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Thread: Sight read tab?

  1. #1
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    Default Sight read tab?

    I’m curious if any followers on this site sight reads tab. During Covid 2020 I find myself with more time on my hands and am once again, after many previous attempts, trying to master the art of reading tab. I only find myself frustrated as it seems to me very cumbersome. Following the dots associated with notation seems so much simpler. But with Covid I may never have more time to try learning a new skill. Just doing it proves trying enough. I know that someday being able to sight read tab will never come for me.
    Last edited by Pittsburgh Bill; Sep-18-2020 at 2:03pm.
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    I agree with you. If I want to sight read I do much better with notation. The dots presents a visual representation of how the tune goes which can be used as a guide. The numbers (tab) are much more valuable for other tasks. Like when I want to know how Sierra Hull fingers that piece, or how an exercise is to be done properly.

    Its a vice grip versus a screw driver, different tools for different jobs.

    It might just be what I practice however. I learned notation first and I have practiced most of my sight reading with notation. I don't know, but it might be true that someone adept with tablature can, with practice, sight read a new piece. Not the way I would go however.
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    If you want to do sight read playing in time, I’d suggest standard notation. Tablature, for me, is useful for use in the practice room, and nowhere else. I use standard notation when sight reading, but I have to say that my sight reading skills are not great. I use notation to learn a piece and memorize it. I use sight reading to brush up on the melodies from time to time, but never in public performance.

    IIRC, I’ve read in the past some folks saying they can sight read TAB, but my brain must not be wired that way. I had to sight read scores for band starting in grade school, and I’d find it tough to do that with TAB.
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Truth be told, most of the folks who play oldtime/bluegrass music can neither sight read tablature nor sight-read staff notation at tempo! Instead, we can manage to read the one or the other system fairly slowly -- much slower than one would normally play a piece. We then commit the music to memory, often by playing the sections we're reading over and over, repeatedly. This is still an aural tradition, after all, and our goal is not to play the piece from the printed page -- irrespective of whether it's tab or dots! -- but to play it from memory. For us, the printed musical page is useful for learning transcriptions of new pieces, and also learning how others interpret already-familiar tunes. It is not our goal to sight-read.

    I was once at an open, oldtime jam session, with about a dozen regular players seated all round in a circle. To our surprise, in walked a classically-trained violinist, carrying his fiddle and lugging a wheeled suitcase behind him, of the size used for overhead storage on aircraft. He proceeded to take out a music stand and set it up in front of him. Every time someone called out a new tune to play, he would rummage through his suitcase (for far too long, slowing the entre jam down!) to locate sheet music for the tune. He would put it on his stand and sight-read the piece as we all played together. Yes, it was impressive that he could do this at full tempo, but his playing sounded stilted, and lacked all expression, completely missing the "bounce" and "drive" associated with the oldtime rhythms. He stuck out like a sore thumb, and not in a good way.

    Sight-reading (whether tab or dots) is an exceedingly useful musical skill, particularly if you can do it with some ease, and fairly rapidly. But it is no substitute for memorization, and knowing how to play each genre with its unique, associated "feel." Just saying...

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Sblock
    Your point is well taken. I prefer to never sight read in front of others. I do learn my music mostly from notation and then memorize it so as to not sound stilted as you describe. Often times I look up new to me music and can only find it in tab. I then rewrite it in notation for practice (a step I would like to forgo). When looking at tab no muscle memory presents itself resulting in a slow process. Unfortunately for me I have only marginal ability to learn new music by ear.
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    "Reading" and "sight reading" in terms of music are often conflated, but they are not the same thing. Sight reading is reading at tempo. So, "sight reading at tempo" is therefore a redundancy. Good sight reading also involves paying attention to dynamics and stylistic interpretative factors (i.e. musicality) at the same time.

    Personally, I would not try to learn to sight read tab because it is almost a given that I will want to use fingerings that are different from those of whomever wrote the tablature. Sight reading from sheet music lets you finger however you see fit.

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    "Reading" and "sight reading" in terms of music are often conflated, but they are not the same thing. Sight reading is reading at tempo. So, "sight reading at tempo" is therefore a redundancy.
    ”Often conflated” which is why I used an awkward redundancy in my own post above. “Sight reading” is also a bit of a misnomer, “sight playing” in tempo is what sight reading indicates. Like parking in a driveway and driving on the parkway,
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    "Reading" and "sight reading" in terms of music are often conflated, but they are not the same thing. Sight reading is reading at tempo. So, "sight reading at tempo" is therefore a redundancy. Good sight reading also involves paying attention to dynamics and stylistic interpretative factors (i.e. musicality) at the same time.

    bratsche
    Exactly.

