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Thread: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

  1. #26

    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I find this to be a compelling argument on the subject:

    https://youtu.be/4X7qgBVnMfY

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  3. #27

    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    This seems to be a good question because it pops up now and then, often parallel to the questions of learning to read standard notation. First of all, I only wish I had the talent of John Flynn's teacher.....I am not sure if gift is a better word than talent. I also learned in my early and later athletic activities, and then with music, that what you lack in talent, you have to make up with hard work. I would also concur with bigskygirl about "tools". I did not really get into mandolin, or music in general, until I was 55.....I could maybe remember 8-10 chords on guitar from high school, but had absolutely NO idea that a major chord was made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th....SAY WHAT??
    Where am I going with this, you may ask.......
    I decided that at my age, with no gift nor talent for any this stuff, that I had better try to learnt use as many "tools" as I could to get to the point where I could show up to a jam, and having NEVER heard the tune, figure out the progression fairly quickly and not make too much of fool of myself on the first time a solo was passed around.
    Tab was just one of the tools that I learned to use, along with standard notation, music theory and perhaps MOST important of all, as folks have stated here, is the aural skill that is needed in all of this.
    Did this take time.....Of course....but was it worth it....BEYOND spades.
    Every now and then, if I can't pick something out by ear, TAB has been the only resource available to help me along....my first Mandolin Fake Book was written only in tab. IMHO, learning to read standard notation is not unlike learning to read in elementary school.... a page of those dots finally made sense....kinda like magic when I finally figured which end was up. My sight reading has really deteriorated since I play so much by ear now, but, Man Oh Man, does it still come in SOME handy when I try to learn a little classical Bach or Vivaldi, or just can't hear what the Top Dogs in bluegrass are going.
    Theory.... Okeeee Dokee then....Bluegrass Jam...only the key is given....never heard the tune....1000 miles an hour....a minor chord comes up....I have at least have a one in three chance of getting it right the first time, assuming I can't see the guitar player's fingers....and we can all talk about the aural piece until the cows come home.
    I admire those who could take the short cuts to get where they are today....I couldn't. Now that I am about 6 years in guitar as well, all the aforementioned items in my tool box have been indispensable.
    Thanks for listening if you made it this far.........

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  5. #28
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by David L View Post
    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.
    +1, David has expressed many of my own thoughts on the paragraph that he quoted: Fret numbers on strings tell me the note because I know that on mandolin fret 4 on string 3 is an F#, same as reading the dots shows me an F#, and I also know the chord triads, whether I’m reading TAB or dots. Notation and TAB both have their place in my own regimen, so does playing by ear ... I’d not assume that a person doesn’t know what notes they’re playing because they use TAB ... nor that a person who uses TAB doesn’t know where alternate fretboard choices for a note are. The same goes for persons who play only by ear and use neither TAB nor notation.

    I don’t think that knowledge of music theory, rhythmic playing and “musicality” in general has anything to do with whether a person uses TAB, notation, or exclusively ear-playing. If any of those is lacking, it is not because of the type of notation that person uses, but rather because the person has not given their attention to those former things.

    Granted, many music theory texts and general courses begin with standard notation - possibly contributing to the impression that you can’t have one without the other. Yet we know this isn’t true. Popular musicians exist who have a strong, functional understanding of music theory and who yet do not read the dots.
    Last edited by Mark Gunter; Sep-15-2020 at 6:05pm.
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  7. #29

    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I’d like to see a lot more people play mandolin than actually do.

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  9. #30
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Hildreth View Post
    Tab preceded standard musical notation.

    Only if you mean medieval organ TAB, which became the grand staff.

    However, Gregorian chant staff notation was around before TAB.

    Notation was around during the lute era where lute (and vihuela, guitar and cittern) music was written in TAB, but a good lute player could also read off a 4 part vocal score and could "intabulate", that is, create a TAB version of a piece of music from the score.

    I have never been on any guitar or mandolin gig where I was asked to read TAB - only staff notation. Or, it was an ear gig and had no written music at all.

