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May 16, 2018 - 9:19:34 PM
52 posts since 2/16/2008

This has probably been beat to death more than once in here..
I am basically a tab learner when it comes to banjo. I have been a guitarist for years, and originally taught myself to read music. Just been messing around with Banjo for a few years now.
But I notice a lot of folks telling me to lose the tab for Banjo and go with the Murphy method of doing it all by ear.

So lets hear some thoughts on the subject. Do I need to grab me some Murphy method books and start all over??

May 16, 2018 - 9:52:24 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

33164 posts since 10/5/2013

I learned by tab AND ear. There are licks and runs that are quicker to learn by tab.
The drawback is that some folks never learn to improvise if they learn from tab only.

May 17, 2018 - 3:34:32 AM
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PaulB

USA

168 posts since 3/15/2008

For my self, i will learn a something from tab then get rid of the tab and use my own licks and runs to make it my own keeping the melody in check Paulb

May 17, 2018 - 4:52:32 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

21101 posts since 8/3/2003
Online Now

I learned by tab many years ago and found that tabbed songs don't work too well in jams so.... I started picking out melodies to songs on my own and adding the "frills" later to make it sound like bluegrass. So, you don't necessarily have to go Murphy Method to learn to play by ear.

Actually, to me, the Murphy Method is learning by rote: see what I do, repeat it over and over. And I mean no disrespect to Murphy or her method because for some people it works well.

I guess a lot depends on whether you need to "see" the music in print or "hear" the song to learn it.  And some people can learn either way. 

Going to jams helped me learn to play by ear more than anything else I ever did. I learned to hear chord changes, learned to hear just the melody, learned to listen for licks and rolls and where they fit into songs and eventually put all that into my picking. Worked for me.

Edited by - Texasbanjo on 05/17/2018 04:53:26

May 17, 2018 - 5:04:33 AM
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lab_dad Players Union Member

USA

128 posts since 5/14/2004

I learned by tab, I wish I had learned more by ear.
I'm working on my ears now.
Do both but use your ears all the time no matter what music your listening to.
you will start to hear more.
I know this all sounds silly but it's true - hope it makes sense.

Martin

May 17, 2018 - 5:27:37 AM
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seanray

USA

1618 posts since 9/11/2004

You are correct about this topic being worn out but that doesn’t mean it’s off limits.

Tab and learning by ear aren’t mutually exclusive. The only pitfall of tab is when students neglect critical listening of classic banjo recordings and rely solely on a piece of paper to create music.

Listening to Bluegrass is the top priority when learning Scruggs style banjo. Use tab and/or the Murphy Method to hone your skills. There isn’t one correct way to learn.

Also when learning any musical instrument one of the more advanced exercises is to transcribe what you hear onto paper.

This guy may have made something of himself if he didn’t just sit in front of that MacBook Pro and read sheet music all day. On his own tour bus no less.

Edited by - seanray on 05/17/2018 05:28:18

May 17, 2018 - 6:10:44 AM

1414 posts since 10/12/2011

Both are useful, but I think (personally) learing by ear is better. I can pick out licks in songs and can teach myself a song quicker.

May 17, 2018 - 6:33:17 AM

629 posts since 9/28/2006

So lets hear some thoughts on the subject. Do I need to grab me some Murphy method books and start all over??
No. The ability to learn visually or auditorily varies with each individual. Since tabs are working for you, I see no reason why you need to change. I will say, however, I was one who could not learn via tabs, and found auditory learning worked well for me. I was motivated to try The Murphy Method after I spoke with Ralph Stanley about my inability to learn to pick using tabs. He told me "Your ear is your teacher."

May 17, 2018 - 6:58:54 AM
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13390 posts since 12/2/2005

Agree with Sean - it's not an either/or thing.

Tab is simply a mechanism for storing information - as is standard notation. It can be hugely helpful in a number of ways, including but not limited to:

  • Helping us remember how something we were shown is done. It can be easy to forget between the time you first saw it and the next time you pick up the instrument.
  • Helping us understand how a certain player played a certain passage or song
  • Helping us store our own good ideas. For example, say you come up with a really cool lick or even a whole song. It helps to tab it out so that you can remember it the next day (this gets increasingly useful as you grow older. wink)

Tab can have some downsides. These include but are not limited to:

  • A tendency in some people to become so dependent upon it that it's nearly impossible to play without it. That's a jambuster for sure.
  • A tab simply represents one particular arrangement of a given song. If you only work from the tab's arrangement, you may miss out on other great ideas - including your own.

