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Stub Mandrel

How Could Bass Tab be Made Better?

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Another thread got diverted by a discussion of tab. As someone who really can't read music despite much trying - I simply can't relate position on the stave to a note in my head or on the instrument without 'thinking it out' - so I can get the right starting place and just about pick a simple piano line in C major or a key with maybe one or two sharps... but useless for a fretted instrument.

Finding myself learning a lot of songs from tab I find it much easier but also very frustrating at times.

I thought it might be interesting too discuss the good and bad of tab and what makes a good one, although I don't mean how accurate it is but how it can be used to show more than just the basic sequence of notes to play..

Better tabs have bar lines and position the numbers to reflect the timing. Some people overdo this and use  bracketed numbers (slurs) to make up the timing for things like off-beat and dotted notes which really confuses me.

I find tabs that set out the whole song as one linear thing overwhelming. At the other extreme those that reduce a song to a set of riffs usually over simplify and lose all the transitions.

There are ways of showing repeats  like "X2" which is easy to follow and "D.S. al coda" which gets terribly confusing with multiple destinations poorly marked.

I would find tab easier to work with if it always included a key and chord symbols as well.

The biggest issue I have is poor fingering choices. I mix one-finger-per-fret with some three-finger playing so I realise they are very personal to the player. But look at this lifted straight from a "popular tab site" - can you see the deliberate mistakes? Ironically this is a good example of how to show timings (note - tabbers often struggle with triplets and anything above fret 9 causes issues):

 

Quote
G|----0---0---0-0-0-----------0---|--------------------------------|

D|--------------------2---0-------|5---5---------------------------|

A|--------------------------------|----------------2---3---4---5---|

E|--------------------------------|--------------------------------|

                                                                     

G|--------------------------------|--------------------------------|

D|----0---0-------0---0---0-------|--------------------------------|

A|--------------------------------|5---5---5-------5---5---4---3---|

E|--------------------------------|--------------------------------|

I don't know how it could be done but some sort of graphical interface for generating tab - where you click on an image of the fretboard and it automatically generates the tab - would help avoid boo-boos like that by keeping the tabber aware of where they are on the instrument.

Finally a 'special font' for tabbing - equispaced like the ubiquitous courier but with single symbol numbers for 10, 11.... (perhaps we should have used A,B,C etc.....)

Any other ideas?

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I know MIDI guitars haven't really caught on in the same way as keyboards, but it did occur to me that keyboard players have a great boon when it comes to writing down music these days - they can play a controller keyboard into some sequencer software and, presto! the music is transcribed by the computer - albeit with all their mistakes, but much faster than clicking them onto the stave by hand.

Now...on that basis, is it time that MIDI guitars were stepped up a notch? I'm sure they can transcribe the individual notes well enough, but are they capable of doing TAB? If the interface can detect the pitches played, and the strings which are sounding at any given time, surely it could infer the fingering from this information?

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The beauty of notation is that it gives you all the information you need to be able to play any piece of music on any instrument, from Mozart to nursery rhymes. So far I have not seen any tab that does that. If you can find tab that is as comprehensive as notation it will still be a complicated set of instructions and you'll still have to learn it. If you really want to learn any skill and are having difficulties, get lessons.

When I left school I could sight read music, at a basic level. I've forgotten most of it since but, IMO at the semi pro level in a Rock n Roll world, the really useful skill to be cultivating is playing by ear. If you can hear the notes then you don't need tab.

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1 hour ago, chris_b said:

The beauty of notation is that it gives you all the information you need to be able to play any piece of music on any instrument, from Mozart to nursery rhymes. So far I have not seen any tab that does that. If you can find tab that is as comprehensive as notation it will still be a complicated set of instructions and you'll still have to learn it. If you really want to learn any skill and are having difficulties, get lessons.

When I left school I could sight read music, at a basic level. I've forgotten most of it since but, IMO at the semi pro level in a Rock n Roll world, the really useful skill to be cultivating is playing by ear. If you can hear the notes then you don't need tab.

Two problems with that, I simply can't  read standard notation, it's not for want of trying or even lessons. I simply can't relate a dot on a stave to a note in my head, I do know where G and A are on the treble clef without thinking  about it, but despite years of trying anything else I have to work out. I then have a letter in my head I have to 'translate' into a pitch. It's completely beyond me to look at notes and 'hear' a tune or even a chord or arpeggio.

