tab vs. notation

A discussion of the blues for blues lovers and fans.

tab vs. notation

Postby david » Tue Dec 16, 2003 5:02 am

With the long standing controversy over the value and/or harm of tabs, I was just wondering, would the same criticism be applied to anyone who used conventional musical notation to learn a song?

Why, or why not?

Would the same criticism be applied to non-blues (given that blues is supposed to be more spontaneous and less structured).
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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby barbequebob » Tue Dec 16, 2003 3:57 pm

Well, I'm going to speak more from a harp player's standpoint on this one. Learning hiw to sight read is an EXCELLENT skill for anyone to acquire, especially in a non-blues context, but I personally think learning music theory is more important, and these are two very SEPERATE skills too often confused with each other.

However, for solos and everything else, too often these things I have seen have been less than accurate in its transcription, and there are things that neither one properly tells you, such as how to you shape or colorize the note (this has NOTHING to do with effects pedals), nor does it tell you to play it either on top, ahead, or behind the beat, which for many genres is ESSENTIAL information, and for playing real blues, learning how to play behind the beat cannot be overstressed, and this is where these things, especially tabs tend to fall far short.

Conclusion: when trying to learn things, use them as a guide, and take it from there so that you want to avoid the trap of only being able to play from tabs/sheet music, and get too afraid of learning the art of improvisation based on the groove.
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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby badfinger » Tue Dec 16, 2003 4:17 pm

Oh, dear – here we go again.

Would the same criticism be applied to non-blues (given that blues is supposed to be more spontaneous and less structured).

For many, there seems to be an unwritten rule that ‘blues’ has to be spontaneous, unwritten, unrehearsed, unrecognisable, unintelligible, undisciplined, unknown, unitednations...

Seriously, there have been lots of posts which start off saying something like “Blues is free-form, not tied down, can’t be governed by rules, do your own thing...” These posts usually go on to lay down a helluva lot of rules for ‘blues music’ (additional to those above).

Blues music is merely one of many genres of music. It is not separate nor special, beyond those elements which define it as a genre. Yet many regard this so-called “spontaneous, less-structured” music as being unique, entire unto itself. Blues and non-blues?

There are, of course, musicians with a personal leaning or talent (or limitation) for one genre or another. I’ve known many ‘classical’ musicians who are too rigid in their musicianship to play anything but their main branch of the art, for whom, for example, jazz improvisation is almost impossible (but I bet I can find more ‘classical’ musicians who can play blues than ‘blues’ musicians who can play anything other than blues).
A competent musician will play any form of music that may be asked of him. How well he performs in a particular genre, beyond technical expertise, will vary as the personality and inclinations of the musician in question.

Another favourite is that learning a piece from any form of written record is in some way stifling, or restricting.

If this be truly the case, then I suggest that it is the ‘musician’ concerned who is stifled and restricted in his ability to express himself beyond the limits of the written form.
And the phrase “I like to do my own thing” is often a case of “I like to be free of the responsibility of getting it right.

I suggest that many people who insist that the written form is the wrong way to go are people who can’t be bothered with putting in the effort to study/read the written form, or to learn the skills needed to read the written form (I bet they write words down!).
Funny thing is, few seem to recognise that dots on paper represent a means of recording music no more nor less valid than is a cd – it’s just a more convenient means of doing so (the dots, that is).
Also, if they learned notation, they’d find that the amount of effort and time required in learning a new piece would be cut dramatically.

Then, of course, you run with it and do what the hell you like with it!


Tablature vs notation.

Although tab survived through to the C17th, it was dumped by composers as soon as a usable notation was developed, because of the flexibility, universality and general ease of use of notation compared with tab.

- Tab is clumsy, inarticulate, and specific-instrument oriented. It cannot transfer from, say, guitar to piano, or saxophone, or flute... One cannot give a piece of guitar tab to a trombonist with whom you happen to be gigging and say, “This is what we’re playing.” (Of course the rule-makers will say that a flute, or trombone, or... has no part in blues.)

Notation, on the other hand can be read for any instrument, perhaps with some transposition (which a competent musician will handle in his stride).

- Tab is (generally) lacking in information; most tabs are useless unless you already know, or can hear a recording of, the tune. There are few tab forms that can be sight-read, and even fewer musicians who can sight-read tab. If you read notation, you ‘hear’ the tune as you read it, as simply as recognising the sound indicated by the letter ‘B’ in written English. Again, a competent musician will happily read a score for an orchestra of instruments and ‘hear’ the whole thing as he reads it. (Some tab forms attempt to incorporate elements of notation to overcome the limitations of basic tab – making it even more cumbersome. What can be useful is a combination of tab and notation in double-stave arrangement.)

- Tab (I have found) is actually more difficult to learn than notation, which makes one constantly wonder why anyone bothers. It is true that there is less to learn in tab – but that’s because it gives you less.

