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Chapter II -- still in rough draft

Posted by oldwoodchuckb on Tuesday, October 29, 2013




Learning Skills


Reading Tab


As I said in the previous chapter, I don’t have any explanation of how to read tab in RSB. If it were a full manual I would have it, but I want to make sure people see RSB as a supplement. If you need written instructions on reading tab – you also need one of the books I recommend in Chapter 1. Indeed tab reading is an essential skill for most of us, but it is also one that has been covered well by the guys who have written the books I recommend.


Still, there are a few points to clear up.


You will need the free TEFView program to use my tabs. You can download it for your platform (Mac or PC) from:


It is free and they do not take any personal information in exchange. No one has ever reported being pestered to “buy” something or has said they picked up a cookie by doing this. Essentially, if you trusted me enough to download this book, please trust Tabledit enough to download the tab viewer. It is really worth the time, effort, and space on your hard drive.


  In fact I chose “Tabledit” for the music and exercise files in this book and my other publications precisely because it does have a free viewer, making it possible to easily distribute “live” MIDI playable tabs to my RSB customers. The sound from your computer’s MIDI player might not be real pleasant but you will hear the right pitches in the right rhythm – and that is the most important reason for the tab.


   I’ve had to make compromises and changes in my tab writing to use Tabledit - changes that would not have been necessary with a couple other programs. Some programs would produce better looking tabs than Tabledit – but getting them to actually play on the computer is mostly a complicated series of commands that would be different for other operating systems and for different sound cards too. TEFView is available for both PC and Mac – That’s  99%  of all home computers. If you take the time to “set” TEFView as I do (The instructions are below) you should not have any problems with playing the MIDI files (Your computer must have sound capability of course). You probably will not need to set your copy of TEFView to match mine, as my tabs “set” the Viewer a they go. Still it is not a bad idea if you are using tabs from other tabbers who might not know the commands if you would like to have consistent output from every tab you own.



Always be sure to read the supplemental notes attached at the end of each of my tabs. I recommend you print out the tabs you are working on, even if you usually read them off the computer screen. This way you can read the supplemental notes while your computer plays the tab for you – a very useful tool.


Some people will group as many as four eighth notes together when writing tab,but I only bridge eighth notes in pairs The first note of the pair is Always a frail (unless I give instructions to do otherwise) and the second note is Never a frail (again, barring other instructions) but can be a Pull-off, Hammer-on, Slide, Drop Thumb, or perhaps other technique.





I don’t care how good you are at reading tab, the fact is you do not Know a tune, until you can play it from memory. I recommend memorizing most tunes immediately. Simply playing the tab from beginning to end is probably the slowest and least efficient method of memorizing you are ever going to use. Take a small bite out of the beginning of the tune and memorize it, then the next bite, and add it to the first. Keep going that way to the end of the tune, adding each chunk as you memorize it. The chapter on Memorizing has a number of techniques described.


I recommend memorizing in phrases - or half phrases. A phrase is the musical equivalent of a sentence or a line of lyrics. eg:


     Old Joe Clark the preacher’s son

Preachin’ was his fame

    Only prayer he ever knew was

High, low, Jack, and the game


Old Joe Clark uses short phrases, each two measures in length. There are also Old Time songs with phrases that are four measures long. eg:


    I am a jolly farmer, last night I came to town

To fetch a bale of cotton, I worked the whole year round


In Old Time Music there are rarely longer phrases. But if you ever start playing Cole Porter songs you will find he used some phrases that are quite a bit longer.


One aid to memory is included in my tabs wherever possible – lyrics. Most humans are better able to memorize tunes with words than straight instrumentals. I suspect it is because we listen more carefully to words than to pure tunes. Words are “more important” to our brains, they warn us of danger, tell us the latest news, and bring us the stories that enrich our lives. Music can be similarly informative, but since we are not immersed in music through much of our waking life, it takes extra work to memorize straight tunes. Eventually this skill will come to most people who stick with their playing, but it will always be secondary to the communication that words can provide. This is why I have lyrics on as many tunes as possible.


I do get occasional complaints about only having a single verse of lyrics on every tune. While I would like to include more words, the fact is that they would take up a lot of paper when you print out the tunes. Besides, you really should do some research, and find the lyrics You prefer, instead of just repeating mine. Here is the site where I find most of the lyrics I need:


There are several others, you can google up at least a dozen lyrics sites pretty quickly, but usually I don’t have to go beyond the Bluegrass Lyrics site for what I need. You can always google the title and the word “lyrics” to get numerous options if you want all the words to any particular song.

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