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Thread: Tab vs ear

  1. #1

    Default Tab vs ear

    Trying to spark some general comments... To set the context first - long time ago I learned the piano as a young lad, have to play by music, never developed any ability to play by ear. Mediocre to fair player at best, being generous, haven't really spent much time since but do own a nice piano. My mother's goal was that I could play any hymn in our hymnal, can still do that but a bit rusty. However, those hymns are burned into my brain forever. I went to guitar and can play pretty fairly, mostly bluegrass and old time music. Have ability to play simple leads and licks. In times past, have worked on developing a small repertoire of songs through a lot of practice and work but they don't stay with me unless I practice regularly... in other words not a lot of native skill in the guitar, I have to work at it. I can still pick up a guitar and work out a decent hymn rendition with chords and melody without any sheet or tabs... Songs like Old Rugged Cross and Unlcoudy day are easy...

    So I decided to learn the mandolin which I love, been playing for a few months. I can pick out simple melodies pretty easily, learned a few chord shapes and am working up to some more stylistic and interesting playing. My real goal in learning the mandolin was to develop my ear more as I learned the instrument and forgo any formal training or sheet music.... However, what I have found out is my typical concentration lapses and limited musical ability lead to some mistakes and "have to think about it" as I'm picking out melodies (chords are never an issue, that's natural from many years of playing)... Sooo, here's the question I was wondering about... I can easily tab out the music that I'm starting to play for the mandolin and then go back to playing by tab, it will be clean and easy, possibly even better as I work up to recording my mandolin and guitar together. BUT then it seems I'm right back into the lazy way of playing by just reading the sheet music instead of developing real music in my head.... I've almost convinced myself to tab a few songs out until I'm more proficient on the mando but then it seems a cop-out rather than just practicing harder and more often and getting to the real ability to play..... thoughts?

  2. #2
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    humming whistling is head tunes .. Not able to sight read, so I go from learning the melody in my head.

    then teach it to my fingers.



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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    The complete musician needs both. To be able to sight read and to be learn by ear and play what is in your head. Distinct advantages to both. It is not a versus situation. What ever you can't do will bite you in the tail piece.

    That said we have limited time and have to prioritize. So if you only had time for one, I would work on which ever needed the more work, and then switch to the other when it needs more work.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    I agree with JeffD that it's not an either-or type situation. Do both. But if you have to focus on one for now, I'd focus on playing by ear. You already know how to read music and read/write tab. So at your level, that should be used as a secondary device. What you apparently need to focus on is internalizing the music and learning to extend what you hear in your head to your fingers. That comes with experience: the more you play that mandolin and mentally translate music to frets, the easier it will become. When you play tab, you're just "painting by numbers" with no thought process involved.
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  8. #5

    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    I have always been able to memorize songs pretty quickly. I've played guitar since the '50s and found out early that the songs that I was needing to learn were not usually available on sheet quickly enough. So simply out of necessity I learned to play by ear.
    Now that I've decided to try learning the mandolin, I've mixed my previous experiences with what's available on the net and things really seem to be coming together.
    I might mention that the Mandolessons site has proved to be quite helpful in this stage of my learning process. The teacher not only plays the song, but also offers tabs of his performance. Since I'm not usually familiar with the songs that I'm trying to learn, this method offers the best means of getting aquainted with them.

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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    I agree that it is not an either/or scenario, but likewise, music is not an endeavor where you get points for difficulty. A well rounded musician should not neglect ear training, but you should also use every learning modality available.

    One thing that I have seen work for highly visual learners is to learn a melody by notation or tab in one key, and then try to transpose it into other keys by ear.

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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    I started playing mandolin with zero previous experience with any kind of music. I learned first by reading a book titled TEACH YOURSELF HOW TO READ MUSIC (or some similar title) and after that I read MUSIC THEORY FOR DUMMIES.
    Then I set myself on determining what instrument I wanted to learn to play. Having always liked piano, guitar, and mandolin. I decided between the three, the diminutive size of a mandolin made it easy to travel with.
    I wish I could play by ear, but that skill escapes me regardless of how much I work at it. Notation allows me to learn a song and then I can with much effort learn to memorize the lyrics. Upon memorizing the lyrics I can then play the melody and/or rhythm (chords) with little effort without the sheet music.
    Tabs is a whole other beast to me. I do not have the patience to set and count frets/strings. Besides, most music I buy has Tab for guitar. I, for the life of me don't understand how anyone has the ability to site read Tab.
    After picking up the mandola, I then taught myself to read music in Alto (C) clef. Going between G clef and alto clef used to trip me up, but not so much anymore.
    Bottom line, though, is I would be a much more complete musician if I were able to develop the ability to learn a song by ear. Now at the ripe age of 66, it is obvious to me that if I haven't accomplished this by now, I never will.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    When I first learned the banjo, I learned primarily by tab. When I first learned mandolin I transposed leads that I played on banjo to the mandolin. That was enough to get me started. Probably much like what you have done moving from guitar to mandolin. At a certain point, I felt I needed some guidance. As a result of a thread here on the Cafe I learned about Banjo Ben Clark. I got their Gold Pick membership for 6 months. You can download tabs and see videos of Ben playing. I found that some of his learning techniques really boosted my thinking. He has both tunes, each tune is broken down with a simple and an advanced version. He also has tutorials on specific areas, like jamming in G, or playing up the neck. I found it very helpful a worth the $40 for three months (not sure, that is my memory). There are other online teaching that I am not knowledgeable and I will let those that know about them tell you. Back to your question, both.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Aw, it's worth a try. It won't hurt to tab out some tunes and get fluid playing them.