One of the more frequent arguments for (guitar) tab is that it shows you where to put your fingers. Hmmm...
Counter-argument: being able to read (any) notation allows you to decide where to put your fingers.

I will hazard (with a wagered stake if asked):
- any musician who argues for tab over notation, cannot read notation;
- no musician, competent in reading notation, will argue for tab.



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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby david » Tue Dec 16, 2003 9:21 pm

Thanks for the comments.

I have learned to (somewhat) read standard notation, but have not yet learned all the various places one can produce each note on a guitar neck. Starting out with slide and going back and forth between tunings is the excuse I use; though it's not a very good one.

I have found tab useful, and sometimes even essential, in figuring out a piece. I hear all the time that I shouldn't worry about playing it "just the way" the original artist did, but "make it my own."

I see learning "songs" as a method for learning various techiques that I can draw from--especially at the very early stage of my learning curve. I want to learn to play it the "right" way first, just so I know how to do that little riff, or rhythm. Once I CAN play it that way, then I will feel comfortable that I am stretching out rather than limiting myself.

I just found it funny that I see lots of criticism for using tab, but I don't think I've heard the same criticism for using conventional notation.

Maybe someday I will be able to just listen to a piece and know what tuning it's in and how all the intricate little parts are put together. But, I figure using tab (or notation) is the best way to get to that point. Especially when I am having to pay someone to play with me at this point (i.e., lessons).
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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby stumblin » Tue Dec 16, 2003 11:24 pm

I guess that rules me out as a competent musician then.
Bugger ;)
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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby badfinger » Wed Dec 17, 2003 1:11 am

"Bugger"

What, now?


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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby costa » Wed Dec 17, 2003 1:49 am

but I bet I can find more ‘classical’ musicians
>who can play blues than ‘blues’ musicians who can play
>anything other than blues


So what? Does the ability to play in a number of styles automatically make you a better musician? Since when does being a good musician even matter?
I’m always the first to admit that I’m not the greatest musician, and I’m not ashamed of that. In fact, other than blues and rockabilly (which is more or less the same in terms of bass lines) I can’t play much else. So I can’t read music, play jazz, or classical. Big deal.
I’m a BLUES bass player. Call me if you need me, I’m not for want of gigs. Want jazz? Can’t help. Beethoven? Sorry. Celine Dion? Wrong Number.

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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby blinds » Wed Dec 17, 2003 2:25 am

[updated:LAST EDITED ON Dec-16-03 AT 09:26 PM (EST)]but I bet I can find more ‘classical’ musicians
>who can play blues than ‘blues’ musicians who can play
>anything other than blues



(Yawn) Who wants to




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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby barbequebob » Wed Dec 17, 2003 6:21 am

>There are, of course, musicians with a personal leaning or
>talent (or limitation) for one genre or another. I’ve known
>many ‘classical’ musicians who are too rigid in their
>musicianship to play anything but their main branch of the
>art, for whom, for example, jazz improvisation is almost
>impossible (but I bet I can find more ‘classical’ musicians
>who can play blues than ‘blues’ musicians who can play
>anything other than blues).
>A competent musician will play any form of music that may be
>asked of him. How well he performs in a particular genre,
>beyond technical expertise, will vary as the personality and
>inclinations of the musician in question.

Being TRULY versatile as opposed to the "jack of all trades, master of none" is much more difficult because of the necessary mindsets each genre requires, such as does one have to play off the 1 or the 2, behind or ahead of the beat, so0mewhat more legato or marcato, etc., which basically says not everything cuts across all genres.

Another favourite is that learning a piece from any form of
>written record is in some way stifling, or restricting.

It all depends on the musician, as some cannot improvise at all, or has to have EVERYTHING worked out to the umpteenth degree. You learn from it and then put your own spin on it.

>If this be truly the case, then I suggest that it is the
>‘musician’ concerned who is stifled and restricted in his
>ability to express himself beyond the limits of the written
>form.
>And the phrase “I like to do my own thing” is often a
>case of “I like to be free of the responsibility of
>getting it right.


There are many musicians I have met in my lifetime that knew particular tunes inside out, be it written or recorded, knowing every single note and nuance, but still managed to find their own way, so I must disagree a bit with you here.

Tabs and sheet music can compliment each other as long as you use it as a guideline, and not consider either the holy grail. I do read sheet music, but I do understand both sides, and music specifically written for harmonica is relatively new, so here's where some of the limitations come in as there are things that were never dreamed of when the whole idea of written music notation came into play. If notated correctly, it can take you to places quicker than trying to do things by ear, but it won't fully replace a good ear.
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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby jellyroll baker » Wed Dec 17, 2003 11:24 am

We're not really arguing about music notation here are we? We're arguing about different approaches to the whole business of being a musician. Reading dots helps if you have a certain approach to your craft, not reading dots helps if you have a different approach. I doubt Robert Johnsons music would sound better if he could sightread and I equally doubt that Jimmy Page would improve his sound if he would just focus on TAB. It all depends on how you approach your art (and we do consider this blues thing an art, don't we?). But lets at least admit what we're really arguing about and not hide behind this TAB/Notation thing the the upteen-thousandth time.
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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby badfinger » Wed Dec 17, 2003 11:33 am

[updated:LAST EDITED ON Dec-17-03 AT 07:01 AM (EST)]“Since when does being a good musician even matter?”
Since the day that being good at anything mattered! Still, if someone is happy to be a poor musician – or even a bad one – good luck to them.



