Harp Tab Notation Suggestion

A place to post harmonica tabs separately from harmonica discussion so it doesn’t get lost in the messages. To make it easy to search we suggest starting a new thread for each song posted and include the song name in your title. We’ll be able to make a nice archive if we keep tab here and discussion on the other forums.

Harp Tab Notation Suggestion

Postby pappyj » Fri Jan 03, 2003 3:45 am

As mentioned by HashTaff in another thread, a tab convention would be a good idea so that everyone is on the same page, and I think he is absolutely correct. He suggested a tab convention that was "invented" (or at least formalized) by Mike Will and published on his web site(an excellent harmonica site by the way!) located here:


Mike's tab notation has been used a lot on the Internet already so it may be a good one to use, but of course the group here can use whatever it wants. Some of it does get pretty complicated, but you don't really need all of that stuff for most tunes. Whatever you decide it would be a good idea to post it in a separate thread on this tab forum so it is easily referenced when reading tab. I have reprinted Mike Will's tab convention below with full credit to him.

Mike writes:

There are several important considerations for good tab notation conventions:

-Use standard ASCII characters (instead of arrows as is seen so often) so it can be easily typed on a standard keyboard and e-mailed around, etc.

-Keep all the characters for a note or chord on the same line for ease of reading

-No use of letters like B, D, b, etc. that can be confused with note names

-Use characters that maximize "white space" which makes the tab easier to scan

-Minimize the number of characters needed to specify a note

-Make it as obvious as possible

Here is the notation I use for describing how to play something:

-each number represents a hole number

-a number name by itself means a draw note, e.g. 3

-right angle bracket (greater than sign)> means a blow note, e.g. 3>

-each apostrophe 'means a 1/2 step bend, e.g. 3', 3", 3"', 8>'

-note that 8>' means 8 blow 1/2 step bend. Unless the blow notes are valved, the only way to bend down hole 8 is a blow bend, so the angle bracket > is usually redundant. In other words, 8' means the same as 8>'; we know the 8 bend is a blow bend.

-sharp sign # means overbend (i.e. overblow or overdraw), e.g. 6># (6 overblow) or 7# (7 overdraw) note that 6># means 6 overblow. Unless we're using a discrete comb, the only overbend possible on hole 6 is an overblow, so the > is normally redundant. In other words, 6# means the same as 6>#; we know the 6 overbend is an overblow.

-tilde ~ before a number means a "dip bend", i.e. a quick continuous bend to the end note, e.g. ~2

-ampersand & between numbers means play them at the same time, e.g. 1&4 indicates a 1, 4 octave split

-slash / between numbers means a slur, where just a bit of the second note seeps in, e.g. 2/3

-percent % before a number means "tongue slap" it, e.g. %3, or between numbers means to slap that interval

-double percent %% between two numbers means "flutter tongue" (or "rapid vamping") where the tongue is continuously removed and replaced, e.g. 2%%5 means play the 2&5 split and flutter the tongue up and down over holes 3 and 4

-equal sign = between two numbers means a two hole shake, e.g. 4=5 means shake draw holes 4 and 5

John Watts
Harmonicas & Guitars
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 106
Joined: Thu Mar 10, 2005 4:37 am
Location: Gloucester, VA USA

Return to Harmonica Tabs

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests