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Nov 3, 2021 - 4:38:46 AM
98 posts since 8/13/2017

Hi all,

I've been around a couple of years and have just been messing around playing whatever the mood takes me on the banjo. I play for fun and relaxation and generally busk my songs making them up as I go along. My style is either categorised as "fluid" or "chaotic" depending on your point of view.

Anyway, I was reading a thread recently and it mentioned that the issue of using tab is controversial and I wonder if you could explain to me why this should be?

I'm not asking people to advocate for or against it or for using it in a particular way but if you could just outline what the nature of the controversy is I'd be grateful.

Could someone enlighten me?

Thank you.

Nov 3, 2021 - 4:43:49 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26690 posts since 8/3/2003

There are those who think tab is a great way to teach banjo and others who think the only way to learn is by listening and trying to mimic what you hear.

As far as I'm concerned, whatever works for you is the way to go. Some people need to "see" the music, others need to "hear" it and still others need to both see and hear.

Why the controversy? Why is there controversy over anything? Because people think their way is the best, I guess.

Nov 3, 2021 - 4:56:18 AM
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HSmith

UK

439 posts since 12/30/2005

Hi WillIiam
I'm not sure there's any real controversy over the use of tablature. I suspect that most older players (myself included) learned to play by slowing down vinyl recordings and listening, listening, listening. IMHO the ability to learn by ear is invaluable, not least because you'll often want to learn something for which no tab is available. That said, I find tabs really useful, although I do find that my preferred way of getting the notes very often differs from that of the tab writers. To each his own I guess.

Nov 3, 2021 - 5:18:33 AM
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Players Union Member

ndlxs

USA

451 posts since 9/26/2006

As I heard it, tablature is a great way to show you where exactly to put your fingers, but it is an aid to learning and MEMORIZING the pieces.  It is so easy to use that one tends to rely on it as a crutch and not be able to play the piece without the paper in front of you. 

I have always felt that if you need tablature and lyric sheets to play music, you don't KNOW the music.  I might not that though learning melodies is easy for me, memorizing lyrics is tough for me. 

Nov 3, 2021 - 5:21:56 AM
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carlb

USA

2321 posts since 12/16/2007

One advantage of learning to play by ear, is working at catching a tune you don't know, when you in a jam.

Nov 3, 2021 - 5:42:04 AM
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Players Union Member

jduke

USA

1132 posts since 1/15/2009

To play music truly is a talent, one that I don't happen to have. But thanks to Tab, I've been able to develop a few skills and a little musical knowledge, enough to consider myself an intermediate player. I describe my level of playing as "Stuck in intermediate for 40 years", but my joy of playing in a non-professional band and jamming, even with my limited ability, gives me great pleasure.

Sure, it would have been nice to be born a natural, but thanks to Tab, I achieved some goals in music and a level of accomplishment I never thought possible.

Nov 3, 2021 - 6:06:29 AM
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26 posts since 7/13/2010

The biggest downside of tablature is that it can make one play without feeling. Someone who only learns from tab can perhaps play the correct notes, but lack the correct timing and feel of the notes. Triplets will come out equally spaced with all other notes. Eighth notes will be played with the same timing as quarter notes. That is where the resentment toward tablature begins.

Tablature is best used in combination with your ears.

If you use tablature to check your own interpretation of a song against what is supposed to be an accurate transcription you are OK.

Edited by - Steve Haynie on 11/03/2021 06:14:13

Nov 3, 2021 - 6:08:20 AM
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11033 posts since 4/23/2004

Controversy occurs when opposing viewpoints collide without resolution.

Learning music usually requires a toolset (teaching/learning method...there are several main types). The controversy occurs over which is "best".

Nov 3, 2021 - 6:33:30 AM
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697 posts since 8/14/2018

quote:
Originally posted by Steve Haynie

The biggest downside of tablature is that it can make one play without feeling. Someone who only learns from tab can perhaps play the correct notes, but lack the correct timing and feel of the notes. Triplets will come out equally spaced with all other notes. Eighth notes will be played with the same timing as quarter notes. That is where the resentment toward tablature begins.

Tablature is best used in combination with your ears.

If you use tablature to check your own interpretation of a song against what is supposed to be an accurate transcription you are OK.


No notation can completely reflect every element of an actual performance. This is a problem for every musician, not just banjo players. You have to learn how to interpret. We live in a privileged time when recordings are plentiful and easily accessed, but that wasn't always the case.