    Steel guitar, with all the various tunings, often uses TAB - but most steel players play in bands that do not use any sheet music.

    I agree with many posts about learning to play by ear, too!

    As for TAB for mandolin, I rarely want or use it - you can mark string and fret positions on staff notation, so there's no need for me to use TAB.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by GTison View Post
    Learning by ear can be a great tool......
    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.)
    True, if you do not use your ear when reading TAB or staff notation..
    Last edited by DavidKOS; Sep-16-2020 at 6:47am.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Apropos to this discussion, John McGann's popular and somewhat exhaustive Tab Reader's Guide to Standard Notation.

    John often stated it doesn't matter how you learn: by ear, by standard notation, by tab. It's what you do when you put the medium used to learn away and play from memory that really counts. And of course if anyone here really wants to delve into the question of if tablature is harmful, there are hundreds, probably thousands, of CoMando discussions from 1994 going forward on said subject, not to mention the same on this forum.

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  15. #33

    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Relio View Post
    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.
    Don't blame the tab for your lack of other skills. You didn't "waste" four years, you spent four years preparing yourself to learn by ear.

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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by killntime View Post
    Iím 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 donít know if this will hurt me in the long run, but for now, I found itís the best way for me to learn.
    You and I appear to be following a parallel path. Looking into the future I predict if you only learn to use TAB you may think back at my question on this post and wonder if that's not also where you are at. My recommendation at this point to a beginner such as you is to learn TAB and standard notation. I wish I had spent more time with the latter.

  18. #35
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    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.
    This is just wrong, in several ways. Many people in this thread have pointed out that tablature is easier to learn, and especially so for many beginners. It is simply untrue that notation is equivalently easy to learn. In particular, learning notation requires deep memorization of the location of every note sounded on every string at every fret, at least up to the 12th fret (48 different notes). It also requires learning to sight read all the notes on the musical staff, as well, and how to "automatically" sharp or flat notes in key signatures other than C. It is a rather steep learning curve, by practically any measure. Tablature requires none of that. I am NOT saying it isn't worth the investment of time to learn standard notation, mind you! In fact, it's well worth it for many genres of music. I am simply saying that you are incorrectly minimizing the differences in learning difficulty between these two forms.

    Second, it is complete and utter nonsense to assert that tablature provides "zero musical information (sic)." Tablature provides nearly everything you need to know in order to play the piece as written. It provides substantially the same "musical" information as standard notation, in fact, with only a few relatively minor differences. That said, it does miss certain types of musical nuance, for example, the "pulse" and "rhythmic feel" that might be associated with a particular musical genre (e.g., Swing Jazz, Breton reels, Choro, etc.). But standard notation misses that feel, as well! The fact is, BOTH types of notation are imperfect, and fail to capture every nuance of live performance. This is sometimes referred to as musical "interpretation," and it's missing from both tab and notation.

    Over the years, composers have tried -- and mostly failed! -- to address these sorts of issues in lots of ways. Handel wrote his "Water Music" (suite in D Major, HWV349) that has a famous section known as "Alla Hornpipe" which was meant to indicate a hornpipe rhythm. Except that section is written in 3/2 time (not 2/4) time, and no one today would understand it as a "hornpipe." The fact is, musical styles and interpretations change over time, and the many auxiliary notations that are necessary to accompany standard notation drift in their meaning. No one has figured out any way to standardize these. All of which is yet another way of saying that standard notation is quite imperfect as it stands. Before the advent of the metronome, it was conventional to provide tempo advice using Italian words "Largo, andante, allegro, presto, etc." These are ambiguous, and got interpreted lots of ways. Today, a lot of composers will instead provide accurate tempo information instead, for example, as BPM = 116. Standard notation is evolving, and so is tab, and they share a great many common features, as I discussed earlier.


