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Thread: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

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    Registered User Al Trujillo's Avatar
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    Default Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I never learned how to read music, time signatures, etc. and so five years ago I began my playing journey with an instructor who I thought was really helping me turn the corner. Unfortunately he moved away and I transitioned to TABS, because playing them seemed the easiest thing to do.

    I'm left to wonder though if a guitar playing friend's comment that "you need to get away from TABS and learn to play music" isn't true??

    Is it harder to become a good musician because TABS lack rhythm? Is that maybe a part of why my playing seems sterile, with little life?

    BTW, when i work hard at something I find that I really don't suck at it...but music has been different.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Trujillo View Post
    I never learned how to read music, time signatures, etc. and so five years ago I began my playing journey with an instructor who I thought was really helping me turn the corner. Unfortunately he moved away and I transitioned to TABS, because playing them seemed the easiest thing to do.

    I'm left to wonder though if a guitar playing friend's comment that "you need to get away from TABS and learn to play music" isn't true??

    Is it harder to become a good musician because TABS lack rhythm? Is that maybe a part of why my playing seems sterile, with little life?

    BTW, when i work hard at something I find that I really don't suck at it...but music has been different.
    If you are ignoring the standard musical notation altogether than yes, that is a bad idea. You don't have to know what the notes are, but you do need to understand how whole/half/quarter/eight/sixteenth notes are counted or you won't have any sense of the timing. I don't see see any issue with TAB for finding the notes as they have the benefit that for fretted instruments they are unambitious (unlike say a piano where middle C can only be one key).

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    Registered User Isaac Revard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I think they each have pros and cons. I think one of the biggest benefits of standard notation is the ability to play all kinds of music that’s available. When I was a tab addict, I would search high and low for the tab for a song. As for musicality and tab, I always found it helpful to play a recording of the song while learning the tab to assist in learning the groove, timing and such.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I don't think using TAB is detrimental, however I strongly encourage learning notation basics, I can read but I can't sight read, however being able to read does expand ability and potential, there is a lot of music that does not have TAB and I probably couldn't master it by ear, so I am glad I can read, and was able to learn some really cool music that way.
    TAB will give you the fingerings, notation generally will not indicate which A to play ( open A sting, 7th fret D string) its just a note for you to decide where to sound it.
    so for string instruments TAB has some advantages but the learning is "rote".
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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    First and foremost, let me dispel a canard: Tablature doesn't lack rhythm!

    Tab players might lack rhythm, but so, too, might players who are working from standard notation. In fact, rhythm notation is typically included in tab.

    There are tabs, and then there are tabs. Most of the modern versions of tabs are fairly sophisticated (e.g., TablEdit), and they incorporate a great many carry-overs borrowed directly from standard notation, including: explicitly showing the note duration using flags and spaces (1/4, 1/8, 1/16, triplets, etc.), displaying the time signature (2/4, 3/4, 4/4, etc.), displaying rests and ligatures, suggesting left-hand fingering (where needed), showing pick direction (where needed), accompaniment chords (optional), indicating repeat bars/codas/da capo al segno, and a whole lot more.

    On top of all that, TablEdit even has fancy ways to denote subtle rhythmic emphasis within a given time signature (2/4, 4/4), such as "straight eights," "swing eighths," "jazz eighths," and so on.

    In short, tabs can inidicate the rhythm just as well as standard notation, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise! And if you learn to read tablature well, you will learn many of these common features.

    DaveGinNJ is correct that "you do need to understand how whole/half/quarter/eight/sixteenth notes are counted or you won't have any sense of the timing." However, there is nothing about tablature, per se, that would prevent you from learning this.

    Isaac Revard is correct that reading standard notation has the potential to open up a vast repertoire of music compiled for mandolin and also violin, as well as some other instruments (although transposition or rearrangement might be necessary for the latter). Practically all of classical music, choro, and enormous collections of music from the Ireland and the British Isles are only available in standard notation (although ABC notation has become v. popular in the computer era for a lot of Celtic music).

    That said, a great deal of American folk music, e.g., oldtime/folk music and bluegrass, is more available as tab, instead. And tab, in my personal opinion, is significantly easier to learn, especially when you're getting started. There are plenty of superb bluegrass musicians who have a terrific sense of rhythm, but can only read tablature, and not standard notation. And some of them can't read either tab or standard notation! You certainly don't need to be able to read folk music in order to play it well. It's an aural tradition, after all. And lots of musical forms that involve improvisation, like jazz and bluegrass, aren't typically notated, as such, except for the "heads."

    If you're experiencing difficulty progressing as a musician, and particularly experiencing issues associated with rhythm, then I'd argue that this has nothing to do with tablature versus standard notation. One way to improve your rhythm is to work with a metronome. Or, play along with musical recordings. But even better, get lots of experience playing with other people! And these "other people" might also include getting lessons from an instructor.