Like fire, tab is a wonderful tool and a terrible master. Use it properly, and there's no reason you can't use Murphy with tab as an adjunct. Or vice versa. Meantime, your BEST course of action, if location, times and money permit, is live one-on-one lessons with a good teacher.

Edited by - eagleisland on 05/17/2018 07:00:16

May 17, 2018 - 8:02:17 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

21101 posts since 8/3/2003
Online Now

I've found with lots of people who are trying to learn banjo that they need the basics; i.e., how to hold the banjo, how to wear the picks, how to pick the strings, how to count (yes, counting is essential), how to pick rolls and licks and find the melody BEFORE they learn to play by ear. Then other people can just pick up the banjo and noodle on it and figure out a melody without all that preparation. Depends on the person.

Most of my students (when I was teaching) had no idea how to pick out a melody or what a melody was and how it was located. They needed to learn some music theory to understand what they were doing. A few students picked it up quickly, others never figured it out because they got upset and disappointed and just quit.

So the quick answer to the question tab or by ear: it depends on the person, try both and see which works for you.

May 17, 2018 - 8:27:58 AM
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492 posts since 10/16/2014

My opinion is that most people with a background in basic music theory and popular music, who can hear chord changes in simple songs, who can pick a melody out of a scale, who know the main chords in the cowboy keys, can learn Scruggs style with any of the good tab methods and listening to bluegrass. Some people don't have that background and need something else. Banjo tab is some of the easiest to read because it's rhythmically simple and stays in one or two positions for the most part.

If you're two years into it and can't play a decent break to a simple Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs song, etc. without needing to look at a tab or have Casey Henry make a video for you, you're missing something. Tab is great, tab dependence after an initial period is bad.

That's not to say I won't still look at tabs or videos, it's just that you get to the point where, for straight ahead Scruggs vocal song stuff, not much surprises you as far as the notes being played; it becomes more about execution, timing, etc.

I remember reading something Sean Ray wrote regarding his great collection of bluegrass kickoffs/solos--and I'm paraphrasing because I can't find it now--the reason you study the kickoffs/breaks is to see how they work, so you'll be able to make your own breaks. You listen to the canonical stuff, study the tabs, and eventually you can create your own melody-based breaks.

May 17, 2018 - 8:35:51 AM

9995 posts since 2/12/2011

You can learn from both. I learned mostly from tab, but the DVD's from Murphy - Advanced Earl and More Advanced Earl - are really good. And I have learned things from her in these DVD's that I could not learn from tab. In a way they complement one another.

May 17, 2018 - 8:54:46 AM

Owen

Canada

1999 posts since 6/5/2011

...as a dude who's still very much a beginner, I've had better results, as slight as they are, with tab than MH.

May 17, 2018 - 9:13:32 AM

owlswell Players Union Member

USA

1 posts since 6/3/2015

I tried learning by tab years ago but it didn't stick. I started with the Murphy Method last year and I can play better now than I ever thought I could. I think the Murphy Method is great for beginner and intermediate players. Beginners can learn a song quickly and feel a real sense of accomplishment, thus being encouraged to continue and learn more. Now I can listen to a song and hear the licks that I know and immediately be able to play the song. Murphy and Casey strongly encourage (dare I say implore) students to attend jams because they know how much you can learn from the experience. I have attended two Murphy Method banjo camps and we do a LOT of playing together and swapping breaks. They also focus on teaching students the tools to be able to improvise on songs they don't know.

It may sound like I've swallowed the Murphy Method Kool-Aid, but I am not easily swayed unless something makes sense and works. I don't know if it's the best way for everybody to learn, but it has helped me tremendously.

May 17, 2018 - 9:30:51 AM
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Mooooo

USA

3287 posts since 8/20/2016

There is only one way to learn banjo and that is you must remember how to pick things so they sound good. Use your ears, use tab or do both but the one thing is that you have to remember the songs.
The Murphy Method is just learning from a video I didn't know she made books. instead of "saying learning by ear", or "watching how someone else does it" people call it "the Murphy Method" because we like alliterative names (if it rhymed it would be better)...Murphy didn't invent some genius learning system here...it's just the video version of learning from someone...so she gets free advertising from people who don't know any better. But she has great and easy to follow videos. So do many others. Jim Pankey comes to mind. He has lots of great tutorials and they are free and lots more than just the beginning ones posted at the top of this forum.
Learning from Tab works too, if you like tab and it works for you, use it. The only problem I have with tab is that sometimes you hear different pickers picking the same version that is from some famous tab book instead of learning to add their own flavor to it. So, you should try different things and see what works for you.
People who use terms like "crutch" and "Tool" sound ridiculous and I am happy no one used these lame cliches yet in this thread.