    I don't understand the perception that someone playing from dots is necessarily playing in a stilted manner. Sblock's example of the violinist has nothing to do with him using printed music, and everything to do with his unwillingness to listen to the rest of the group and fit in. This may have had to do with his being a lousy musician, it may have come from a mistaken attitude that he was a superior player and everyone else would obviously want to follow his lead. It is perfectly possible to read—even sight read—while still being sensitive to musicality.

    Memorizing music is not one of my strengths, and for the majority of my musical life it is unnecessary. Back in the olden days, pre-CoVid, I was playing in three orchestras, usually two at any given time. The music for each group often consists of a four-page overture, an eight- or ten-page concerto or other medium length piece, and a sixteen-page symphony. Learning the music doesn't even begin to include memorization. I love playing chamber music with friends, not geared towards performance but just for the joy of it. No one has hundreds of quartets, trios, quintets, etc., memorized. But, as Sblock put it, everyone knows "how to play each genre with its unique, associated 'feel,'" and does so while reading, not confusing a Mozart minuet with a Tchaikovsky opening movement.

    I get it that the convention for old-time, bluegrass, Celtic, etc., is to play from memory. But, someone familiar with the styles and conventions of those genres who sight reads proficiently and plays nicely with others should be fine.

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    I’m curious if any followers on this site sight reads tab. During Covid 2020 I find myself with more time on my hands and am once again, after many previous attempts, trying to master the art of reading tab. I only find myself frustrated as it seems to me very cumbersome. Following the dots associated with notation seems so much simpler. But with Covid I may never have more time to try learning a new skill. Just doing it proves trying enough. I know that someday being able to sight read tab will never come for me.
    I've never learned to read tab, only spell through it. If a piece is printed in notation + tab, I may occasionally glance at the tab just to see what positions are suggested. And I say "suggested", because many times I don't think there is much thought behind a tab. My choice of positions, scale and chord forms, etc. will be dictated by the sound and phrasing I desire, pick economy, tonal control and embellishments (grace notes, mordents, etc.); e.g., many times I prefer 7th fret notes to open strings
    for these reasons, and move to higher positions and lower strings for a meatier sound. I used to be a pretty good sight reader in notation, and fairly good at transposing,
    even playing (guitar at least) from saxophone books. But normally I try to memorize the tune before playing. (And the key to memorization is understanding).

    To me, at least, practising sight reading in tab is a monumental waste of time and effort.

    (I really think this thread belongs in the Technique etc. forum).

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    (I really think this thread belongs in the Technique etc. forum).[/QUOTE]

    Perhaps, as the responses have addressed a wider range of issues beyond that which I posed in the thread. However, appreciated. I was searching to see if my inability to wrap my head around tab with any proficiency was my weakness alone.
    As usual people have come forward to lend perspectives I hadn’t been thinking about. Not saying it is complicated for me, just cumbersome and oh so slow for me.
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    I am pretty good at sight reading notation for mandolin or fiddle (at tempo). I'm a lot slower on guitar. I'll confess I never spent any time with tablature.

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Quote Originally Posted by Louise NM View Post
    I don't understand the perception that someone playing from dots is necessarily playing in a stilted manner. Sblock's example of the violinist has nothing to do with him using printed music, and everything to do with his unwillingness to listen to the rest of the group and fit in. This may have had to do with his being a lousy musician, it may have come from a mistaken attitude that he was a superior player and everyone else would obviously want to follow his lead. It is perfectly possible to read—even sight read—while still being sensitive to musicality.
    The example above is not necessarily being a lousy musician but someone who is completely unfamiliar with the genre at hand. A syncopated feel that is inherent with many folk genres is not at all obvious from either standard notation or TAB. It is acquired by listening and playing along with the folks who are familiar with it. In violin/fiddle music there may also be a subtle difference in how the players intonate each scale and classical pedagogy might sound odd when attempting that genre. It is similar to a well-trained opera singer trying to sing a folk or blues song.

    I do, however, agree that there is nothing wrong with having the skill of be able to reading or sight read notation or TAB. All skills can contribute to musicianship. I can sight read most fiddle music to a moderate tempo but also have the ability to learn tunes and their subtleties by ear. I will never be a virtuoso but I have acquired these skills over 45 years of playing stringed instruments.
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Yep, "sight reading" (in tempo) is the goal as others have stated......

    As a kid in the 60's I took guitar lessons and my sister took piano. Her first teacher was an older guy, a real square who had never heard of the Beatles......I thought I'd put him to the test and showed him my Beatles sheet music -- sure enough, he passed the test -- his version sounded JUST like the record -- first time he played it!!!