As for playing by ear, the problem is two-fold - clearly hearing what the bass is doing in busy parts and understanding the structure of the song. I use tab chiefly to get the bits I can't catch by ear.

 

I know tab is far from perfect, but all notation is an abstract that can't capture all every subtlety of a piece*, and it does help an awful lot of people to access music that they otherwise couldn't. I just wonder if there are ways it can be made better.

 

*If it did, every classical performance would sound pretty much the same.

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Maybe the Simandl double bass books will help will show you the 'position' playing for correct finger placement on the neck regarding double bass work but these exercises carry over to electric bass.

 

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1 hour ago, mybass said:

Maybe the Simandl double bass books will help will show you the 'position' playing for correct finger placement on the neck regarding double bass work but these exercises carry over to electric bass.

 

Doesn't double bass fingering generally assume you use the ring and little fingers together?

It's not so much about knowing scales in different positions and chord inversions - it's that much tab appears to show no respect for such things, which would make it much easier to play and follow!

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3 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

Doesn't double bass fingering generally assume you use the ring and little fingers together?

It's not so much about knowing scales in different positions and chord inversions - it's that much tab appears to show no respect for such things, which would make it much easier to play and follow!

To a degree yes 'Stub'. The little finger is often 'supported' by the 3rd finger with the hand helping by 'leaning' slightly over the forth finger when playing certain positions as it is the weakest finger. In the half, 1st, 2nd positions in the book we see use of the 1st/2nd/4th fingers playing on the E string the notes ... F / Fsharp / G.....then likewise on the A string for the... Bb / B / C   and so forth, eventually working up the fret board. I am relating this from my own experience in that being a 99% fretless player, these double bass fingerings have helped enormously with my positional playing on fretless. My tutor at the time (Roy Babbington, now back with Soft Machine  and a terrific DB player) also got me into singing the notes and scales, a bit scary at the time but I do feel that has helped cement the fboard knowledge in further. (try singing scales while bowing a double bass, when you ain't that hot  with either!). I'm afraid explaining this in writing isn't great from me.

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I won't really say too much - I'm not bothered if people want to use tab instead of conventional; but the time/effort spent in improving tab could be used to learn normal notation.

I find it odd that you have tried and failed to learn it - its not that complicated....after all, the higher the note, the higher the note (on the notation)....and as time goes on, similar to reading words, the music is read from left to right. I suspect its partly because you've not been taught properly and partly because there is no impetus to actually practice reading regularly in your situation.

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The trouble with learning to read without a teacher is there is a tendency not to proceed with the learning in  systematic way. I am currently immersed in learning to read treble clef guitar music i.e. chords and counterpoint. I started with an Easy Guitar pieces book and moved forward incrementally with 10 - 20 minutes practice a day. it is surprising how quickly you can progress with this approach.  Reading music isn't any harder than reading words.  You start with letters, then words, then phrases then sentences. Most of us try starting with Donna Lee and get the hump because we can play it but can't read it. Duh...

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2 hours ago, paul_c2 said:

I won't really say too much - I'm not bothered if people want to use tab instead of conventional; but the time/effort spent in improving tab could be used to learn normal notation.

But only one person has to come up with a decent standard for tab, that could help millions of people.

2 hours ago, paul_c2 said:

I find it odd that you have tried and failed to learn it - its not that complicated....after all, the higher the note, the higher the note (on the notation)....and as time goes on, similar to reading words, the music is read from left to right. I suspect its partly because you've not been taught properly and partly because there is no impetus to actually practice reading regularly in your situation. 

 

1 hour ago, Bilbo said:

Reading music isn't any harder than reading words.  You start with letters, then words, then phrases then sentences. Most of us try starting with Donna Lee and get the hump because we can play it but can't read it. Duh...

I  have to disagree with you both!

I have had plenty of music lessons, I have been through the agonies of notating my own compositions, I have carefully worked out music from scores. It's agony. It was along time before I realised that I wasn't tone deaf nor was it a lack of dexterity and rhythm that was stopping me making progress - once started to have some confidence and rely on my ear, I made progress.

Just like reading? No, I know a dyslexics who is way beyond me at maths and chess but who has to ask for help with spelling.

