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Apache
(@apache)
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Joined: 13 years ago
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Topic starter  

Hi,
I'm fairly ok to play a song in chords, and I can understand tab, but have to think about it as I play.

The only way I seem to be able to play (non chord songs) is to memorise the tab and play it that way, with occasional glances at the music.

I'm assuming this is fairly normal for beginners, I do try and spend a bit of time each week trying new songs, to try and improve this, has anyone got any hints around this?

Thanks


   
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Nick Torres
(@nicktorres)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 5381
 

Sounds normal to me. I'm not your fastest sight reader, but I can read and play single lines pretty well.

There is only one process involved in getting better, sight read something every day.

However, guitar is a little different from piano in that you can play the same note in multiple locations, well that and putting your piano in a case and carrying it down to the gig is a real pain, so some advanced planning is handy when sight reading.

Always check out the key signature and scan the sheet for sharps, flats and naturals before launching into it and you should be good to go.


   
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NoteBoat
(@noteboat)
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+1 to reading every day. My students who do this improve at reading; the students who do it less often tend to struggle with it. You don't even have to devote a ton of time to it - even 5 minutes a day will get you progress, as long as you do it every day!

What Nick says about the guitar being more complicated is true. But you can practice that part too. Most tunes can be played in more than one position; if you're familiar with the key signature, you can practice reading it in more than one place. Whether a tune can be played easily in a position depends on any accidentals (sharps/flats within the measures, rather than the key signature), but as a general rule, each key has two easy positions - where all the notes are under your fingers, two pretty easy positions - where you're stretching or shifting for a note or two, and two not-really-awful positions where you're stretching for three or four, and the ones to avoid unless you're aiming for a gymnastic workout

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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notes_norton
(@notes_norton)
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It takes time to develop sight-reading skills.

Start with easy pieces of music, and just do it. Mel Bay, Alfred and others books can help, they take you step and position at a time.

At first you will have to work the songs out but speed will come in time. Remember, you didn't read "War And Peace" in the first grade.

I can sight read almost anything on my sax, but difficult things on the guitar have to be worked out in the wood shed before I can play them fluently. I've been playing sax most of my life, and guitar about 2 years now.

And my advice is to forget about tabs and learn to read standard notation. It's not much harder. Since you are learning anyway, why not learn the lingua franca of all musicians, regular, standard, music notation. That way you will be able to pick up any piece of music and play it. And if you get in a band with other musicians and they want to learn something you won't be embarrassed and have to say, "I only read TAB".

Insights and incites by Notes ♫

Bob "Notes" Norton

Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com Add-on Styles for Band-in-a-Box and Microsoft SongSmith

The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<


   
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JoeHempel
(@joehempel)
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Are you talking sight reading tabs or music?

I try to read a bit every day, but I still have to take it slow...but I'm much faster than I used to be after about 6mo to a year.

So keep at it!! You had to learn to read words at a slower pace when you first started reading!

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


   
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NoteBoat
(@noteboat)
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I don't think you can sight read tab.

I had an argument about this with a studio guitarist last year - he insisted tab could be read in real time, so I challenged him: he'd sight read tab, I'd read the same thing in standard notation, and we'd see who did the better job. At that point he said "I didn't say I was able to sight read tab. But I'll bet the young guys who grew up with it can." Since neither of us knew any young guys who can sight read tab, he considers the question unsettled.

But I'm a real skeptic here.

Standard notation starts with a key signature. That tells me - immediately - four or five fingerings that are probably really good ones. A glance down the page to see the high and low points - which jump right out, since they're on ledger lines - narrows this down to just one or two I'll rely on. I know what scale fingering I'm going to use before I actually read the first note; tab has no such clues.

Standard notation is a graphic illustration of the shape of the melodic line. Peripheral vision alone tells me if I'm going to be going up or down in the melody, and roughly how far. Numbers all look the same unless you're looking right at them. So when I'm sight reading standard notation, my brain is kind of pre-processing where I'm likely to go. Since numbers all look the same until you're staring right at them (and they're written on the same lines of the tab staff), that sort of advance planning isn't possible with tab. If anything, you'd have to have much faster reaction time to play tab at sight.

On top of that, standard notation has other stuff built in: standard notation gives me a heads up if a note will be outside my chosen fingering (because it'll have an accidental). The most difficult standard notation to sight read is the stuff that's highly chromatic; to my mind, tab is ALWAYS at that level of difficulty, because you can't associate it with a fingering in advance.

Then there's rhythm. Standard notation tells me how long each sound should last, because the shape of the note gives me that information. To get this kind of stuff from tab, you'd need to be reading two staves. It's entirely possible to sight read two staves - pianists do it all the time - but it's more complicated than a single line. There is some tab that combines a basic (stem/beam only) rhythm notation with the numbers, but it's crowded; because notes are never written above or below the staff, things like ties and dotted notes become cramped. And cramped music is always harder to read on the fly.