    As to one of the features that you cited as a so-called "deficiency" of tab, most people would call it an advantage! Specifically, tab tells you which version of a given note to play when there might be an ambiguity, since many (but certainly not all) mandolin notes are located more than one place on the fretboard. In many guitar pieces found in standard notation, this ambiguity can sometimes become an actual problem while playing, and it is resolved by suggested left-hand fingering marks located above the notation, or by fret numbers imbedded in the notation -- just like tab! This is especially true in beginner pieces. Tablature lacks this inherent ambiguity, and that is a strength, not a deficit. Historically, tablature was invented before std notation, as many have already pointed out.

    The second supposed advantage you cite is that you can often figure out harmonic accompaniments by looking at the note (or combination of notes), and the surrounding notes. This is perfectly true, but there is nothing peculiar to standard notation about that ability! If you see a triad of notes being played together in tab, you can learn to recognize the shape of an associated chord. If you see a series of notes being played at certain frets, you can look for likely chords that utilize those same frets, and you soon learn to recognize the associated chord names. In fact, tablature works perfectly well to provide clues about harmonic accompaniment, and I (for one) use it that way all the time!

    In summary, tablature is not some kind of "crutch." That's not only an offensive slur, but it's complete nonsense. It's unwarranted. I could equally well argue that standard notation is a "crutch," in the restricted sense that learning to sight read from notation is not equivalent to playing a piece with the proper "bounce" or "feel" for the genre, which can only be learned by hearing many examples of the musical form, as played by other people. Standard notation is not a substitute for the aural tradition of music, and especially all the folk music of the world (which both predates and outnumbers classical music). We all know that computer programs are perfectly capable of playing back standard notation with metronomic precision, but they don't sound at all like a human being playing, because they lack the appropriate feel. A key reason for this is because standard notation, like tablature, is imperfect, and fails to annotate the desired nuances of human performance, and especially subtleties of the rhythm. Composers and musicologists have known this for centuries, long before the advent of computers. Tab and standard notation have a number of well known failings in common, in fact. But they are both good enough for most practical purposes, which is probably why they have both survived this long.

    It does not pay to be a "notation chauvinist." Learn both notations if you can, I say, and realize that they each represent imperfect ways of conveying the musical information. Musical performance (at least for now), is a quintessentially human activity, and we have not figured out a way to annotate things like musical virtuosity. Just the basics.

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  20. #36
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Tabs are not a crutch or a detriment, they are merely a tool, one of many that can be used to learn music. Playing by ear is a great asset, but in my experience, it's a skill that takes quite a while to develop. Learning only that which you can get by ear would seem to set a pretty tight limit on potential repertoire, especially in the early going. I can listen to Steffey play "Daley's Reel" two hundred times, put it on the slow-downer at half-speed, and grind it out for weeks, or I can look at a tab and get a head start. Neither tab nor notation are a substitute for listening, they just speed the process along. In fact, tabs can be good for learning how the pros shift positions to makes passages easier to play.
    Mitch Russell

  21. #37
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning What?
    Your goal dictates the answer to your question. If you are a young guy who wants to be a pro and able to walk into any situation, then yes. You might get cut out for not being able to read a piece placed in front of you. If you are a retiree who simply wants to play along with a group and get up to speed on a few tunes, you will not be held back.

    Neither way will help you hold a pick correctly, develop finger strength, know how to build a break, or have steady rhythm.

    Is the use of tabs working for you so far?

  22. #38
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    is it better to learn from reading or from a lecture? Both provide content. It's up to you to translate that to your vocabulary, that is if you know how to speak.

    I'm with John McGann. Who cares? Matter of fact, I've never listened to a great player and thought, "Hmm, I wonder if they learned all that creative stuff from notation or tab?"

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  23. #39

    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by MitchStein View Post
    Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning What?
    Your goal dictates the answer to your question. If you are a young guy who wants to be a pro and able to walk into any situation, then yes. You might get cut out for not being able to read a piece placed in front of you. If you are a retiree who simply wants to play along with a group and get up to speed on a few tunes, you will not be held back.

