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Stub Mandrel

How Could Bass Tab be Made Better?

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1 hour ago, wal4string said:

Written notes are not difficult to learn.  If you learnt all the notes on all 4 strings there is a total of 48,

Which I have  no difficulty finding my way around, athough I prefer to think in terms of intervals than specific notes. Ask me to play a common scale in a common key and I might think for a second first but I won't struggle.

I'm B***d if I can learn those 9 positions on the treble clef though. Rhythm is not so hard for me, which is why I think I have a built in block stopping me learning the notes.

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Stub Mandrel, I think yours is an unusual case - others have started out on tab and been able to switch to, at least basic, reading of normal notation.

When you do read it, you don't normally associate the position of the blobs with note names though - you instinctively miss out the intermediate step and associate the position of the blobs with the position of your fingers on the fretboard.

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14 minutes ago, paul_c2 said:

When you do read it, you don't normally associate the position of the blobs with note names though - you instinctively miss out the intermediate step and associate the position of the blobs with the position of your fingers on the fretboard.

I understand that, and I'm sure that's one reason why all the mnemonics in the world make no differnence.

Perhaps its that I find tab more logical. I can't relate to the fact the difference between two lines on a stave might be one or two semitones; it makes some sense for a piano, but none for anything else - to me at least!

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18 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

but none for anything else 

It makes perfect sense to me - do you understand the concept of what is "diatonic"?

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16 minutes ago, paul_c2 said:

It makes perfect sense to me - do you understand the concept of what is "diatonic"?

Indeed, but while I see how the stave allows you to build chords, for example, because each adjacent pair of lines or spaces is a third apart my brain insists this is merely a convention that creates a meaningless inconsistency where you can't tell what type of chord it actually is.

Actually, to me, the fact that the stave is inherently diatonic and suited to penny whistles and perhaps even pianos, it seems illogical to force it on a totally chromatic instrument like a bass.

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But we don't play chromatically, we tend to play music which is diatonic, or not too distantly related.

I agree that chromatic (or atonal) music has the issue that the conventional stave (and key signatures etc) aren't a good fit - which makes reading it much more difficult - but that's not the case for a lot of the time.

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2 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

Indeed, but while I see how the stave allows you to build chords, for example, because each adjacent pair of lines or spaces is a third apart my brain insists this is merely a convention that creates a meaningless inconsistency where you can't tell what type of chord it actually is.

Actually, to me, the fact that the stave is inherently diatonic and suited to penny whistles and perhaps even pianos, it seems illogical to force it on a totally chromatic instrument like a bass.

You are over complicating things, I think you will find all Western Instruments are chromatic, adjacent pairs of lines or spaces are a third apart but not all without a sharp or a flat. i.e. A to C# and D to F#. A major third up is always 4 frets or 4 semi-tones apart regardless of the starting note.  Think of the sharps or flats simply as the black keys on a piano, just not so easy to see.

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Posted (edited)

My final words are this, TAB is really the work of the devil and more often than not inaccurate. It belongs in Room 101.  TAB should only be used as a learning aid on the way to learning to read notation. There are far too many TAB sites but thankfully, not enough but also several sites with really good transcriptions, TKendrick to name just one. However there is just one exception to my hatred of TAB, this site I believe belongs around the year 1700, just prior to the start of notation as we know today, and the only site I would recommend.  If all TAB was written this way I would have no issue with it.

Unfortunately the site is now subscription only to download but the songs are all visible.  Also be aware not all have the bass lines and also several have the bass written on the very last page.

https://www.guitar.ch/en/guitars/tabs/tabs.html

 

Bass and Keys.png

Edited by wal4string
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I think it’s worth considering too that you would NEVER get given tab in any kind of professional setting. There’s a reason music notation has developed and become the accepted way to transmit Western music over tab - it’s the best format that’s been invented. Tab does not clearly show relationships between notes just where to put your fingers amongst flaws. Tab has been used for lute music for many centuries so it can’t just be written off - it certainly has its place / useage but ultimately for modern music it’s at best a flawed system. 

Clearly it’s an emotive subject but my experience from the ‘other side’ as a strong reading musician is that it’s only musicians who can’t read who kick up a fuss and want to read tab / improve tab. Learning to read took many years and much frustration on my part - so it’s not an easy process either but it’s a very valuable one. Not what the OP wants to hear I doubt but there we go.