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    You’re a truthful sort, Jeff, and my gut tells me that’s a true story, though it sounds a bit like apocrypha. Impressive too that you were learning from Beatles sheets way back then. At the time, I was trying to learn Beatles, Hank Williams and Herman’s Hermits tunes by ear. Great story about the piano teacher!
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    If I am reading from a TablEdit screen showing both tablature and the dots, I tend to read the tablature. But with short fiddle tunes, memorization is my preliminary goal and I think the tabs help me more than the dots - mind you I will change the tabs to suit my preferences of how to play this or that note or phrase. The ultimate goal is training my mind and ear to hear the intervals in my head and direct my fingers. At my mediocre reading skill level, the dots slow me down.

    I am nowhere near the musician that Louise is, but I remember my six years playing wind instruments in Jr and Sr high school. I never memorized anything even though it was strongly encouraged for those of us in the marching band. But in symphonic band, I remember that while I really needed the sheet music, I used it more as a reminder of what I had practiced than as a note for note directive of what to play.

    Even now, I could 'read' from the dots if I had practiced the piece enough. But I would probably have learned the piece mostly from the tabs.
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    I studied violin for about 12 years, give or take, as a child/adolescent/young adult, and "fiddling" was decidedly not part of the repertoire. If the visiting violinist's background were similar, it could explain that stilted playing (and possibly, sadly, any misbegotten air of superiority).

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    In reading over this thread, it's intriguing to me how many of the musicians who are accustomed to reading staff notation seem openly dismissive of tablature, and yet the converse is not true. I suspect this is a cultural difference. To me, tablature seems firmly ingrained in the folk tradition, but not in the classical tradition. Vive la difference?
    Last edited by sblock; Sep-20-2020 at 1:06pm.

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    In reading over this thread, it's intriguing to me how many of the musicians who are accustomed to reading staff notation seem openly dismissive of tablature, and yet the converse is not true. I suspect this is a cultural difference. To me, tablature seems firmly ingrained in the folk tradition, but not in the classical tradition. Vive la difference?
    Be dismissive of no method of learning new music. Many of the best musicians I know use neither notation or tab. They instead have either a learned or natural ability I envy. And as one respondent indicated they could not play classical in an orchestra setting, but I assume they haven’t the desire to do so.
    I hope I didn’t project a dismissiveness of tab. If I felt that way I would not be trying to improve my skill at reading tab.
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    One big difference between classical and folk traditions, Sblock, is that you can't use tab on a non-fretted stringed instrument. When studying a violin-family instrument there's no alternative to standard notation. Having played woodwinds also, I can't begin to imagine a tablature that would work for them. I just looked it up, and there is a tab system for viols, the fretted predecessors of the violin family. More than a folk thing, maybe it's a fret thing.

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Quote Originally Posted by Louise NM View Post
    One big difference between classical and folk traditions, Sblock, is that you can't use tab on a non-fretted stringed instrument. When studying a violin-family instrument there's no alternative to standard notation. Having played woodwinds also, I can't begin to imagine a tablature that would work for them. I just looked it up, and there is a tab system for viols, the fretted predecessors of the violin family. More than a folk thing, maybe it's a fret thing.
    Good point, Louise. That's likely why when I play any fretted instrument, I'm barely conscious of the location of a given note in terms of what numbered fret it happens to be on. Because I started with violin and viola, finding the notes and intervals is always more of a "tactile - spatial" thing than a "how many half-steps" thing.

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    I know what you mean, but I have seen and know players who have learned violin on a tab like system, with things like Low 1, 1, Low 2, 2, 3, Low 4, 4, etc. I am not a fan. In the beginning everything is awkward an difficult about the violin, so why not learn standard notation while your at it.
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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I know what you mean, but I have seen and know players who have learned violin on a tab like system, with things like Low 1, 1, Low 2, 2, 3, Low 4, 4, etc. I am not a fan.
    Ugh. Without getting off into the weeds about intonation and temperament, in a non-fretted world there is a difference between a C# and a Db. This would totally destroy the understanding that there is a difference between a high second and low third finger. Among other things.

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Quote Originally Posted by Louise NM View Post
    One big difference between classical and folk traditions, Sblock, is that you can't use tab on a non-fretted stringed instrument. When studying a violin-family instrument there's no alternative to standard notation. Having played woodwinds also, I can't begin to imagine a tablature that would work for them. I just looked it up, and there is a tab system for viols, the fretted predecessors of the violin family. More than a folk thing, maybe it's a fret thing.
    First and foremost, let's not confuse the mandolin with the violin. A mandolin is not a violin with frets. And we shouldn't treat it like one! Just like the piano, the guitar, the harp, the organ, and a good many of the woodwinds, the mandolin is a 12TET (12-tone equal-tempered) instrument. C# and Db are sounded as the SAME note, that is, enharmonic, with the same frequency.