“There are many musicians I have met in my lifetime that knew particular tunes inside out, be it written or recorded, knowing every single note and nuance, but still managed to find their own way, so I must disagree a bit with you here”

I give up. Please tell me what it is you are disagreeing with.


“music specifically written for harmonica is relatively new”

About 80 years, or so... So, yes, relatively new.

I’m not sure what the rest of that paragraph is saying, but seems to be offering a paraphrase of something I said as an argument against what I said...

As does: “It all depends on the musician, as some cannot improvise at all, or has to have EVERYTHING worked out to the umpteenth degree. You learn from it and then put your own spin on it.”


"We're not really arguing about music notation here are we? We're arguing about different approaches to the whole business of being a musician. Reading dots helps if you have a certain approach to your craft, not reading dots helps if you have a different approach. "

Whate we're arguing about is what we're arguing about. But, the point you make is a good one. The question raised by David doesn't mention tabs vs notation, but the heading does, so that is what I jumped on - verbosely.


To answer David (less verbosely, I hope):
Would the same criticism be applied to non-blues (given that blues is supposed to be more spontaneous and less structured).

In most fields of music, other than those classed as "popular", a musician would be expected to be a competent reader of notation - he's not much use, otherwise.


To summarise my other points (again, less verbosely):

1. It must surely be the aim of any musician to be competent in one's art or craft, and to strive towards excellence, whether playing blues, jazz, folk, baroque, modern, pop...

2. To be able to write and read music is a facility that can only enhance the competence and versatility of any musician.

3. In all respects, tab is relatively useless as a means of accurately recording music: notation is far, far superior, so why bother with tab?

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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby srvlives » Wed Dec 17, 2003 11:35 am

I'm tired now........

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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby costa » Wed Dec 17, 2003 1:50 pm

>“Since when does being a good musician even matter?”
>Since the day that being good at anything mattered! Still,
>if someone is happy to be a poor musician – or even a bad
>one – good luck to them.

Thanks, I guess I'll need it. But...
Being a good musician and making good music are not related...In fact I'm pretty sure most people on this Forum could play rings around Muddy and Wolf, but I doubt very much I would prefer their music...


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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby badfinger » Wed Dec 17, 2003 3:30 pm

Costa:

One thing not mentioned so far - Do you enjoy it? Are you having fun?

Cos that's all that really matters.

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RE: tab vs. notation

Postby david » Wed Dec 17, 2003 4:01 pm

I sure didn't intend to start a fight here, but I was curious about the negative attitudes that seem widespread about tab, while I never encounter it about notation.

I would also like to focus for a bit on a distinction raised above which I find interesting--musical theory vs. being competent at reading and/or playing music (I hope I captured the distinction).

One of the things that interests me is the structure of music. I actually spend time looking at tab just to see how the song is put together. Some pieces are just better crafted than others, even though they both may be equally enjoyable to listen to.

There are also pieces that are very well crafted, but have no heart. I am quite sure Willie Johnson couldn't "read" music, but his songs sound so simplistic, yet contain such subtlety that I am in awe of them. Add to that that probably no one else could actually play them with the same feeling he gave them and you have the full combo. (I also doubt he ever played songs like "Dark Was the Night" exactly the same way twice.)

Compare Johnson's version of "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" to Corey Harris' version. Harris cleaned it up and glosses over much of the subtle rhtymic changes. Harris' version would be much easier to learn from paper (or even to capture on paper), but it just doesn't have the same richness to my ears.

I have also spent a lot of time looking at the tab--I've never seen the notation--for "Feeling Bad Blues." There seems to be an elegance to that piece that I wish I understood better. I think it has something to do with how the phrases are structured and pieced together. Looking at the tab while listening to the music seems to give me a better feel for what is taking place.

The little ditty I submitted for the CD was the first time I ever tried to actually "compose" a piece. I knew where I wanted to begin and where I wanted to end, and I had in mind some points I wanted to cross in moving between. How I got to those points was different every time I tried to play it. I had a sort of rough map of the piece, even though my attempt to flesh it out in sound was rather clumsy.

I suppose some folks just have a natural gift for putting musical themes together (just like good poets have a gift for "turning" a phrase (woodworking metaphore intended) and attempting to learn it as a craft would confine that gift. Others might learn formulas and never move beyond them. Still others might learn the formulas, and use them like a tool box that they can draw from when needed. Surely looking at the tune written out on paper would allow a different perspective on the piece.
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