.
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  46. #24
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    This slowing down recorded music is not new. I've learned many a melody or riff by dragging a finger on a vinyl record. Changed the pitch but you could hear the ups and downs and how far apart they were.

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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking the TAB habit

    IT'S NOT COMPLICATED!

    The WHOLE POINT is to make your fingers respond to your "ear"/"sonic memory". Yeah, you can input the new tune/song via eye (tablature/notation), but too many never get beyond that. They repeat the "learn-by-eye" routine over and over and over and eventually end up with "lazy ear".

    Do you remember learning to read in the 1st grade? "See my dog. Woof, woof, woof! Run run run! Find the stick." (3 blind mice, 3 blind mice, see how they run....)

    Did you "read" your primer in silence? Or did your teacher make you sound out the words in class, in front of the class? That's how you put the visual symbols together with the actual sounds they represent.

    Start with simple tunes you can already play. Vocalize them at the same time you play the notes. Maybe that means singing the words (if it's a song) or just humming the melody. By vocalizing, there is NO questioning whether the EAR program has been turned on. Vocalizing and playing the notes simultaneously helps integrate and connect the HEARING and the physical hand movements.

    If you drive a stick shift....are you still having to think about the gearshift "H" pattern, and/or pushing down the clutch pedal when you move the stick shift? NO THEY ARE ALL ONE IN THE SAME!

    If merely humming the song doesn't seem "analytical enough" for you, you can always use (moveable) sol-feg syllables. It's all gobbledy-gook at the very outset, but your brain will soon remember phrases as the LYRIC to the arpeggio, the scale, etc.

    Do Mi So do (I chord); Fa La So fa (IV chord), So Ti re so (v chord), Do Mi So do (I chord). = I/IV/V/I chord progression

    "I love my dog, I like my cat, I ride my bike, I love my dog"

    Why don't most teachers give you this sort of ear training from the beginning?
    Because they want you keep you dependent (or they don't know any better)? Or they think it's beyond your mental capabilities? (The power company doesn't encourage you to put solar panels on your roof; they are afraid you may eventually go off-the-grid and stop paying them.)

    But many students think putting the Aural and Digital together is going to happen immediately and don't/won't give it time enough to kick in. (How long did it take you, or your kids to start talking? "Little Biffy is 3-years old and he hasn't learned to recite the Gettysburg Address yet ...maybe he is a moron and is doomed to life as a janitor. "

    Or else, they are too damn self-conscious about been seen/heard playing/singing/humming "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", "Three Blind Mice" or "Bad Moon Rising" by their spouse or kids. (I used "Bad Moon Rising" as an example because it is just as simplistic a melody as the other two.... just saying!). Or they feel "inadequate" if it doesn't happen in a week? For crying out loud...you are 30+ years old.....don't you think you should learn to ride a bike by now? !

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