    Next, please realize that, historically speaking, tablature is actually older than staff notation, and that modern staff notation inherited some of its features from tab.

    Tablature, if you interpret it in its broadest sense, is simply a set of written instructions that specify how you play the notes on a given instrument, and not the musical names of those notes (A, A#, Bb, B, etc.). That's the only real difference, in fact. Tab exists for a great many instruments besides those in the fretted family, like the mandolin, banjo, or guitar. Or the viola da gamba and the lute, for that matter! There exists a well-developed harmonica tablature, for example. There is also a bagpipe tablature. Furthermore, one of the older forms of tablature was written for the woodwinds, and specifically, for the Baroque recorder and flute. This form of tablature showed graphically which specific holes to cover, as a function of time. You wrote "I can't begin to imagine a tablature that would work for them." (Perhaps it would help to stretch your imagination here, just a bit?) I certainly can imagine a viable tab for woodwinds, myself, because I've seen quite a few examples of such notation.

    So NO, sorry, tablature is not just "a fret thing." Not at all. It is an alternative, valid form of musical notation, specific for a given instrument. It has some well-discussed advantages and disadvantages. So does staff notation, by the way! Both systems are known by musicologists and musicians alike to be imperfect and poorly adapted to capturing the nuance of actual, live performance, for example.

    Furthermore, staff notation is really only best adapted for the transcription of music written in the Western tradition, using our familiar chromatic scale. Microtonal music from the Middle East is hard-to-impossible to capture properly with staff notation. Ditto for Indian/Carnatic music. Ditto for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean traditional music. The list goes on! Many of these non-Western musical traditions have developed their own forms of notation, and many of those happen to be very "tablature-like," in that they specify how to play the notes on an instrument, and not the sequence of musical note names.

    I think a big part of the contention that I've sensed in some parts of this thread might be coming from folks who learned to read staff notation early in their musical training, are quite familiar with it by now, and very happy with the musical results it has brought them. All of which is terrific, I say! No doubt about it: staff notation is very useful, and it's the most common way we have today of transcribing or composing music in the Western tradition. But some of these folks seem to be distressingly close-minded about the value of other forms of musical notation (my impression, anyway), and even a trifle dismissive of them. This attitude is unnecessary. Classical musicians can sometimes have a reputation for snobbery, so I hope this isn't a reflection of that. In fact, tab works well for a lot of people. Tab and dots can be complementary, not mutually exclusive. And tab is arguably superior for certain forms of music, especially those not coming from the Western tradition. And frankly, it works better for bluegrass banjo, too.

    There's the old joke, retold by Peter Seeger, that I heard in the '60's. Someone asked an oldtime fiddle player if he could read music. He replied, "Well yes, I can a bit, but not enough to hurt my playing!"



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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    To me, tablature seems firmly ingrained in the folk tradition, but not in the classical tradition. Vive la difference?
    Yes, TAb is generally not part of the classical tradition unless you play lute.

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    First and foremost, let's not confuse the mandolin with the violin. A mandolin is not a violin with frets.
    I find the violin and mandolin to be very similar in terms of left hand fingering. Now, the frets/no frets issues and pick/bow are the real differences.

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Next, please realize that, historically speaking, tablature is actually older than staff notation, and that modern staff notation inherited some of its features from tab.
    Not exactly.

    The oldest forms of vocal notation predate organ tablature, from which the Grand Staff is derived.

    Lute, vihuela, cittern, etc. instruments did use TAB, but also played off of vocal score as needed.

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Furthermore, staff notation is really only best adapted for the transcription of music written in the Western tradition, using our familiar chromatic scale. Microtonal music from the Middle East is hard-to-impossible to capture properly with staff notation.
    Also not exactly true. There is a large body of Arabic, Turkish, and Persian music ( each uses its own system) transcribed using Western staff notation plus a few extra symbols for the so-called "quarter tones".

    Here's a typical piece:



    I have not seen any of this sort of music in TAB, though, only staff notation.
    Last edited by DavidKOS; Sep-21-2020 at 8:52am.

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    Default Re: Sight read tab?

    Do you know of any sites, David, where they have tab of simple tunes in this music, especially with mp3’s for each tune, in order to get an idea of how they are played?
    One of the things I like about thesession.org is that you can go through lots of tunes looking for something that interests you.
    I imagine a lot of it is bouzouki.

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