    Good luck on your journey!

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Funny how the responses thus far seem to be suggesting that 'If not TABS, the logical alternative would be notation'.

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Trujillo View Post
    I'm left to wonder though if a guitar playing friend's comment that "you need to get away from TABS and learn to play music" isn't true??
    I figured the guitar player was suggesting ditching the TABS and learning to play music by ear. Here's another guy who thinks that way. No slouch either.

    "I play BG so that's what I can talk intelligently about." A line I loved and pirated from Mandoplumb

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    My favorite mandolin player, who was my instructor for four years, could not read tab or notation and did not know theory in the academic sense. Everything was by ear and he could pick a tune up fast once he heard it, without any slow down software. He could also improvise brilliant passing tones and licks, even if they weren't in the melody or in the scale for the key he was playing in. He could just hear it. He played all kinds of folk music: BG, OT, Irish, Scandinavian, South American, Scottish bagpipe tunes, even opera, whatever he wanted to play. He said he thought of a line of notes as intervals, and he could hear the intervals and translate that to the fretboard, even if he could not have told you what intervals they were.

    I think that has to be the goal, no matter how you choose to get there, to be able to quickly play what you want, the way you want and have it sound great. He achieved that, just by ear.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    There are advantages, great advantages, to both tabs and standard notation. The "Complete Musician" that we all aspire to be needs to be adept at both.

    Tab tells you how someone wants you to play a piece of music. Its great for learning a Sierra Hull solo note for note, of sorting out how Chris Thile manages that difficult part. Indispensable for that kind of thing - where do I put my fingers. Because every note on the mandolin is available in at least two places on the neck, some three, the tab helps in figuring out which fingerings to use.

    Notation gives you access to the worlds music. Anything and everything written for just about any instrument will be open to you. And especially all the violin and fiddle music is directly available via notation. Also, in learning music theory, how different harmonies work and how to use and understand the circle of fifths, all the different modes and keys, all of that, notation is the language of music theory.

    Standard notation tells you how the tune goes. Tab tells you one way of playing it.

    (And don't forget the third one, which is learning by ear. Very important).

    None of these supersede the others. Everything you don't know will bite you on the tail piece. Learning notation will not make you forget how to read tab, but avoiding practicing tab will. Learning to read notation will not erode your ability to learn and play by ear, but failure to practice ear training certainly will. That kind of thing.

    I have a lot of exercise books I use to practice from, and for me the notation tells me how the tune goes, and the tab tells me how the author wants me to play it.

    It seems to me that anyone that recommends you learn one or the other is right, and anyone who recommends you don't need to learn the other as well, is wrong.

    There are countless examples of this or that amazing-glows-in-the-dark performer who never learned to read music notation, or whatever. That kind of thing only makes me feel bad. I mean, despite being ignorant in the same way as amazing-glows-in-the-dark is I still can't play that well. Double failure.

    There is a whole ton of things The Complete Musician has to know. And we ignore them at our peril. How to read tab and notation and play by ear, how to memorize a piece, how to improvise, how to practice, how to play arpeggios and scales in every key, how to play chords, how to strum, pentatonic scales, how to keep rhythm, stay in the groove, how to play up the neck, how to play in first position, how to play alone, how to play in a group, how to record, how to play in public, how to listen, how to figure out who is the alpha fiddler and buy her or him a beer to get a tune list from from him or her, all very important skills the lack of which will show. It takes at least a decade to get ten years of experience.
    Last edited by JeffD; Sep-14-2020 at 4:57pm.
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Musical notation is simply a way of writing music down so that others can read/play it. TABS are also simply a way of writing music down so that others can read/play it. Arguing which is the best way is rather like arguing whether one make of mandolin is better than another; they are simply different but the advantage of TABS is that at least you know which note on the fingerboard you are supposed to be playing.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    People will tell you that reading TAB, or reading notation, or studying music theory will “hurt your playing”. In fact, any of the three as tools used for their purpose can help your musicianship.

    When I read your post, I had the same response as sblock. He explained the position in detail, so no need to re-hash. But to summarize, TAB does not lack rhythm! A player can lack rhythm, finesse, ease, etc. but if so, it is not because they have properly used TAB, it would be because they have not practiced rhythm, finesse, ease, etc. Need to work on those things, as well as learning by ear. By all means make use of other tools as you’re able, be it understanding music theory, notation or TAB. Playing musically is the goal whether or not you use those other tools much in your life.
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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Each time one of these Tab vs Standard Notation debates come up I'm tempted to ask if there was anyone out there who learned to read dots and wished they hadn't...

    These discussions remind me of when my mother was teaching us to speak Spanish when we were kids. "Gee, Mom, do I have to?"
    And she said "Now you can talk to all your friends at school...." I think I heard her say "...all the girls at school...."