Ultimately we all have to decide what best suits our situations. If you’re not in reading situations on a regular basis then it’s probably not a priority and energy could be expended more effectively elsewhere. My personal experience is that reading music has opened up so many doors / avenues / experiences that not reading / reading tab would have so that, on a purely pragmatic basis, seals it for me. 

 

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1 hour ago, dodge_bass said:

I think it’s worth considering too that you would NEVER get given tab in any kind of professional setting.

As a user of professional GIS, that's kind of like me saying to an amateur naturalist 'bear in mind you won't be supplied data from google maps'.

1 hour ago, dodge_bass said:

Clearly it’s an emotive subject but my experience from the ‘other side’ as a strong reading musician is that it’s only musicians who can’t read who kick up a fuss and want to read tab / improve tab.

Perhaps that's exactly it. I can't read notation, so better tab would help me.

1 hour ago, dodge_bass said:

Learning to read took many years and much frustration on my part - so it’s not an easy process either but it’s a very valuable one. Not what the OP wants to hear I doubt but there we go.

Aside from my inability to even achieve reading at a sub-Grade 1 level, despite years of attempts, I already know that.

 

Why, for the love of God, is it that raising the issue of improving tab generates such an outpouring of (effectively) demands that the questionner should learn notation?

 

The fact is I don't, and never will, be in a position where I need to sight read unless I volunteer myself into it. In forty-plus years of playing with other people I have never needed to sight read (although i did bluff through singing lessons by being very quick at picking up a simple melody by ear).

I use written music as a way to  assist with learning  (or very rarely composing or transposing) music and speed of reading is not the priority. I just need a guide , and I find tab works for me and notation doesn't.

Also, sight-readers need to accept that for some people there is a dichotomy between theory and practice. I have bothered to learn some musical theory and it does help me a bit (but not much) when learning a song. I'm sure notation helps keyboard players and those who wish to understand the harmonic structure of a piece, but in practice most people just use notation to know what note to play next, just as with tab.

No amount of protestation by sight-readers is going to change that, I'm afraid; they have to accept that for some people under some circumstances, tab is not just the better option, but the only option.

 

The point of this thread is that some tablature is great and makes it really easy to learn a piece of music, some of it is abysmal. I was hoping to discuss what the features of good tab were and ways to promote them. But it seems that either other tab users don't want to or they fear the scorn of the sight-readers.

As a result of this discussion and my attempts to learnt quite a lot of music over recent weeks, I have seen a lot more variation of approach. I honestly think that notation itself will get a lot of competition in the next twenty years as more expressive and accessible ways of presenting music that use dynamic display are developed - already a lot of keyboard players are getting started using 'waterfall' display, for example, which has huge potential to be developed further. There is also dynamic tab that replaces the heads of notes with fret numbers and uses very strict spacing rules for duration information, done well this gets close to classical notation for readability.

 

With existing technology you can just share the music over bluetooth as midi file and each person can display it on their own device and switch it to their favourite 'reader' while keeping in synch with everyone else. So one person could be reading notation, another tab and another just getting chord symbols, all in real time while they play together.

 

This is the sort of idea I was thinking of:

I think bass could be presented as an image of a fretboard with markers for finger positions that behave to show when they are damping, pressing down and also highlighting the next ones coming. An arrow could fade in show a pending slide and the marker could actually make the movement when it is due. Combine this with lower level indicators to show the scale currently in use (and highlighting root etc.) you could probably convey more information than on a stave. Imagine being able to see not just the line you are playing on the fretboard but also all the opportunities for improving or adding fills while staying in key and yet changing dynamically through the piece. Might work better for Giant Steps than notation?

 

 

 

 

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57 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

As a user of professional GIS, that's kind of like me saying to an amateur naturalist 'bear in mind you won't be supplied data from google maps'.

Well, that is good. I would want a paper map so I could cover myself up if anyone walked past.

Oh hang on, thats not naturalist is it? 😮

 

57 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

This is the sort of idea I was thinking of:

I think bass could be presented as an image of a fretboard with markers for finger positions that behave to show when they are damping, pressing down and also highlighting the next ones coming. An arrow could fade in show a pending slide and the marker could actually make the movement when it is due. Combine this with lower level indicators to show the scale currently in use (and highlighting root etc.) you could probably convey more information than on a stave. Imagine being able to see not just the line you are playing on the fretboard but also all the opportunities for improving or adding fills while staying in key and yet changing dynamically through the piece. Might work better for Giant Steps than notation?