    Neither way will help you hold a pick correctly, develop finger strength, know how to build a break, or have steady rhythm.
    Exactly right, esp. the last part. And I would add to where I think Mitch was heading . . . I think TAB or notation really only leads you to the open door of music, it's what you do with it that really matters. Every great musician is adding nuance and touch that can not be written down in any form, it's written in the heart and soul.

  24. #40
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    This is just wrong, in several ways. Many people in this thread have pointed out that tablature is easier to learn, and especially so for many beginners. It is simply untrue that notation is equivalently easy to learn.

    .....
    It does not pay to be a "notation chauvinist." Learn both notations if you can, I say, and realize that they each represent imperfect ways of conveying the musical information.
    As for the last part, I agree with it and with much/most of your well-thought out post.

    But as for staff notation being harder to learn, I do not agree. Children can easily learn how to play music off of traditional music - think of all those young pianists - and have no trouble becoming proficient readers at a tender age. Kids in grammar school and middle school bands are often quite good readers.

    Now, in the guitar/mandolin world, many folks resist staff notation, and coupled with the fact that some of the most popular mandolin styles are part of aural traditions that never use any music on paper on stage, we get the wrong impression and assume TAB is "easier" than staff notation.

    Both take about the same time to learn well.

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  26. #41
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Having learned notation in grade school helped my reading of modern tablature; that is, tablature that gives a key signature and notates durations with stems and flags and rest marks. I’d suppose that a person who uses tablature and who has not learned about key and time signatures, etc., would have trouble making any rhythmic sense of TAB.

    Note duration: https://www.musictheory.net/lessons/11
    Key signatures: https://www.musictheory.net/lessons/24
    Time signatures: https://www.musictheory.net/lessons/12
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  28. #42
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    While it’s true that both standard notation and tablature are imperfect, and thus “in flux” over time in terms of standardization, the world of tablature is far more inconsistent than standard notion. For many transcribers in TAB, the inclusion of musical hints mentioned in my last post are optional. Also, most use lines to indicate strings, but some use spaces to indicate strings. Some use simple text editors, some use sophisticated modern programs, and some “tab it out” by hand (standard notation is often jotted down by hand as well). But generally speaking, “standard” notation is far more standardized than tablature.
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  30. #43
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    “Who cares?” is a good question. It comes down to the individual and their musical community. What do you care about, what are your goals and your priorities with your music and your education?
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Notation tells you which pitch is to be played, with time value. It does not tell you where the pitch can be found on a fretted instrument. This is often quite a problem for beginners with no prior musical training.

    Tablature tells you which fret to finger, with time value, so a beginner can quite easily pick out a melody.

    To me, you certainly need less theoretical understanding to play from tab, as you can begin without any understanding of keys, scales, etc., so you can be in the fun part very quickly.

    But down the line a player needs an understanding of the relationship of the pitches and that’s typically explained only in notational terms. Both have a place, little to be gained by bashing one. When folks play, I don’t see anybody judging folks on how they became a good player.

    My $.02. Ymmv
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Tablature tells you which fret to finger, with time value, so a beginner can quite easily pick out a melody.

    To me, you certainly need less theoretical understanding to play from tab, as you can begin without any understanding of keys, scales, etc., so you can be in the fun part
    True, it’s an understanding of note durations, when they are indicated in TAB, along with time signature, rather than key signature, that is needed to make best use of modern TAB. Though the key signature may give clues to unwritten harmony.
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    OK, tablature tells you to put your finger on a specific fret, specific string. Of course you can read the tablature for 4th fret on the D string, and also know that it's the F# and the 3rd of a D triad, etc...but the tablature doesn't indicate anything other than a location. Notation gives you a graphic layout of the actual music. If you know that chords are built in western music primarily per a tertiary system, you can see the intervallic relationships right there on the page. Tablature doesn't do that. Anything you learn is good or great, but notation is more valuable and not that much more difficult to learn, in my opinion, given a methodical approach. With tablature i guess a novice could pick up a mandolin and be playing a fiddle tune in a day or two, and learning to read notation would be playing the same tune in a week. I think it's worthwhile. Ear training is a separate issue, but notation can help with that too.

