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Guitar Tablature

Guitar Tablature - did you know that guitar tablature (shortened to Tab), or should I say stringed, fretted instrument tablature, has been around since the 16th Century. I wonder what a musician back then, would have made of the Electric Guitar and a Jimi Hendrix FuzzFace going at full blast ;-).

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Guitar Tablature

Although Classical and Jazz tends to be still written down mostly in traditional standard notation, there is a mountain of guitar styles, techniques and songs to be picked up from this extremely simpler, but none the less effective method.

The main thing a beginner should watch out for when buying either guitar tablature, song or chord books, is that they range from the truly excellent note for note versions and the busking variety.

Now there's nowt wrong with either, but be sure you know which one you want. If it's note for note you want get a good one. The busking variety have their good, bad and ugly too! In either case get a quality one - help on that comin' right up.

I suppose it depends on what you need the info for, and what you will ultimately do with it. This vital guideline applies not only to Guitar Tablature books, but Guitar Tutors in general.

In both cases, note for note or busking guitar tab books, it's vital to have an audio version too. Play along with the record AND refer to the book.

 For this type of effective lesson, check out the lessons in Guitar One Magazine Recommended, especially as it comes with that all important CD! I find that you pick up all sorts of info and techniques from many players featured in these type of mags. I've have a mountain of old and new ones that I delve into when I need a bit of inspiration.

Sometimes I find that these short but useful lessons are just the ticket. They're handy for keeping up on gear and sounds too.

Don't forget that if you first try to learn a piece by ear first, you'll be doing yourself a big musical favour. This ear training is a vital learning step too, and on no account should Guitar Tablature or ANY other tuition technique be used to replace it. This is mega important!

Use a combination of all tutors and media, that's what I say, but do keep a healthy balance between each one. Try to ear-train chords, songs and soloing regularly if you want to make fast musical progress.

Here's the basics for guitar tablature to get you up and running. If you already can read tab you can skip this little Guitar Tablature Basics Intro -

Guitar Tablature Basics

A simple Guitar Tablature can often have the conventional standard notation equivalent represented above it, looks like this -

Blank Tab width=364 height=107

Here's what the above empty guitar tablature looks like and is equal to in the real world:

Buitar Fretboard width=264 height=138

Sometimes the tab itself has the rhythm notes written directly on the Tab Staff itself - The basic system is the same as shown here.

Here's the notes of the guitar if you played just the open (unfretted) strings one after the other, with a simple standard note equivalent on top -

Guitar Tab - Open String width=215 height=154

Guitar Tablature + Conventional Music Notation

Unlike conventional music notation, where the lines have no direct relationship with the strings, these 6 tablature lines do represent the actual strings of the guitar.

It helps a whole lot if you learn basic rhythm notation - there's not many.

Basically be familiar with whole notes, half, quarter, eights, sixteens and 32's, 64s, (the ones you use), and that will serve you well for the moment.

This is a vital and basic tool that will improve anyone's (genius' aside) musical ability. A thorough grounding in the basics will shave years off the learning process.

Build Strong Music Foundations

If you want speed and strong music foundations to build on, I suggest that you learn these type of basics as fast as possible. You can absorb them over days, weeks months or even years!

To write (or read) notes in Tab, you simply write in a number on a string, which corresponds to which fret should be played. For example a number 3 on the hi-E string means exactly that - play the hi E string fretted at the 3rd fret. Let's add a scale to see what it looks like.

Easy huh?

Here's an A Major Pentatonic scale in guitar tablature form - great for country and loads of other styles.

A Major Pentatonic Scale width=301 height=67

And here's the real world version -

A Major Pentatonic Scale width=264 height=138

In this case, listen to the audio to get the timing - here it is...

Music note width=32 height=32 Play A Major Pentatonic

 If you want to write or learn a chord, or a few notes simultaneously, just stack them beside each other like this - here's a common garden-variety G chord written in Tab -

G Chord Tab width=129 height=67

These notes can be further embellished with further helpful signs, such as H for hammer the note, P means a pull-off and so on. A good Tab book will explain them all to you at the start of the tutor. They are easy to learn and instantly recognize-able - here's a quick example of how a hammer-on would be written -

Tab Hammer On width=160 height=69

You play the D string on the second fret, and hammer on to the fourth fret.

If hammer ons and pull-offs are alien to you, and you want to learn about them, get yourself that basic primer to fill in the gaps.

Ok we have the notes, now we need a rhythm. As mentioned, this can be written directly on the Guitar Tablature, or sometimes Standard Notation of the same piece is written above too.

This gives you the necessary rhythm pattern. But what if you don't have years of music reading or indeed any, under your belt?

Well that's where you can use another method to pick up the rhythm, and one that I think is an even stronger way to do it - Listen to the record or piece of music alongside with studying the guitar tablature.

This gives you that vital ear training, which no amount of reading can achieve. I'm not saying that you shouldn't learn how to read music, but sometimes it is not a necessary requirement for a student or player of the guitar. You could ask Sir Paul McCartney on that one if you can get hold of him! ;-).

If he's not available, maybe another non-reader can shed some light on the subject - A certain Mr. Edward Van Halen doesn't read or need a note.

Better not ask a super transcriber and reader like Steve Vai or his ilk ;-).

I think that being able to read standard notation certainly is a big plus, if not an indispensible tool for SOME players, but not all.

When classical music was at it's height a few hundred odd years ago, Standard Notation was a must because there was no other way to record what a person had composed. But nowadays, a lot of popular and excellent music doesn't require it - the times they are a' changin' as the man said.

I don't think music notation skills are a requirement for a band like U2 or Coldplay, but many hot players like Jeff Berlin, Steve Vai and many more, strongly recommend that you do learn it. I suppose it's up to you and the type of music you want to play.

Either way, a knowledge of Guitar Tablature is a handy tool to possess.

Guitar Tablature Books and General Tutor Guides

As a general guideline, you pays for what's you gets when it comes to guitar/music tablature. Some mega 200 plus songbooks won't be entirely accurate to say the least, but a good note for note tab book costing the same, might only contain 12 or so tunes - but each song would be meticulously transcribed. (takes a lot of work, effort and time).

All music transcriptions at many levels, are open to individual interpretation. Even the same transcriber might write the same piece down a bit different, second time 'round.

That's why it's essential to go for a good 'un.

Many of the busking types use titles like "Easy Guitar", "It's easy to play Beethoven on the Spoons" and so on. These easy versions are also known as "Fake Books" and P/V/G's. That's Piano, Vocal, Guitar books -

Good for their purpose if you choose wisely.

A note for note will always be clearly explained as to what it is. (Should be anyway). It will also explain how to read any special signs used in the Guitar Tablature itself.

A few famous Transcribers and Publishers in

the game would be...

  • Steve Vai - He used to do Frank Zappa's stuff! Good oul Frank.
  • Wolf Marshall - Serious catalogue of fine-tuned works to his credit.
  • Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation - Giants among 'em all.
  • Chappell Publishers... Another tried and trusted biggie.

So to sum up the 2 main choices here: A "busking" type is great for beginners and also for pro's who need the chords in a hurry for say, an acoustic strummy kind of session or building/learning a set quickly and so on.

But if you want to really learn the parts like on the record, make sure you get a note for note version.

Try copy and pasting the words Note for Note into the following SheetmusicPlus search box, and you'll come up with a list of exactly that... watch out for authentic note-for-note transcriptions - the REAL McCoy!






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