    Bingo.

    Felt the same sense of empowerment when I learned to read dots. Non hay vuelta atras.....

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Tab preceded standard musical notation.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    This is one of those topics which comes up fairly frequently. To me, the more ways you can learn, the better. Standard notation is a must if you're playing with many different musicians, and learning multiple songs per week. Like in a orchestra, or choir setting. There's really no other way to do it quickly and easily. But for the majority of bluegrass, rock, country or folk music, reading music is not necessary.

    I like TAB for learning new fiddle tunes, especially if I have a recording to listen to. I like good old chord charts for learning songs on the guitar. We used sheet music in the choir - well, before the virus hit and changed everything.

    Learning the basics of reading music is not that hard. Learning how to master sight reading, on the other hand, can take years and years. There are many, many people who make their living playing music who can't read. But I doubt the ones that can, consider having learned it to be a waste of time.
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I’m a new guy here that just bought a mandolin two months ago. I have no musical experience at all and I am having a blast learning to play. All of the lessons online are a huge help, and most say try not to look at the tabs, but to me the tabs are a blessing because I lack the ear and experience to pick things up right now. However, I can play a tab a 1000 times and eventually I remember it. I don’t know if this will hurt me in the long run, but for now, I found it’s the best way for me to learn.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Tab can be a great tool
    pros: gets even the most untrained ear to playing a tune in a short span of time. Can teach a tune as written that you don't already know.
    cons: Does little for ear training. Locks in specific way of playing a tune in your brain. Sometimes seemingly difficult to break free. It seems to teach the technical hand part of playing the instrument. ( I still hear myself play phrases my teacher tabbed out 35 years ago, this is maddening sometimes.)

    Learning by ear can be a great tool
    pros: teaches the technical part as connected to the musical part. improves ear training, i.e. pitch and rhythm. Helps to learn to memorize tunes.
    cons: could become almost as dependent on the recorded lesson as tab. Although if you play with others this will pass.

    learning standard notation can be great
    Pros: IF you become proficient, you can play anything that has been written in standard musical notation. You can play a tune exactly the way the great composers meant it be played. You can do this while not having a great ear. Eventually you can write you own music for others to play exactly as you want it played.
    Cons: It may limit your playing of any other unwritten folk music styles or any other music that is not written down. You can get locked in to this just as much as other methods (you can't play it if you don't have the music in front of you.) It could also limit your creativity in creating tunes of your own.

    Please excuse the fragments

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I've been playing only since March. I know how to read music, but mandolin is my first stringed instrument. I like the music that shows both standard notation and tabs, because the tabs are helping me learn the fretboard. When trying to learn something new, I first try to figure it out by ear, but often peek at the music for the trickier parts. Especially if it's a tune I didn't already know.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Your mileage may vary, but for me learning from TAB reminds me of traveling around London on the Tube - you get where you're going but you don't have a great idea of where you are in relation to other places in the city. Does that make me not take the Tube? Of course not! But it did inspire me to also take advantage of nice weather and lack of needing to be somewhere at a specific time and walk from place to place. For myself I prefer to learn via ear or use ABC notation, because with ABC's you get to know where the notes are on the fretboard.
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    One advantage of TAB is that you can show different possible ways of fingering, especially if you get out of first position.
    Typically a TAB arrangement only uses the most obvious first position notes.

    This is perhaps more true of guitar and maybe 5 string banjo teaching than mandolin.

    When I give any students music for a tune, I always give both standard and TAB.
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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Trujillo View Post
    I never learned how to read music, time signatures, etc. and so five years ago I began my playing journey with an instructor who I thought was really helping me turn the corner. Unfortunately he moved away and I transitioned to TABS, because playing them seemed the easiest thing to do.

    I'm left to wonder though if a guitar playing friend's comment that "you need to get away from TABS and learn to play music" isn't true??

    Is it harder to become a good musician because TABS lack rhythm? Is that maybe a part of why my playing seems sterile, with little life?

    BTW, when i work hard at something I find that I really don't suck at it...but music has been different.
    Learning to read notation is not that much more difficult than reading tablature, and it's worth the effort. Aside from the lack of rhythm, tablature gives you no, zero, musical information. The tablature is just someone's interpretation of the music. It's really a crutch. For example, if I see an F# notated in the music, I can determine for myself where to best play that note, instead of relying on another's idea. Also, I know that F# occurs as part of a D triad, I know that I'm playing the 3rd of the chord. In tablature, all you see is 4th fret on the D string, and that gives you no clue about how that note functions in the music. If playing rhythm, I can see the D chord notated and figure out my own voicing for the chord instead of relying on someone's fretboard finger pattern.