Nov 3, 2021 - 6:34:51 AM
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7377 posts since 11/4/2005

The Iliad and the Odyssey, the two great epic poems about the Trojan War, most experts believe were put to paper sometime in the 8th Century BCE. But for hundreds of years before that, the poem was passed on in oral tradition by itinerant rhapsodists who made their living going from town to town holding forth Homer's epic tales in dramatic narration to generation after generation of ancient Greeks. I would be willing to bet the farm, if I owned one, that when it was first written down, the traveling storytellers who had been performing the work from memory for four centuries complained mightily. It doesn't convey the depths of emotion that must be instilled in the words, they would have said. It doesn't allow for the wonderful variations of narrative and improvisation that distinguish our wonderful performances one from the other, it takes away all of the wonder!

When I started learning the banjo in 1967, I learned a lot from the tab in Pete Seeger's book, and later from the Scruggs Book, but I learned just as much or more from slowing records down to 16rpm. I haven't used tab to learn a new tune in well over 40 years, but I still transcribe most of my own arrangements into tab as soon as I work them out, a practice I started in my early 20s, when I found myself slowing down my own cassette tapes to half speed to figure out how I had played something. It hasn't stopped me from being able to play be ear, and pick new tunes up on the fly at jams, these are not mutually exclusive techniques. I used tab with my students when I taught banjo, because I could show them a lot more music in the hour they spent with me and not have to worry about them forgetting the lesson by the time they got home. The ones who remained slaves to the tab were always the ones who didn't have the time or inclination to put in the hours of practice required to turn the banjo into an extension of the mind. They still had fun doing it.

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 11/03/2021 06:39:10

Nov 3, 2021 - 6:55:52 AM
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26 posts since 7/13/2010

I must openly admit that my banjo teacher in the 70's used tabs, but he was also letting me hear how the songs were supposed to sound once I learned them.

Nov 3, 2021 - 7:12:02 AM
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YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

612 posts since 5/11/2021

One thing to always remember when reading things on BHO, is that many users here have a financial interest in the particular things they promote. And often times, they don't disclose that financial interest.

So when you hear about tab vs. no-tab, keep in mind that a lot of the input will come from people that make a living by teaching with one technique or the other, or by selling books that use one technique or the other. The same thing exists when people ask for banjo recommendations. A lot of users here have financial interests in certain banjo companies, and they'll promote those banjo companies without disclosing this financial interest.

A lot of the "controversy" is just competing entrepreneurs/businesses trying to promote their product and disparage their competition.

Nov 3, 2021 - 7:14:54 AM
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380 posts since 4/14/2014

Some people are all ear, and some people have no ears and are all book.

Both of the above people are outliers. Most of us use both. You should never be deterred from using a tool, be it actively listening to recordings, utilizing tab, or reading standard notation.

Every tool is useful, but each has limitations.

I once had an argument with a jazz guy who said learning theory was useless. He just used his ears - "I don't have much idea what I'm doing" he sternly said.

"Yes", I said, "I heard that".

Edited by - Nic Pennsylvania on 11/03/2021 07:15:52

Nov 3, 2021 - 8:37:17 AM

8183 posts since 6/30/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

There are those who think tab is a great way to teach banjo and others who think the only way to learn is by listening and trying to mimic what you hear.

As far as I'm concerned, whatever works for you is the way to go. Some people need to "see" the music, others need to "hear" it and still others need to both see and hear.

Why the controversy? Why is there controversy over anything? Because people think their way is the best, I guess.


Sherry has a line on it!

Its important to note that learning music involves sight and sound. To see where a musical note or phrase falls in relationship to its surroundings, and then to be able to hear it just from seeing it in print, is a valuable tool we all learn subconsciously. Tablature is, after all, just a short hand version of the language of printed music which has been used successfully by all musicians from the very beginning. Just imagine an entire symphony orchestra trying to learn and play a composition by ear.

Most things relating to music are subjective with no real right or wrong answer. Tablature falls right into that category, so it's put upon each musician to seek their own comfort levels. 
 

Edited by - Pick-A-Lick on 11/03/2021 08:39:49

Nov 3, 2021 - 8:54:40 AM
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9176 posts since 8/28/2013

Never let a so-called controversy get in your way. Use whatever works for you, and if someone doesn't like it, they can lump it.

Nov 3, 2021 - 8:58:38 AM
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doryman

USA

1114 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Steve Haynie

The biggest downside of tablature is that it can make one play without feeling.


 I'm sorry to report that "playing without feeling" is not limited to those who learn by tablature.  Would that it were!

Nov 3, 2021 - 9:28:31 AM
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RB3

USA

1166 posts since 4/12/2004

One does not necessarily have to end up playing without feeling if they use tablature. All you have to do is add a note to the tablature that specifies that the tablature arrangement should be "Played With Feeling".