 

You get that sort of display in something like guitarpro though don't you? but not easy on ascii text

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Posted (edited)

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Edited by Grangur

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2 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

As a user of professional GIS, that's kind of like me saying to an amateur naturalist 'bear in mind you won't be supplied data from google maps'.

Perhaps that's exactly it. I can't read notation, so better tab would help me.

Aside from my inability to even achieve reading at a sub-Grade 1 level, despite years of attempts, I already know that.

 

Why, for the love of God, is it that raising the issue of improving tab generates such an outpouring of (effectively) demands that the questionner should learn notation?

 

The fact is I don't, and never will, be in a position where I need to sight read unless I volunteer myself into it. In forty-plus years of playing with other people I have never needed to sight read (although i did bluff through singing lessons by being very quick at picking up a simple melody by ear).

I use written music as a way to  assist with learning  (or very rarely composing or transposing) music and speed of reading is not the priority. I just need a guide , and I find tab works for me and notation doesn't.

Also, sight-readers need to accept that for some people there is a dichotomy between theory and practice. I have bothered to learn some musical theory and it does help me a bit (but not much) when learning a song. I'm sure notation helps keyboard players and those who wish to understand the harmonic structure of a piece, but in practice most people just use notation to know what note to play next, just as with tab.

No amount of protestation by sight-readers is going to change that, I'm afraid; they have to accept that for some people under some circumstances, tab is not just the better option, but the only option.

 

The point of this thread is that some tablature is great and makes it really easy to learn a piece of music, some of it is abysmal. I was hoping to discuss what the features of good tab were and ways to promote them. But it seems that either other tab users don't want to or they fear the scorn of the sight-readers.

As a result of this discussion and my attempts to learnt quite a lot of music over recent weeks, I have seen a lot more variation of approach. I honestly think that notation itself will get a lot of competition in the next twenty years as more expressive and accessible ways of presenting music that use dynamic display are developed - already a lot of keyboard players are getting started using 'waterfall' display, for example, which has huge potential to be developed further. There is also dynamic tab that replaces the heads of notes with fret numbers and uses very strict spacing rules for duration information, done well this gets close to classical notation for readability.

 

With existing technology you can just share the music over bluetooth as midi file and each person can display it on their own device and switch it to their favourite 'reader' while keeping in synch with everyone else. So one person could be reading notation, another tab and another just getting chord symbols, all in real time while they play together.

 

This is the sort of idea I was thinking of:

I think bass could be presented as an image of a fretboard with markers for finger positions that behave to show when they are damping, pressing down and also highlighting the next ones coming. An arrow could fade in show a pending slide and the marker could actually make the movement when it is due. Combine this with lower level indicators to show the scale currently in use (and highlighting root etc.) you could probably convey more information than on a stave. Imagine being able to see not just the line you are playing on the fretboard but also all the opportunities for improving or adding fills while staying in key and yet changing dynamically through the piece. Might work better for Giant Steps than notation?

 

 

 

 

 

Some really interesting stuff in here, thanks for the reply. I'll try to briefly respond as should be working!

I love the concept of a much improved tab with all those features but the cynic in me simply says you're re-inventing the wheel....music notation has done all of that already so why bother. And furthermore one of the benefits of music notation is that it allows relationships between notes / keys etc to be clearly seen. Tab doesn't allow that it simply tells you where to place your fingers. So you can replicate music (if the tab / your ears are good enough!) but it doesn't necessarily highlight clearly the relationships between the notes which is pretty important. I must confess I don't think traditional notation will come up against a lot of competition - it's existed and function very well for 100's of years, for a reason that it allows music to be clearly, accurately and intelligently displayed whilst simultaneously allow the player to make their own choice of fingering / positioning etc to facilitate most clearly whatever is going on in the music. Want to play with three fingers (like double bass) rather than four...not a problem because notation DOESN'T tell you where to put your fingers just what the notes are. To nicely return the GIS / map analogy...currently tab simply gives you a single route from home to your destination whereas music notation gives you the whole map. It gives you all the options and that's why overall it's inherently superior.

I should note however that alternative methods of notation (graphic scores / tab(!) etc) do exist and exist for a reason and often that's to fill a gap - DJ'ing, synths, electronic music etc are all in need of something to at times more accurately represent what's going on. Notation is not perfect, far from but it serves a useful purpose.