To take your analogy, I can't get past the letters. I know 'every good boy deserves favour' I can only tell G, A and B by looking at a stave. I can work out the others but an hour or two later they will be forgotten again. I am sure I have some form of musical dyslexia.

I think my problem is that I simply can't relate the vertical position on the stave to pitch in the same way I can relate pitch to a fret. Funnily enough although I am not brilliant at keyboards I find it easy to construct chords or scales on one because I understand the theory. I even know how chords are notated, I just can't see them as anything other than cryptic blobs that need to be carefully decoded.

I can look at a piece of music all day. Intellectually I can see how it relates to the music but I can't develop any fluency. I've being trying to read music since the 70s, at one point after intense effort I was able to haltingly follow a simple single-line melody in C, but after a week off the skill had gone.

I've only been trying with tab for about six years, and seriously for a lot less than that, before it was virtually all chord charts and by ear, or very slowly working out the notation. I have a pile of music books a foot thick, virtually all of it I have only ever used the chord symbols.

I really am a hopeless case, I'm afraid.

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That all cows eat grass thing is part of the problem. It means that every note you read has to start with a process of identification that is time inefficient. You need to start with one note you can identify every time. Doesn't actually matter which one. Then add a second. A third. You need to see C not have to work it out. Imagine trying to identify a word by going ABCDEFGHIJ etc every time. You recognise A and you recognise G. Then add one accidental. Then two. And three. Simultaneously, you read rhythms. Quarter notes. Quarter note rests. Mix them up. Triplets. Sixteenths. It's not that hard, it just needs systematic attention. 

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14 minutes ago, Bilbo said:

That all cows eat grass thing is part of the problem. It means that every note you read has to start with a process of identification that is time inefficient. You need to start with one note you can identify every time. Doesn't actually matter which one. Then add a second. A third. You need to see C not have to work it out. Imagine trying to identify a word by going ABCDEFGHIJ etc every time. You recognise A and you recognise G. Then add one accidental. Then two. And three.

That's exactly the point. That's the one simple barrier I can't overcome.

The rhythm bit is easy, I can do that. But that limits me to basic percussion, like the triangle...

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I'm a bit disappointed here.

I was introduced to reading music in junior school and I'm 56 now; so that's nearly a half-century of experience, on and off, of trying to read music and failing.

What I was hoping would be that other people who use tab might chip in with ideas around how it could be better or even suggest things like software I could use to rework some tabs to better suit my playing style. Re-tabbing something really helps me learn it.

Instead everyone seems determined to tell me that I should be reading notation instead and the only reason I can't is because I won't put the effort in/get a good teacher.

All this has done is convince me that my 'dyslexia' analogy is probably more accurate than I realised.

It seems there is a condition identified in 2000 called 'dysmusia' that relates to the inability to develop the skill to read music. Unfortunately all the interesting stuff seems to be hidden behind pay walls.

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I don't have any experience of teaching how to read music, so I can't really help unfortunately.

Its possible that its dysmusia.

There's nothing actually wrong with tab in itself, or preferring tab than notation. All I can say is, for me, in my situation, I prefer normal notation. Others might prefer tab. There could well be others who will comment later on, about tab. Just don't ask Adam Neely about tab!!!!!!

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22 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

I was introduced to reading music in junior school and I'm 56 now; so that's nearly a half-century of experience, on and off, of trying to read music and failing.

What I was hoping would be that other people who use tab might chip in with ideas around how it could be better...

Instead everyone seems determined to tell me that I should be reading notation instead...

I started to learn music at the age of 5. It was that age-old piano and after 13 years of trying I stopped and made a wise change to my instrument. Yes, first I learned some theory and I learned to read music. Would I be able to compose? Never.

My music reading skills are pretty much like reading a book, but I could not write one. I think that is OK. I can use Finale, Musescore and similar but just to copy something.

Tabs I do hate, I am not very good at them, although sometimes they have a hint on fingering. Still score is better for me. One of my teachers wanted me to play an unknown song to me. I asked to listen to that (before the time of tube and so on) but he said no. I should make an interpretation of the score! And here we get to the point: the score gives very little to how to play the song. (It was some Clarke/Duke jam that is still foggy to me.)