    But also carve out plenty of improvisation time. Don't worry about speed, just think about finding useful patterns on the fretboard. Speed will take care of itself as you progress.

    Like you, I'm not a natural. But I have an entertaining style that did NOT come naturally. It came through years of woodshedding. Probably also like you, I just stick with it because it's fun to play and I like the sounds I come up with.

    Not a pro attitude, I know, but so what? I'm not a pro! Anyhow, it works for me and doesn't take coffee breaks.

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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    ear training and reading traditional music score are both important. I'd skip the tab.

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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by LostVenture View Post
    I have always been able to memorize songs pretty quickly. . . .
    Wish I could! I have to play a tune over a hundred times before I can remember it - and that's no guarantee, it's just a bet hedge.

    That's one reason why I fall back on improvising so much.

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  21. #12

    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by Bad Monkey View Post
    ear training and reading traditional music score are both important. I'd skip the tab.
    I rarely use tab, but my impression is that it's more useful for guitar than for mandolin, since mando doesn't have separate bass and treble lines.

    True?

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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    But also carve out plenty of improvisation time. Don't worry about speed, just think about finding useful patterns on the fretboard. Speed will take care of itself as you progress..
    Yep there is another skill. So its ear training, reading music, improvisation. Then there are chords, harmony, tremolo. Then there is..... and lastly you have to learn how to kiss up to the alpha fiddler. Its part of it.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    I prefer to memorize on the mandolin, complex parts with lots of notes lend themselves better to memorization IMHO. Now those old trumpet parts in an orchestra, where you count 37 measures of rest and hit a few loud notes, and back to resting, I would never consider memorizing anything like that.

    But since I am a reader, and can learn by ear or music, I find using music is more efficient for me because I don't have to press rewind and play over and over again, and if I forget one measure I can instantly remind myself by glancing at that measure.

    Trained musicians can read music directly in their heads, meaning I can hear the music I see on the page, so I can sight read and whistle or sing a part, I don't need an instrument to translate a part into the right pitches.

    It's just years of practice, nothing magical about it, I am not that great of a musician, just an old one who's done a lot of things over the years...

    But given all that, TAB to me is the least useful representation because I cannot hear a TAB part in my head by looking at it, I imagine that is a skill that could be developed, but I don't have it.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by Bad Monkey View Post
    ear training and reading traditional music score are both important. I'd skip the tab.
    While I agree in general that standard notation has lots of advantages, tab is not without its uses, even if you can read standard.

    I have some transcriptions of Sierra Hull pieces, and they are played so far up the neck that standard notation is difficult for me. I am a strong reader in first position, but not so much up higher. So the tab is really helpful. At least to get me started.

    Also, I have some transcriptions of old fiddle tunes, in standard notation, to be played in cross tuning. Ahhhhh. So I find it helpful to tab them out.

    I hold to my earlier comment - everything I don't know will bite me in the tailpiece.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    As a musician of many decades, I can say there are basically two types of musicians. Those that play by ear and memory, but can't really read music all that well (me) and those who can play reading notation, but ear- not so much (Mrs5150). And then there is that very small third group that does both well.

    I find tabs useful. when learning a new song it's tabs first, then hearing and getting the song in my head. Back to the tabs to work out the details of the song. And then I make the song my own.

    Sounds like the OP should focus on tabs and memorization. Work with your strengths. If you find playing by ear comes about all the better. My opinion, of course
    Last edited by Mr5150; Jul-19-2017 at 7:56pm.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr5150 View Post
    As a musician of many decades, I can say there are basically two types of musicians. Those that play by ear and memory, but can't really read music all that well (me) and those who can play reading notation, but ear- not so much (Mrs5150). And then there is that very small third group that does both well.
    That has been my experience as well. But I do not believe in the often thought corollary that learning one diminishes the other. What I mean is that learning to read music does not diminish ones ability to play be ear and memory. What does that is neglecting ear training. And of course vv. ear training does not get in the way of learning to read, only neglecting to learn to read does that.

    The problem, of both types of musicians, as I see it, is complacency. We all get more joy out of what we do well and naturally spend more time and effort there, and don't so much like to work on what we do not excel at, thus preserving our inabilities and limitations. Its natural, I do it, we all do it.

    The admonition from Satchel Paige, arguably the best pitcher in baseball history, is very important here. "No point in practicing what you are already good at." Of course we shouldn't take it literally, but there is some real wisdom there.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    That has been my experience as well. But I do not believe in the often thought corollary that learning one diminishes the other. What I mean is that learning to read music does not diminish ones ability to play be ear and memory. What does that is neglecting ear training. And of course vv. ear training does not get in the way of learning to read, only neglecting to learn to read does that.