Nov 3, 2021 - 9:36:34 AM
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68 posts since 2/8/2016

If a concert violinist can play from standard notation with feeling, than a banjoist can play from tab with feeling. All of the same information can be expressed with tab that can be with notation. (At least with modern software.) Feeling really comes from the player; emphasizing notes or tweaking timing as they feel is appropriate for the piece.

Nov 3, 2021 - 10:40:44 AM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25515 posts since 6/25/2005

Tab in itself is not a problem. Treating it as the only and the exact way to play a tune every time is. Tab should be a framework for elaboration, not the only way to play whatever.

Nov 3, 2021 - 11:09:58 AM

doryman

USA

1114 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by RB3

One does not necessarily have to end up playing without feeling if they use tablature. All you have to do is add a note to the tablature that specifies that the tablature arrangement should be "Played With Feeling".


Thanks for the laugh! 

Nov 3, 2021 - 1:31:39 PM

892 posts since 5/22/2021

I always think,

"If Pete Seeger was able to play the banjo like he did without much help from tabs, I sure as well know I can!".

Tab can be extremely helpful, but over-use can also be damaging, in my opinion.

Nov 3, 2021 - 1:32:12 PM

892 posts since 5/22/2021

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Tab in itself is not a problem. Treating it as the only and the exact way to play a tune every time is. Tab should be a framework for elaboration, not the only way to play whatever.


I totally agree with you on that!

Nov 3, 2021 - 3:09:19 PM

284 posts since 10/26/2018

Like notating a fiddle tune, tabbing a banjo tune can only capture so much, but it won't get all the nuances that make the tune, or capture all the variations. As Bill said, it is a framework. The controversy arises when someone who didn't compose the tune says definitively, "this is how it goes." 
Not looking for an argument, but I personally don't think learning to play music involves sight at all unless it involves learning mechanics, and that's not necessary either. The blind musicians that I know of are all incredible and learned entirely by ear.

Edited by - WVDreamin on 11/03/2021 15:11:36

Nov 3, 2021 - 4:04:01 PM
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98 posts since 8/13/2017

Wow! Lots of great replies. Thank you every one. I understand the issue now as Bill and others have stated, as being when the written notes become "the truth" the problem arises and others disagree.

My own feeling is that although I mainly busk along without any music, my only formally taught music was on the piano exclusively using notation. Virtually all my guitar playing has been by ear.

Living where I do, I have limited access to live musicians interested in OT banjo music and so most of my learning of traditional tunes and songs comes from books in the form of tab ( for which I'm grateful ) or either just listening to songs or watching on youtube so I guess I just use both. I ?am happy to use tab to help but don't feel constrained by it in any way and I certainly don't want to just churn out a perfect copy of someone else's playing of a song.

It's all good to me

Edited by - wooster on 11/03/2021 16:05:17

Nov 3, 2021 - 9:01:17 PM
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7377 posts since 11/4/2005

Think of banjo tablature as like the assembly instructions that came with that complicated toy you got your kid for Christmas. Sure, you can put it together without looking at them. Lots of guys do.

Nov 3, 2021 - 9:55:38 PM
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205 posts since 6/15/2021
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I think the Homer analogy is apt. Nearly every language has a written form. Those that don't are less likely to get passed from generation to generation.

Tab is a written language for banjo music so that one person can share a tune with another, or write something down so he or she can remember it later. It can be as complete or incomplete as the effort one puts into it. Your shopping list is pretty terse. You need "eggs". You already know that that means a dozen large white (or brown) eggs from chickens. Your notes for a speech you've given a dozen times can be pretty terse. A basic reminder of the general theme of the piece can be similarly terse in tab.

I read somewhere that a lot of Baroque-era music, especially for solo instruments was just a rough outline of the piece... a suggestion of the melody and harmony, and the player was expected to interpret it and embellish it as he or she saw fit.

On the other hand, I had a friend who was a very skilled pianist. She could sight-read anything. I saw (heard) her sight-read a Scott Joplin piece that she had never heard. She was amazing. But, she played exactly what was on the page. There was no emotion, no interpretation, there was nothing of herself in what she played. It was perfect, but felt lifeless. On the other other hand, it made her a very good accompanist for singers.

Back to the Homer analogy. I recently read Beowulf. I had never read it before, however when I was in fifth grade, our school librarian read it to us over the course of several weeks. The introduction in the Penguin edition ended with the following suggestion: even if you are reading it to yourself, read it aloud; that's how you were meant to experience it.

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