Do you believe that Mozart wanted his songs to be played like they play them today? No one knows! There was a very old man that had been in choir when the old master had led certain composition. This old man was carefully interviewed because the conductor wanted to record (technology just had made that possible) that composition just the same way as the composer had done. The score does have many issues that should be compared to a recording - if one exists!

So my suggestion is to add that record to score (+ tab?). Then you can rely on some details that are written, you need to use your ears to find the feel and sound, and most of the notes. Too liberal? Probably, but I have heard that conductors do this, so I take the opportunity to do the same.

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On 23/04/2019 at 11:39, Stub Mandrel said:

As for playing by ear, the problem is two-fold - clearly hearing what the bass is doing in busy parts and understanding the structure of the song.

 

These are the burdens of being a bass player; I doubt that there are many players who don't struggle with quickly and accurately isolating busy bass parts.

If standard notation is a problem - for whatever reason - and you really want to improve as a musician then kick the TAB habit for good and focus on playing by ear.

As someone who spends most of their time reading and writing music, I'd say that being able to hear things is exponentially more valuable than being able to read. Developing good ears is a long and gruelling pursuit, but the benefits are huge.

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On 23/04/2019 at 09:52, Stub Mandrel said:

 

Another thread got diverted by a discussion of tab. As someone who really can't read music despite much trying - I simply can't relate position on the stave to a note in my head or on the instrument without 'thinking it out' - so I can get the right starting place and just about pick a simple piano line in C major or a key with maybe one or two sharps... but useless for a fretted instrument.

Finding myself learning a lot of songs from tab I find it much easier but also very frustrating at times.

I thought it might be interesting too discuss the good and bad of tab and what makes a good one, although I don't mean how accurate it is but how it can be used to show more than just the basic sequence of notes to play..

Better tabs have bar lines and position the numbers to reflect the timing. Some people overdo this and use  bracketed numbers (slurs) to make up the timing for things like off-beat and dotted notes which really confuses me.

I find tabs that set out the whole song as one linear thing overwhelming. At the other extreme those that reduce a song to a set of riffs usually over simplify and lose all the transitions.

There are ways of showing repeats  like "X2" which is easy to follow and "D.S. al coda" which gets terribly confusing with multiple destinations poorly marked.

I would find tab easier to work with if it always included a key and chord symbols as well.

The biggest issue I have is poor fingering choices. I mix one-finger-per-fret with some three-finger playing so I realise they are very personal to the player. But look at this lifted straight from a "popular tab site" - can you see the deliberate mistakes? Ironically this is a good example of how to show timings (note - tabbers often struggle with triplets and anything above fret 9 causes issues):

 

I don't know how it could be done but some sort of graphical interface for generating tab - where you click on an image of the fretboard and it automatically generates the tab - would help avoid boo-boos like that by keeping the tabber aware of where they are on the instrument.

Finally a 'special font' for tabbing - equispaced like the ubiquitous courier but with single symbol numbers for 10, 11.... (perhaps we should have used A,B,C etc.....)

Any other ideas?

I have the opposite problem, those lines, dashes and numbers just totally confuse me.

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TAB was originally developed around the 1300's and notation began to be developed around the 1750's. So, in reality TAB has moved on and notation gives you the added information of where notes are to be played in relation to the beat or tempo and not just which notes to play. In my opinion the main problem with TAB is that more often or not where it is telling you to play any given note .  A bass with tuning 1st (E), 2nd (A), 3rd (D), 4th (G). And so for example if TAB is telling you to play the 2nd fret on the 3rd string then to play the 9th fret on the 4th string then this would need a left hand shift. Notation however leaves the choice of note position to you.  But notation visibly makes it clear that to play the same sounding notes as the TAB if first note is played 7th fret on the 2nd string and then 9th fret of the 4th string with no left hand shift needed. Likewise the same notes could be played 12th fret 1st string then 14th fret 3rd string. with no left hand shift. Even if you never learn to read music it is a good idea to learn the notes on the fret board and where the same note can be found.  i.e. 2nd fret 3rd string, 7th fret 2nd string and 12th fret 1st string  all three the same sounding note (E).

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On 23/04/2019 at 17:10, Stub Mandrel said:

Instead everyone seems determined to tell me that I should be reading notation instead and the only reason I can't is because I won't put the effort in/get a good teacher.

That's where every discussion of tab and stave goes on this forum, sadly.