Now you note that you're not going to ever be in a sight-reading situation and that you're using tab as a learning tool. Great, it's good to be clear about your need to use, in this case tab, for a specific purpose. And you make an interesting comment about theory / practice in relation to sight-reading but I would reply to that by saying that I do a lot of work that doesn't require notation (i.e. original music written /arranged by ear) and I still use them same theory in practice when I do that as well. If you avoid learning any theory / developing your understanding of musical structures / language then you're restricting yourself...that's a slightly different discussion I think but whether I'm reading / hearing a C major triad (for arguments sake) I know what it looks like (notation), sounds like (aural), how it's constructed (theory) and how to actually play it (physical). Music is a combination, for me, of all those different elements.

Must get back to work, I know I have't addressed all your comments but I've made a start I hope...and bear in mind I'm NOT coming completely (though mainly!) from a place of MUSIC NOTATION GOOD TAB BAD but rather am slightly playing devils advocate because it's a discussion I often have with my students....who I'm sorry to say all end up reading music notation and avoid tab ;) Just for transparency!! Look forward to your reply.

 

 

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, dodge_bass said:

If you avoid learning any theory / developing your understanding of musical structures / language then you're restricting yourself

I did say that I have some theory, I also know how notation represents theory. My situation with notation is like someone with an understanding of English grammar faced with a coded message where all the letters have been substituted - able to see the structure of the message but having to manually decode most of the letters before they can get the sense of the message. So I can spot triads and sevenths, for example, but without working out the key and then identifying the root I can't say 'Ah yes that's Am7'.

Yes I know, it's just learning perhaps 21 locations and linking each one with a note. If it was that easy for me, don't you think I would have done it?

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25 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

So I can spot triads and sevenths, for example, but without working out the key and then identifying the root I can't say 'Ah yes that's Am7'.

Actually one of the odd things about a bass is that you don't often play chords on it. But if you did, a chord is basically the same pattern everywhere, unlike the guitar (the more strings you have the easier this is). It's easier to see the chords by pattern rather than remembering the actual notes or offsets of them. Then slide it round to see where it fits.

 

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1 hour ago, Stub Mandrel said:

. So I can spot triads and sevenths, for example, but without working out the key and then identifying the root I can't say 'Ah yes that's Am7'.

 

Yes you can (with notation), its just a little bit more involved. For example, if you see 4 notes on adjacent blobs or lines, you know its an arpeggio because there's a bunch of notes split by thirds......and you know the first note. Say for example you have no sharps or flats key signature, you know its probably either A minor or C major. If the first note is A, then you know that in that key (of A minor....) the 7 chord on the root is minor 7th - third is minor and the seventh is minor. Similarly (if you know your music well enough) you know the quality of all the other seventh chords B C D E F G. And similar to how you instantly/quickly recognise the "shape" of a 7th chord (no inversion), you can also quickly recognise the "shape" of the inversions of the chord too. 

It sounds involved but its just a bunch of chords and shapes which you use day after day and see again and again and again in basslines, so you quickly twig those little shortcuts. 

With TAB, you'd need to read each number and do mental arithmetic to know the quality of the chord given 4 numbers in quick succession. Some people are better at figuring things out with shapes than numbers, so for some people the TAB will be a confusion.

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7 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

The fact is I don't, and never will, be in a position where I need to sight read unless I volunteer myself into it. In forty-plus years of playing with other people I have never needed to sight read (although i did bluff through singing lessons by being very quick at picking up a simple melody by ear).

I've not been on Basschat for ages,other than to look for gear, but I was having a nose around, saw this thread ,and decided to comment on this bit.

I've heard a lot of people say that they have never been asked to read on a gig. There is a reason for this. It's because you are not a reader, so nobody will call you for those types of gigs. You will only get offered reading gigs if you put yourself out there as someone who can read.

 

You say that rhythm is not hard for you, in which case you are over halfway there. There are far more variations in rhythm than there are  notes.  Without sounding like an arrogant jerk or anything, I reckon that I could have you reading some basics within a couple of hours, as probably any decent teacher could. 