And then there's patterns. Repeated phrases in standard notation look the same. In tab, EVERYTHING looks the same - you can't rely on short term memory to help out. I can see at a glance if the melody is moving in a scale line, or in thirds or sixths or any other melodic pattern. I can even see what parts are likely to be most difficult, so I can be mentally prepared for them. Tab's got none of that... unless it's accompanied by a second stave in standard notation. And if you're going to rely on that for guidance, wouldn't it be easier to simply use that to read?

Finally, standard notation gives one advantage that tab simply can't - if I (or the producer) don't like the way the first take sounded, I can play it in a different position for the second take. That gives me different strings for the notes - and as a result, different timbre and phrasing possibilities.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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notes_norton
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+1 to everything NoteBoat said

and

reading standard notation will allow you to pick up any music book or sheet you find anywhere, and play it. You don't have to say, "I wish this would come out in TAB".

I also think it is important for every musician to learn how to read music. You don't necessarily have to sight-read, although if you do it enough that will come in time, but you do need to learn how to read it. It's as important as learning to read and write English (or your native language, but this is an English forum so I'll use that). Remember when you were young, you didn't sight-read English either, but sounded out the letters, were corrected by your teachers, and learned a number of spelling rules.

Actually, reading music is easier than reading English. You don't have to remember "I before E except after C..." and then have a bunch of weird exceptions to memorize. No silent letters, a rest is never sounded and a note is never silent. No dangling participles (I'm not sure I even remember what those are <grin>). And no heteronyms -- For example, desert (to abandon) and desert (a dry region). No verb conjugations. And there are no new words that you have to look up the meaning to.

Reading music isn't hard to do once you learn it. For the novice, remember this, it will get easier than you think!

Insights and incites by Notes ♫

Bob "Notes" Norton

Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com Add-on Styles for Band-in-a-Box and Microsoft SongSmith

The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<


   
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Ande
 Ande
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+1 on it getting easier with practice. I don't sight read well. (Heck, I dont' play all THAT well!) But it's a lot different than it was when I started.

+1 about learning standard notation. I was ahead on this, due to the piano lessons as a kid. Just had to move it to another instrument. Do it- you'll be glad you did. And it's not that hard- just takes a little time to get used to.

- 1 (or more) on "forget about tabs." Why? Tab is easy, and often used. Not only easy to read, easy to type. When someone comes on this forum and asks "How do I play a A7 chord?" or "How does that solo in Comfortably Numb go?" nobody types the answer in standard notation. Tab was developed for a reason- most guitarists use it for certain reasons, even those who also use standard notation. Just as standard has some info that tab doesn't, tab contains information that standard doesn't.

I'm thinking positions here- If I write a riff in C major, standard notation, you can play it in several different places. So if I want to tell you, or want you to tell me where on the fretboard to play it, tab works. Especially useful for folks who like to do covers "just like the original." Tab can show some details about how the original artist played it which are lost in standard notation.

By the way, I can sort of sight read tab, but I'll admit it's not as good for sight reading (for me) as standard notation. The lack of rhythm info means that I need a second staff as another poster said, or I need to already be familiar with the song. (Which isn't quite sight reading.)

Learn both!

Best,
Ande


   
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Nick Torres
(@nicktorres)
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eh...tab has it's place, as do lead sheets and learning by rote from another player. Sight reading is another tool in the arsenal.


   
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NoteBoat
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- 1 (or more) on "forget about tabs." Why? Tab is easy, and often used. Not only easy to read, easy to type. When someone comes on this forum and asks "How do I play a A7 chord?" or "How does that solo in Comfortably Numb go?" nobody types the answer in standard notation. Tab was developed for a reason- most guitarists use it for certain reasons, even those who also use standard notation. Just as standard has some info that tab doesn't, tab contains information that standard doesn't.

I'm thinking positions here- If I write a riff in C major, standard notation, you can play it in several different places. So if I want to tell you, or want you to tell me where on the fretboard to play it, tab works. Especially useful for folks who like to do covers "just like the original." Tab can show some details about how the original artist played it which are lost in standard notation.

Standard notation CAN show you positions - if it's important. You want 7th position? Write "CVII" above the staff. You want that note played on the fourth string? You put a "4" inside a circle above that note. You want the transcribed slide part from Freebird to be played on just the third string? The notation "sul G" above that passage does the trick. Standard notation is a very rich written language - and like any other language, as your vocabulary grows you can do more with it, and communicate more precisely.

Note the "if it's important". Some guitarists put way too much emphasis on how the original artist played something. A few years ago I had a student who brought me a CD of a song he wanted to learn. I transcribed the guitar part, and taught it to him the next week. He loved it - we played along with his CD, and he agreed that was exactly how the guitar solo went.