Stave may be the best of notation methods, but if it doesn't work for you then that's fine.  I use tab occasionally alongside the music (because that's what tab is for in my opinion - it's not meant to be used in isolation) but I'm not bothered about stave and I'm not bothered about those who say I should learn it.

You do as you wish Stub.

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Posted (edited)
15 minutes ago, wal4string said:

TAB was originally developed around the 1300's and notation began to be developed around the 1750's. So, in reality TAB has moved on and notation gives you the added information of where notes are to be played in relation to the beat or tempo and not just which notes to play. In my opinion the main problem with TAB is that more often or not where it is telling you to play any given note .  A bass with tuning 1st (E), 2nd (A), 3rd (D), 4th (G). And so for example if TAB is telling you to play the 2nd fret on the 3rd string then to play the 9th fret on the 4th string then this would need a left hand shift. Notation however leaves the choice of note position to you.  But notation visibly makes it clear that to play the same sounding notes as the TAB if first note is played 7th fret on the 2nd string and then 9th fret of the 4th string with no left hand shift needed. Likewise the same notes could be played 12th fret 1st string then 14th fret 3rd string. with no left hand shift. Even if you never learn to read music it is a good idea to learn the notes on the fret board and where the same note can be found.  i.e. 2nd fret 3rd string, 7th fret 2nd string and 12th fret 1st string  all three the same sounding note (E).

That's a very good point. The differences between TAB and normal notation which make it easier for many players, are actually elements of music (I'm reluctant to say music theory - some people seem to be allergic to those words and turn off when they see them, assuming its too much to think about or too complicated) which are generic, can be transferred to many situations, and will prove genuinely useful over time. For example:

- Knowing the positions of the same notes on different places of the neck
- Recognising and relating intervals eg an octave and a fifth can be played 2 different ways
- Accurate detail of rhythm, ie are you in 4/4, 2/4, 12/8, something else?
- What key you're in
- When the notes are diatonic or not (ie accidentals in normal notation). By definition, in normal notation an accidental will mean either you'r playing a chromatic passing note, or some kind of modulation or non-diatonic alteration has occurred.

Edited by paul_c2
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17 hours ago, TKenrick said:

If standard notation is a problem - for whatever reason - and you really want to improve as a musician then kick the TAB habit for good and focus on playing by ear.

As someone who spends most of their time reading and writing music, I'd say that being able to hear things is exponentially more valuable than being able to read. Developing good ears is a long and gruelling pursuit, but the benefits are huge.

In my defense I say my ear is good - I reckon there errors in a lot of, if not most, tabs but they certainly speed things up and make great mnemonics when learning.

I'd also say just because people don't read notation it doesn't mean they can't understand musical theory at least to a level appropriate to what they play. There's a lick I'm struggling with and I know it's because its in a harmonic minor scale and my brain just changes it unless I really concentrate - so at least I know why I'm getting it wrong 😜

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17 hours ago, TKenrick said:

focus on playing by ear.

 

Ear training is great, and an important skill. But its not really directly equivalent to reading, either TAB or standard notation. Take the example, someone writes a piece and puts a copy of a piece of paper with some kind of notation in front of them, to all try and play it together.

Those who can sight read (notice I didn't mention normal notation or tab), or do something not far off it, are going to be able to play it pretty much straight away and that really helps, in a lot of situations. If you needed to do it by ear then 1) someone will have to prepare the audio to be available, possibly in advance 2) it will inevitably take an amount of time and listening over and over to accurately "get it" 3) there is no (decent) equivalent to being able to say "ok lets go from bar 98" - you'd need to also understand and memorise the structure of the song, and then refer to those easily-identifiable points such as "verse 2", "chorus 3" or whatever.

So no matter how good your ear is at picking up or transcribing music, you'd still need some kind of preferably written down system to (excuse the pun) "all be on the same page" when it comes to rehearsing that material, otherwise it would potentially be a much slowed down and frustrating process.

In summary, a good ear is a good technical skill to have, but it doesn't and cannot solve all the problems/issues/situations a notation system addresses.

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1 hour ago, paul_c2 said:

Ear training is great, and an important skill. But its not really directly equivalent to reading, either TAB or standard notation. Take the example, someone writes a piece and puts a copy of a piece of paper with some kind of notation in front of them, to all try and play it together.