P.S. There is another way to learn to pick banjo tunes. You can listen to recordings and figure them out on your own without paying for videos or tabs. That's how I do it. I call it "The Mooooo Method" sounds catchy doesn't it? It's free all you have to do is listen carefully and remember.

Edited by - Mooooo on 05/17/2018 09:43:31

May 17, 2018 - 9:48 AM
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4550 posts since 5/8/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

I learned by tab many years ago and found that tabbed songs don't work too well in jams so.... I started picking out melodies to songs on my own and adding the "frills" later to make it sound like bluegrass. So, you don't necessarily have to go Murphy Method to learn to play by ear.

Actually, to me, the Murphy Method is learning by rote: see what I do, repeat it over and over. And I mean no disrespect to Murphy or her method because for some people it works well.

I guess a lot depends on whether you need to "see" the music in print or "hear" the song to learn it.  And some people can learn either way. 

Going to jams helped me learn to play by ear more than anything else I ever did. I learned to hear chord changes, learned to hear just the melody, learned to listen for licks and rolls and where they fit into songs and eventually put all that into my picking. Worked for me.


I’m reminded of the words of a physician who told me the medical school catchphrase for learning to do a procedure:  “See one; do one; teach one.”

Coming as I do from a different instrumental tradition, I see tablature as inherently not different from conventional notation—as Skip points out, both are simply ways of storing (and sharing) information.  

Edited by - Rawhide Creek on 05/17/2018 09:50:34

May 17, 2018 - 9:58:28 AM
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1459 posts since 5/2/2012

I agree that it depends on the individual's learning style. I know I am a strong visual learner, and tab works for me. Once I learned a few BG songs played Scruggs style I was able to glance at a whole measure and play through it, as I had started to internalize those rolls and licks. Like others, I try to memorize the tune and get away from the tab as soon as possible, as using the tab starts to slow me down and interfere with timing. The see-and-do method just seems to take an extra step (or 2) for me to process. For the best of both worlds, look at Geoff Hohwald's instructional materials. You get tab, a video/DVD of him playing the tunes, plus play-along tracks. The video helps me see what his fretting hand is doing, which helps speed up learning. I wish I was more of a "by ear" player, but that is a skill I still need to develop.

May 17, 2018 - 10:36:28 AM
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492 posts since 10/16/2014

I'm just too lazy, unfocused, whatever to learn from a long video. Tab is portable and usually cheaper. I like looking at tab even when I don't have my banjo with me; once you see enough of it you can hear how it goes in your head. When I got the Scruggs Corner book from Jack Hatfield, I would read it in bed, thinking about the melody of "Somehow tonight" or "Pain in My Heart" while looking at the lead and backup transcriptions. My wife thought I was crazy. These days I really like to look at Moooo's transcriptions.

I find that, having seen a lot of tabs, in any given Scruggs-style song there's 5-10% that is unfamiliar--some distinctive lick or way of playing the melody. So even if I think I "know" the song pretty well, looking at these great transcriptions is worthwhile.

May 17, 2018 - 11:28:28 AM
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581 posts since 2/10/2013

If the "Murphy Method" teaches by "ear" , why would you need a book ?

May 17, 2018 - 11:39:20 AM

581 posts since 2/10/2013

I can improvise but also use tabs. Some licks are overused and easy to recognize. I may be less talented than all the people who play by ear, but I often hear "licks" that are very, very hard to figure out. Especially when played by a banjoist who is very good at mixing different styles in the same tune. If someone has to learn a tune in a short time frame, tabs are handy. When a tune is learned by "ear", checking that version against a tab can help identify things that are wrong or were missed. A person can also learn new things.

This tab vs. "ear" argument has no final answer. Different folks learn better using one of or both of these methods. Whatever works for you.

May 17, 2018 - 12:57:29 PM
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3366 posts since 5/6/2004

The banjo is an inherently improvisational instrument.  Famous banjo players are famous for saying that they never play the same song twice the same way.  A melody, surrounded by a chord fill, played in rhythm can be articulated untold numbers of ways.  Each is an equally valid rendition of the same song.