A few weeks later he quit. Why? Because he saw a video of the original artist. As I recall, the tune was in Dm, and I taught it to him in 5th position. The original guitarist played it in 2nd position. Not only was the "right" way harder to play than what I showed him... it didn't work as well musically! The artist was using an acoustic guitar with a plain G string; when we were playing along, the 4th string notes had the right timbre, since we both had wound Gs on our acoustics. The "right" way sounded off.

So in that case, the "right" (original) way to play it had information you can't convey in either tab or standard - there's not symbol for "change your G string". But it illustrates an overlooked side effect of tab: tab only guitarists tend to sacrifice ear training, because tab is literally a musical paint by numbers scheme. No matter what you play from, it's important to use your ears and be able to adjust - IMHO, that's perhaps the most important part of musicianship.

I've noticed that at least locally, the guitarists with the most incredible solo chops are 20 years younger than me... many of them have the technical ability to really play anything. But the guitarists who consistently get the highest paying gigs are my age or older (I'm now in my 50s; the guy who's first call for radio jingles is at least 75). There's not a lot of demand for playing 1000 notes per minute; the pot of gold goes to the guy who plays that one perfect note at the right time, every time.

I use tab for the forums, but not because it's easier to type - it's because standard notation software takes a lot of bandwidth. It's actually much faster for me to open up Finale and click on the lines and spaces than it is to navigate six lines of hyphens and put the numbers in the right places so it all lines up right.

One last thought while I'm having my coffee - tab did develop for a reason... but not the reason you think. Hundreds of years ago we didn't tune instruments the way we do now, and that caused instruments to be more key-specific - some notes sounded bad in some keys (google "wolf tones" to learn why). So if you played a song in D, and the next tune was in Bb, any fixed intonation instruments - like the keyboard or lute or trumpet - sounded bad. Before we developed temperament, we worked out other solutions: brass players inserted 'crooks' between the mouthpiece and the horn to change the pitch slightly; keyboards developed different keys for F# and Gb, like this:

Lutes added more strings. That way you could play Eb on one string for some keys, and the same Eb on a different string for other keys. Standard notation couldn't tell you the difference very well. So various tablature systems were developed (for both lute and keyboards like the virginal), and early music performers are expected to play from a couple of different 'dialects' of tab. The Italian version grew into today's guitar tab. But as tuning changed, the reason behind tab disappeared.

The only reason it survives for guitar is because it's "easy"... and easy is not the same as "better". I constantly find examples of tab - even in 'official' books - where it's a really awkward fingering, and there's a much easier way to play the same passage. But tab won't help you get to the easy way to play that stuff - only standard notation will. And as everyone knows, most of the tab on the internet isn't very good - because transcribers who neglected developing their ears will pretty much both the job in either language.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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cnev
 cnev
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Well Note it is definitely hard to disagree with anything you wrote but one thing you wrote particulary hit home and that was But it illustrates an overlooked side effect of tab: tab only guitarists tend to sacrifice ear training, because tab is literally a musical paint by numbers scheme. No matter what you play from, it's important to use your ears and be able to adjust - IMHO, that's perhaps the most important part of musicianship.

I've always beleived that having a good ear was the most important thing for a musician with sight reading taking second place and I know personally that's what has been my downfall to some degree I have never developed my ear very well hence not much of a musician. I can regurgitate songs I know fairly well and do some meager solo's but the ear thing is one skill I really wish I had.

I came into this with a very limited idea of what I wanted to do with the guitar and being pretty much the same age as you I just never thought putting the time in to read standard notation was a good use of my time. I still have yet to come across a std piece of music that someone handed me and asked me to play so I'm still not convinced in my situation it would add alot.

But you brought up an interesting story about a student and tab and original recordings. I have always been someone that wants to hear a cover band play a cover EXACTLY like the record. Several times I've worked out songs that we play with the band with my teacher and he has an incredible ear and his tabs are 99.999% of the time right on...occasionally he'll miss something but very rare. But the other guitar player in the band will see what I'm playing and then come backt he next week and tell me he saw the band playing on a Youtube video and they played it in another position, infering that I'm playing it wrong. It drives me crazy plus my instructor tabs exactly what he hears ont he recoding a bring in and I always try to find the original, just because you see a band playing on youtube that's not the same version as the record so how do you how they played it on the record.

The most recent one like this was Black by Pearl Jam, for some reason he was having a hard time trying to figure out if one of the guitarists was playing with a capo and that's the way he ended up tabbing it out and of course the other guitar player told me I was playing it wrong because he saw a video and they didn't use a capo. It sounds exactly like the record so to me it was fine.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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Alan Green
(@alangreen)
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It's interesting. You know, if this was a piano site, or clarinet, or saxophone, or any other instrument, we wouldn't even be having this conversation; because for them standard notation is all there is (yes, I know, I have recorder music in "Tab" format but nobody's used it for hundreds of years).