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  36. #47
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    I guess a stronger answer would be - playing TABS is not detrimental to really learning. Not learning the other stuff, yea that could be detrimental to real learning.

    Welcome to the adventure. Learning mandolin has kept me humble for many many years.
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  37. #48
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    What you say re: graphical layout is a valid point, but it merely reveals differences in the graphical layout. Goes to pros & cons, strengths & weaknesses rather than the general triumph of one over the other. For the TAB reader or ear player who knows that chords in Western music are generally built in a tertiary manner, they can see where roots, thirds, fifths and sevenths lie on the fretboard in relation to one another without a graphical representation on paper.

    I’m not knocking your opinion or the notation, just pointing out that there is more than one way to view it.

    Since most theory courses rely on standard notation to teach theory, there is the illusion that the two are inextricably bound. They are not IMO
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    DavidKOS -- Yes, I think you've made an excellent case that standard musical notation is not all that hard to learn, and it's certainly true that that small children can be taught to read it, and to read it pretty fluently. Too true! (Too bad that so many public schools are dropping their musical education classes, but that's another story.)

    Adults, however, seem to be a different matter. We're worse at memorization and slower to react. As an adult, have you tried to learning to read, say, in languages like Arabic, Bengali, Thai, Russian or Hebrew, all of which require learning an entirely new writing system? Or worse yet, try learning to write Japanese (two writing systems to assimilate, plus characters) or Chinese (ridiculous numbers of characters, very nearly equal to the numbers of different words)? These things are hard! By no means impossible, mind you, but HARD!!

    I am not sure if you ever learned to be proficient in reading tablature, yourself, so perhaps you're not in a position to make a direct comparison, based on your own experience. Anyway, I was arguing that learning to play tab is quicker and easier than learning to play standard notation, at least at the beginning, and for most people. Not everyone is the same, of course. But I'd wager that most beginners would probably agree with my assertion, and the widespread popularity of tab in the guitar and banjo worlds (esp. for U.S. folk/oldtime/bluegrass music) attests to it. This seems to be especially true for folks coming from a strictly aural learning tradition, who may be looking to expand their repertoire by finding some familiar tunes that have been transcribed.

    That said, I was not arguing that standard notation is hard or impossible to learn! Only that it was comparatively harder than tab. I really believe that's true in general, and it's certainly true for me. I started on the 5-string banjo, which is pretty much tab ONLY.

    On the other hand, the rewards of learning standard notation can be vast, as already discussed earlier in this thread. The repertoire is gigantic. I myself have nothing at all against standard notation; it's terrific. Both tab and staff notation have their places, especially in folk music instruction, and these look to be secure for many years to come.

    P.S. There are even special/weird tablature systems for things like the harmonica and bagpipes/Uillean pipes. Check out harmonica tab! It really blows! Or should I say it sucks!

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  41. #50
    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is playing TABS detrimental to really learning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    What you say re: graphical layout is a valid point, but it merely reveals differences in the graphical layout. Goes to pros & cons, strengths & weaknesses rather than the general triumph of one over the other. For the TAB reader or ear player who knows that chords in Western music are generally built in a tertiary manner, they can see where roots, thirds, fifths and sevenths lie on the fretboard in relation to one another without a graphical representation on paper.

    I’m not knocking your opinion or the notation, just pointing out that there is more than one way to view it.

    Since most theory courses rely on standard notation to teach theory, there is the illusion that the two are inextricably bound. They are not IMO
    Sure, there are many ways to view it, but...relying on fingerboard geometry for that graphic element can be handy, and it can also be a trap, limiting. It’s just my opinion, but I think we as mandolin players would be better, enjoy our instruments more, if we learned to play mandolin by the same process almost every other instrument is learned, as a foundation at least. There is no reason to not learn it, that I know of. I realize that there is a great tradition of music learned by ear, but the two things are not mutually exclusive.

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