Those who can sight read (notice I didn't mention normal notation or tab), or do something not far off it, are going to be able to play it pretty much straight away and that really helps, in a lot of situations. If you needed to do it by ear then 1) someone will have to prepare the audio to be available, possibly in advance 2) it will inevitably take an amount of time and listening over and over to accurately "get it" 3) there is no (decent) equivalent to being able to say "ok lets go from bar 98" - you'd need to also understand and memorise the structure of the song, and then refer to those easily-identifiable points such as "verse 2", "chorus 3" or whatever.

So no matter how good your ear is at picking up or transcribing music, you'd still need some kind of preferably written down system to (excuse the pun) "all be on the same page" when it comes to rehearsing that material, otherwise it would potentially be a much slowed down and frustrating process.

In summary, a good ear is a good technical skill to have, but it doesn't and cannot solve all the problems/issues/situations a notation system addresses.

Absolutely agreed - I was making several assumptions, based on the fact that the OP mentioned using TAB to learn songs and therefore would be learning from recordings prior to rehearsals or gigs rather than learning music 'on the fly', which is a very different scenario.

1 hour ago, Stub Mandrel said:

I'd also say just because people don't read notation it doesn't mean they can't understand musical theory at least to a level appropriate to what they play.

1

I also agree with this (and don’t think I implied anything to the contrary in my earlier post). Being able to read doesn’t automatically make you a ‘good’ player, just as being limited to using TAB doesn’t necessarily mean that your playing will be lacking.

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Written notes are not difficult to learn.  If you learnt all the notes on all 4 strings there is a total of 48, which sounds a lot but in reality there is only 12, as the notes are repeated the higher up the fret board you play (by higher I mean the closer to the pickups) . And to play the same note an octave higher  its up two frets and up two strings. If you learn the twelve notes on the E string and then apply the above to play an octave higher already you would have learnt 24 of the 48 notes. Another rule which never changes is that the note F is played one fret higher than an E, the same goes for C which is one fret higher than a B. All other notes are two frets apart i.e. G is two frets higher than F, A is two frets Higher than G and B is also two notes higher than A. I recall my music lessons in school, I never could grasp the rhymes on learning the notes on a stave "Every Good Boy Deserves Favors" E,G,B,D,F which represents the note names on the lines of a  stave.  There is another rhyme for F,A,C,E which represents the spaces in between the lines. Total crap for three reasons 1. This is for the treble Clef. 2. Why not teach line space E,F,G,A,B.C,D.  and 3 by continuing the same alphabetical pattern we see that the next E,F,G,A,B,C begins on a space.

There are only 7 note names which is G,A,B,C,D,E,F and the octave G. If starting on any other note i.e. a B this would be B,C,D,E,F,G,A and the octave B.

The frets which don't have a note name are known as either a # (sharp) or a  b (flat), so between the F and G the note is known either as F#  or a Gb.

Between the G and A known as either G# or Ab

Between the A and B known as A# or Bb

Between C and D known as C# or Db

Between D and E known as D# or Eb

Between F and G known as F# or Gb

As a reference point an added line above the stave is a C. A bit of theory not necessary to know but may make a bit more sense. You are familiar with how a treble clef and a bass clef look and that the bass clef is always written below the treble clef. Both clefs originally was written on eleven lines which eventually  was divided, The top 5 lines became the treble clef and the bottom bottom 5 the bass clef with the remaining  middle line became known as middle C .  

It's learning to read rhythm which can take time. But it is really a question of remembering what has gone before. By this I mean that there is not an infinite  number of rhythms and the more you play the more you will recognize these patterns. I do remember  when I started to play I began to learn riffs while I was saving up for lessons. One of the Riffs was Zeps "Whole Lotta Love" I could play along to the track no problem but then when I began to learn to read I picked up the transcription and immediately thought I could never play that. But of course I could already, no, it was just a question of working out why the rhythm was written as it was and realizing it was all to do with how the beat fell.  

I am glad I took the initially harder route of learning to read music. I am not restricted to playing only tunes I know or have heard before. I can now play whatever is put in front of me having never seen the chart before whatever genre or style. I have literally hundreds of charts that I can pull out and play having not looked at them for years. This allows me to dep with little or no rehearsels. 

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