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18 hours ago, paul_c2 said:

Yes you can (with notation), its just a little bit more involved. For example, if you see 4 notes on adjacent blobs or lines, you know its an arpeggio because there's a bunch of notes split by thirds......and you know the first note. Say for example you have no sharps or flats key signature, you know its probably either A minor or C major. If the first note is A, then you know that in that key (of A minor....) the 7 chord on the root is minor 7th - third is minor and the seventh is minor. Similarly (if you know your music well enough) you know the quality of all the other seventh chords B C D E F G. And similar to how you instantly/quickly recognise the "shape" of a 7th chord (no inversion), you can also quickly recognise the "shape" of the inversions of the chord too. 

Missed point alert.

I know how to do that I can recognise triads and sevenths. I just am pathologically incapable of working out the key (other than C/Am) or the root note other than by carefully working it out.

 

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16 hours ago, Doddy said:

I've heard a lot of people say that they have never been asked to read on a gig. There is a reason for this. It's because you are not a reader, so nobody will call you for those types of gigs. You will only get offered reading gigs if you put yourself out there as someone who can read.

But as I never intend putting myself out there for that sort of gig, I have no use for sight reading.

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9 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

But as I never intend putting myself out there for that sort of gig, I have no use for sight reading.

At the risk of butting in, I rather think you're wasting your time Stub.

There are a number of topics that can't be discussed (what I would call) sensibly on Basschat and tab is one of them.

Any discussion of tab will ALWAYS turn into being told you should learn stave, even if you don't want to, need to or perhaps just find it difficult. It would be nice to be able to talk about tab objectively, but...well.....Basschat.

YMMV of course

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22 minutes ago, ahpook said:

At the risk of butting in, I rather think you're wasting your time Stub.

There are a number of topics that can't be discussed (what I would call) sensibly on Basschat and tab is one of them.

Any discussion of tab will ALWAYS turn into being told you should learn stave, even if you don't want to, need to or perhaps just find it difficult. It would be nice to be able to talk about tab objectively, but...well.....Basschat.

YMMV of course

Respectfully, I disagree; I think this topic HAS been discussed sensibly. Those putting counterarguments to TAB have been moderate and given good explanations as to why normal notation is able to do the job. So I think its a little unfair to label it unobjective.

Given the above, the conclusion might be drawn that others, who have a lot of experience and are able to share their wisdom with the OP, have suggested normal notation is better than tab, simply because it IS better.

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2 minutes ago, paul_c2 said:

Respectfully, I disagree; I think this topic HAS been discussed sensibly. Those putting counterarguments to TAB have been moderate and given good explanations as to why normal notation is able to do the job. So I think its a little unfair to label it unobjective.

Given the above, the conclusion might be drawn that others, who have a lot of experience and are able to share their wisdom with the OP, have suggested normal notation is better than tab, simply because it IS better. 

The topic, as set out in my original post has barely been addressed.

I wanted to start a discussion on Tab.

It's been hijacked into a discussion of why standard notation is better.

It's like telling a blind man who wants a better radio the advantages of colour television; but such is the way of the internet.

It's almost as if there is a conspiracy to keep tab from improving in case it becomes better... 😁

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Well yes true, the topic has diverged - I am not sure if thread drift is necessarily a bad thing though. Another way to look at it might be that simply nobody does have suggestions on how to improve tab?

Or more realistically, a realisation that even if tab did improve, there is still a large body of work "out there" and published in printed books etc with what you might call "unimproved" tab. Going forwards, yes it would help (tab readers) but it would not really be able to address the issues with existing. 

Or that tab is a "dead end" and in fact its better to invest time in (improving for bassists) normal notation. There is already a convention in string instrument music on additional notation for suggested fingerings, perhaps normal notation + fingerings where relevant would be good for you?

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So to answer the original question, as someone learning bass and having to look at Tab, stave, lyrics with chords scribble on top of them etc.

The main advantage of tab is that it tells you where to put your fingers. That's a pretty big advantage which we should appreciate. If the tab is badly written and there are better fingering available for the same notes then that isn't a fault of Tab per se.  The second is that it's all plain text ASCII so easy to reproduce on the web or anywhere without special font.

The huge drawback of Tab is that it's hard to convey rhythm very nicely.  The best I have seen is to include bar lines in the scale and capital letters for minims (half notes) and lower case for crotchets (quarter notes), and to dot them. I also prefer when I have seen the note names used on Tab, as that helps with working alternate fingering.

That gives a lot more use without trying to make Tab as rich and complex as full score, by which time it's harder to read, because it doesn't use specialist fonts.

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