Even more interesting, one of my main schools where I teach was very insistent before I started, saying "We don't just want them learning pop songs from Tabs." Guitarists have such a bad reputation when it comes to skillsets.

In this day and age, when there are so many tools to help (I inherited a bunch of students using the Tobin system and I now use it with all my absolute beginners) there is probably little excuse for not being able to read music. When I set up the studio at my Thursday morning school, the music coordinator is working the string orchestra in the room next door, at morning break she runs a recorder group (mostly 6 and 7-year olds), and at lunchtime she works the full school orchestra. That's 50 kids in half a day. All of them play from sight, and not one of them is older than 11 years of age. And if I go sit in with them and play along, I'd be up a creek without a paddle (read: buggered) if all I could do was play from Tabs cos all their music is in little black dots format.

A:-)

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


   
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notes_norton
(@notes_norton)
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Joined: 14 years ago
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Your ear is your most important musical asset, but it will only get you so far.

As far as I'm concerned you need all these to be a "real" musician:
1) A good ear
2) At least a basic knowledge of music theory
3) The ability to read standard notation
4) The ability to play in tune
5) Knowledge of his/her instrument and both what it does well and what it cannot do
6) and Talent (that elusive thing that you cannot teach but turns the empty notes into music)
And that's the minimum requirement.

Which is most important? I can't say. I've played with people with tons of talent and poor chops that were a joy to play with and listen to, and people with monster chops that were boring. Most people are somewhere in between those two extremes.

There are a number of skills we musicians have, and each one has our own mix of the degree of those skills.

I knew a trumpet player who couldn't sight read at all. He worked in the orchestra on a cruise ship that I worked on (I was in a duo in another lounge). However he could get the music a few hours in advance, practice it, and nail the part when show-time came. He was an excellent trumpet player, could read music, but just couldn't read it on sight.

I saw a film where Andre Previn tried to teach Itzhak Perlman how to improvise. Now Itzhak is regarded as one of the worlds best violin players, and any orchestra in the world would love to have him. But he cannot improvise his way out of a paper bag. Andre ended up writing an "improvisational" solo for him.

I knew a piano player who could instantly transpose anything to any key. Wanna do "Misty" in C#, "Giant Steps" in Gb, "Desifinado" in B? No problem, let's go. He was a very good but not outstanding pianist. I've known better pianists who cannot transpose on sight. Now transposing on a guitar is easy, but on a piano the fingerings are entirely different when you change the key.

The great Sax player Junior Walker mostly played pentatonic. He mostly played 5 notes, but he played them at the right time and with the right expression.

The great B3 player Jimmy Smith could read anything, but didn't have to. His ears were that big.

As we go through our lives improving our musical skills, these are the basic things we all need to work on. And the better you get at most of these skills, the more you realize that there is to learn.

“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music”. Sergei Rachmaninov

I agree, if I live to be 150 years old, there will still be more to learn. And that is what is good about music.

And I've spent the majority of my life so far doing music and nothing but music. A wise man once said, "If you do for a living what you would do for free, you will never work a day in your life." Other than a few "day gigs" I've had, I've never worked a day in my life. All the practice, all the performing, all the studying is rewarding. They don't call it playing music for nothing.

Insights and incites by Notes ♫

PS, where do I get your book, NoteBoat?

Bob "Notes" Norton

Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com Add-on Styles for Band-in-a-Box and Microsoft SongSmith

The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<


   
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cnev
 cnev
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Notes nice post so tell me is Itzhak Perlman a "true" musician?

How does one have tons of talent and poor chops that sounds like an oxymoron. If he had talent (which I assume you mean musical talent) how could they not have good chops, isn't that what musical talent is made of?

I'm not contradicting anything here just curious.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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Crow
 Crow
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Notes nice post so tell me is Itzhak Perlman a "true" musician?

Sorry to butt in -- but listen to Perlman play and there is no doubt he is a true musician. He may not be a complete musician, if he can't improvise. Very, very few of us can do everything on any instrument, as much as we'd like to.
How does one have tons of talent and poor chops that sounds like an oxymoron. If he had talent (which I assume you mean musical talent) how could they not have good chops, isn't that what musical talent is made of?

Isn't untrained or undertrained talent the rule rather than the exception? The distinction between "talent" and "training" I think is important to make. "Chops" means -- what? Finger speed. Like any other musical attribute, finger speed is just one tool in the toolbox, as is sight reading. It's not a measure of talent -- any more than is the ability to sight read.

"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." - Frank Zappa


   
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