    The problem, of both types of musicians, as I see it, is complacency. We all get more joy out of what we do well and naturally spend more time and effort there, and don't so much like to work on what we do not excel at, thus preserving our inabilities and limitations. Its natural, I do it, we all do it.

    The admonition from Satchel Paige, arguably the best pitcher in baseball history, is very important here. "No point in practicing what you are already good at." Of course we shouldn't take it literally, but there is some real wisdom there.
    i agree. Observation. Those who play by ear can, in some cases master notation. I tried and had very minor success. Mrs5150 took up bass and got half way decent. Playing at church requires flexibility and an ability to change gears in a moment. That doesn't work for note readers. My wife was never able to play by ear. She gave up playing bass at church. She did ok but was lost if the worship leader made a last minute change during a set as the Spirit moved. Now mind you, give Mrs5150 a score she never saw before, she'd have it down after four times thru. Just how it is with note readers. Playing by ear is something you have or not. Not something you can learn. My observation.

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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr5150 View Post
    Playing by ear is something you have or not. Not something you can learn. My observation.
    I am not sure. Of course I haven't any kind of study or polling the delegation, and even evidence is suspect because a person who starts primarily from paper and learns to read could be the example of the person who has the skill, but started by reading.

    But from my experience, I was entirely in the paper trained camp when I started mandolin - my musical experience being woodwinds in band and orchestra. And I would have sworn up and down that I couldn't do it.

    Playing from memory occurred because supporting the music for marching band was such a pain. And later with mandolin, schlepping tune books and copied pages around was equally a pain.

    Memory work consisted of nothing more than playing the tune from the music a whole lot, and then turning away a little, and then a little more and so on.

    Playing by ear also was not a skill I thought I would ever acquire. And I cannot say how it came about that I developed some competence learning by ear, except after jams sitting with folks teaching me phrase by phrase. Just forcing myself into the environment I guess. Like a child from Estonia might learn English here by being attending regular second grade.

    I dunno. It ain't easy. Or more properly, it doesn't come quickly, but I have the prejudice it will come to those that don't give up.

    Same with learning to read music. I don't think anyone can't do it, but it doesn't come as quickly as we might like.

    I think the talent is not so much being born with a good ear or quick mind, but being born with a stubborn tenacity that can't seem to give up.

    But again, it is hard to say, and even harder to test. What unexpressed talents a person may have are invisible, and not-having-learned-how looks exactly the same as not-being-able-to.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    . . . I do not believe in the often thought corollary that learning one diminishes the other. . . .
    Zackly. Knowing more never limits an artist.

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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Zackly. Knowing more never limits an artist.
    You'll NEVER hear a musician express regret about having learned to read. I often hear musicians, even working pros, say they wish they had spent more time learning to "wing it."

  38. #22

    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    If a typical site reader spent as much time on a piece as me, I'd think that memory couldn't help but start to creep in. Still not saying one's better than the other. There really is no reason to know a song/tune as intimately as I do with each and every one. It's a safety/security thing for me. Nobody wants to be the weakest link.

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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    For me learning a new tune involves passive listening, then active participative listening, then slow down listening and working out. If I can't get hold of it at that point I look for TAB or notation. I never really wind up playing anything exactly like anyone else but a firm foundation to work from is usually obtainable.
    But that's me...... your brain and learning style are oriented to notation. WHICH IS NOT A FAILING. Just a different way of reaching the same goal ..... music. I have one recommendation for you.... Solfege ..... added to closed position scales.. see ffcp .... it may give your ear / brain/ hands a place to meet up. For me ... I continue to work on my notation reading skills and it's like pulling teeth....... so we all play on ...... R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    I dunno. It ain't easy. Or more properly, it doesn't come quickly, but I have the prejudice it will come to those that don't give up.

    Same with learning to read music. I don't think anyone can't do it, but it doesn't come as quickly as we might like.
    .[/QUOTE]

    Quite the contrary for me. I found that learning to read music not to be rocket science. The harder part for me was understanding music theory, of which I feel as though I have only touched the surface, but more difficult was the muscle memory needed for my fingers to go to the correct note/notes when I see the dots.
    In my few attempts to learn to read tab, I just ran out of patience. I didn't find it difficult, but I did find it extremely tedious.
    When asked, I tell people I am not a musician but I do play a mandolin. Not being able to play by ear, somehow in my mind, disqualifies me from considering myself a musician.
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    Default Re: Tab vs ear

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr5150 View Post
    Playing by ear is something you have or not. Nsot something you can learn. My observation.
    I strongly disagree with this statement. If it were true, music schools and conservatories wouldn't require two years of ear training classes. I have personally witnessed successful ear training. But, if you don't have naturally good pitch recognition, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to learn. Way more work than most amateur musicians are willing to put in; so much so that it might appear impossible to learn. But music students do learn.
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