When you learn and memorize a song from tablature -- or when you learn and memorize a song using the Murphy Method -- you are learning one way, and only one way, to play that song on the banjo.  If that "one way" was copied from one master's one performance, then (if what famous players are famous for saying is true) it is not a way you'll ever hear that master play again.

To me, both tab and the Murphy Method are going about learning the wrong way.  Sure, you may learn some songs.  You may even learn to play them very well.  And that may be a big confidence booster.  But then try and play with others who want to play different songs, or the same songs in different keys.  Rote learners too often don't even know the chord progression of the song they learned note-for-note, by rote.  How can you back up another player's solo in such a case?

Learn chords and chord progressions (and how to recognize them by ear).  Learn a bunch of reliable, melody-friendly right-hand patterns to play in proper rhythm over those chords.  Learn to find a song's melody, and how to drop that melody into those melody-friendly patterns.  Learn how to accentuate that melody with slides, hammers, etc. -- and some licks to fill in pauses in the melody.  That's to road to becoming a banjo player.

May 17, 2018 - 2:14:29 PM

4550 posts since 5/8/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Rich Weill

The banjo is an inherently improvisational instrument.  Famous banjo players are famous for saying that they never play the same song twice the same way.  A melody, surrounded by a chord fill, played in rhythm can be articulated untold numbers of ways.  Each is an equally valid rendition of the same song.

When you learn and memorize a song from tablature -- or when you learn and memorize a song using the Murphy Method -- you are learning one way, and only one way, to play that song on the banjo.  If that "one way" was copied from one master's one performance, then (if what famous players are famous for saying is true) it is not a way you'll ever hear that master play again.

To me, both tab and the Murphy Method are going about learning the wrong way.  Sure, you may learn some songs.  You may even learn to play them very well.  And that may be a big confidence booster.  But then try and play with others who want to play different songs, or the same songs in different keys.  Rote learners too often don't even know the chord progression of the song they learned note-for-note, by rote.  How can you back up another player's solo in such a case?

Learn chords and chord progressions (and how to recognize them by ear).  Learn a bunch of reliable, melody-friendly right-hand patterns to play in proper rhythm over those chords.  Learn to find a song's melody, and how to drop that melody into those melody-friendly patterns.  Learn how to accentuate that melody with slides, hammers, etc. -- and some licks to fill in pauses in the melody.  That's to road to becoming a banjo player.


“Certs is a candy mint.”

”No, Certs is a breath mint!”

”STOP! You’re both wrong!—Certs is a laxative!”

devil

May 17, 2018 - 4:09:18 PM

Mooooo

USA

3287 posts since 8/20/2016

quote:
Originally posted by Richard Hauser

If the "Murphy Method" teaches by "ear" , why would you need a book ?


It could be for the deaf/hearing impaired pickers. I have heard quite a few whom I suspect are deaf.

May 18, 2018 - 9:28:16 AM
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1481 posts since 2/10/2003

Tab is ok, Murphy method is ok, but the only way to learn to play bluegrass banjo is by playing with others in a jam/band situation.

Case in point, I jammed with a tab trained picker years ago who would play the "pick up" phrase at the beginning of the second time through on melodic fiddle tunes. He could play the melodic phrases from tab flawlessly, but just didn't get how the music and or song "worked" when in a band situation. When we told him not to do those notes on the second time, he couldn't do it. He was so muscle memory trained from playing the tab wrong by himself, that he couldn't shake it.

May 18, 2018 - 9:32:16 AM

Mooooo

USA

3287 posts since 8/20/2016

quote:
Originally posted by 250gibson

Tab is ok, Murphy method is ok, but the only way to learn to play bluegrass banjo is by playing with others in a jam/band situation.

Case in point, I jammed with a tab trained picker years ago who would play the "pick up" phrase at the beginning of the second time through on melodic fiddle tunes. He could play the melodic phrases from tab flawlessly, but just didn't get how the music and or song "worked" when in a band situation. When we told him not to do those notes on the second time, he couldn't do it. He was so muscle memory trained from playing the tab wrong by himself, that he couldn't shake it.


Great point, there is a huge difference between someone who can jam and someone who can memorize.

May 18, 2018 - 9:52:07 AM
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chuckv97

Canada

33164 posts since 10/5/2013

If we played 8 hours a day, like a plumber or welder works daily and perfects their craft, we’d be great.
After a while it’s like talking - we don’t think of every word coming out of our mouth beforehand- it just flows out automatically/subconsciously. We can eventually do the same with notes.

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