    If all you want to do is learn something like Irish trad tunes or old time tunes, then that is best done by ear, maybe using tablature as an aid. But learning to read standard will help even with that.

  31. #20

    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Tab is a great tool for learning to make music. Standard notation is a great tool for learning to make music. As long as we recognize they are tools and not the music itself.

    Not reading music is like being illiterate. No one ever said being illiterate is a good thing. Music can be similar to speech and language. When speaking to others you also do not want to be dependent totally on speaking from a written page. We have all seen public speakers who read their speech without looking up, in a monotone. No fun at all to listen to.

    If you are so dependent on written music you lose all sense of the flow it is no good. Even more if you totally breakdown the moment you make a mistake and have to back up or lose it all together. Or you cannot deviate even slightly from the written text. Or there are zero dynamics and expression. Or worse yet your timing is nonexistent. It is no fun playing with someone like that. Even classical music, which is dependent on a written text, has room for interpretation. And the classical musicians are so diligently practiced that mistakes are minimal and timing has to be perfect.

    In a casual jam session it is even worse to be totally dependent on a written text. A jam session should be like a conversion. It would be totally weird to have a conversation where we all consult a written text each time we speak. "Hello, (looks down at paper) How...a re you ?" Friend looks at paper "Uhh I uhh am fine" In jam sessions tab or notation dependency is bad.

    I try to use as many tools as I can in learning a song including tab and notation. But the most important is listening to the song a lot so I can actually hear it in my head.

  32. #21
    Registered User Brian560's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I don’t think TAB is detrimental to learning to play music. TAB’s can be detrimental to learning standard notation. TAB also night be detrimental to learning and practicing scales, and also to learning the fingerboard.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I did once come across a drummer who couldn’t play “without” notation. We asked him if he’d like to sit in with our second spot and his reply was “Do you have the dots?”. He was the chief percussionist with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

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  35. #23

    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    It depends on what type of music you want to play but I don't think TAB is "detrimental" to anything - it's another tool in your toolbox to use.

    If you want to play BG it's primarily an aural thing so with TAB you'd have to really listen and follow along if it doesn't have the timing noted - or if you wanted to play a variation/different key you'd need another piece of paper.

    If you're playing in an orchestra then you'll need to play your portion as written so the timing would be very important.

    I think the biggest thing would be don't glue yourself to the page whether it's TAB, notation, chord chart, whatever. If you're in a jam it's nice to be able to go with the flow - many times I see people with their noses in the paper/tablet and they don't even look up or notice the tempo has changed or if it's in a key they don't have music for they just sit there and are unable to participate - it's not wrong but it is limiting and many seem frustrated that they can't join in.

    I came to BG later in life and while I could read notation from my orchestra days I fell into TAB, then I discovered I have a good ear so I have worked very hard to develop it and am able to pick things up quickly now. I learned alot of tunes and know my scales, arpeggios, patterns, whatever which allow me to play in other keys - I don't play perfectly but I can hold my own.

    So, long-winded way of saying use all the tools you have at hand, work on them all, and have fun.
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  36. #24

    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    For example, if I see an F# notated in the music, I can determine for myself where to best play that note, instead of relying on another's idea. Also, I know that F# occurs as part of a D triad, I know that I'm playing the 3rd of the chord. In tablature, all you see is 4th fret on the D string, and that gives you no clue about how that note functions in the music.
    In notation, if you see a sharped note on the bottom space of the treble clef, you can figure out that it is an F#, which may or may not be part of a D triad. In tablature, if you see a note in the fourth fret of the D string, you can figure out that it is an F#, which may or may not be part of a D triad. It is really the same at that level. Notation gives you no more clues about the function than tablature does. Where notation shines over tablature is the graphic aspect, which tablature doesn't have. Where notation REALLY shines over tablature is that it is not instrument specific. You can read the same notation on many different instruments.

  37. #25

    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Trujillo View Post
    I never learned how to read music, time signatures, etc. and so five years ago I began my playing journey with an instructor who I thought was really helping me turn the corner. Unfortunately he moved away and I transitioned to TABS, because playing them seemed the easiest thing to do.

    I'm left to wonder though if a guitar playing friend's comment that "you need to get away from TABS and learn to play music" isn't true??

    Is it harder to become a good musician because TABS lack rhythm? Is that maybe a part of why my playing seems sterile, with little life?

    BTW, when i work hard at something I find that I really don't suck at it...but music has been different.
    I wasted about 4 years of practice due to using only tabs. I could flatpick a lot of fiddle tunes but only the arrangements I learned from tab - most of the time I couldn't even back up other people because I forgot the chord progressions. I could not improvise on the tunes and was very weak at coming up with bluegrass breaks at local jams. Once I ditched the tabs and started to learn by ear, with a focus on what chords I'm playing over & what scales are being used, I started to improve.

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