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Nov 3, 2021 - 10:29:25 PM
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Paul R

Canada

15380 posts since 1/28/2010

No controversy really. As in reading, people have different learning styles. I find tab very useful to begin learning the tune. But the learning process is longer and more involved. Taking a tune and playing it note-for-note is the first part of the process. Then interpreting comes. I found that jamming really helps the tune evolve. It's a more organic, less robotic process. It also allows one to hear other interpretations of a tune. And, imho, the most important part of playing music is listening.

Nov 4, 2021 - 6:10:55 AM
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8315 posts since 3/17/2005

YellowSkyBlueSun has made a pretty bod claim in his post above. I'd like him to name those who he thinks have an undisclosed financial interest in this thread.

Nov 4, 2021 - 6:32:55 AM
Players Union Member

DC5

USA

21993 posts since 6/30/2015

quote:
Originally posted by BeeEnvironment

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.


And that's why Pete used tablature in his "How to Play the 5-String Banjo" book.  He didn't want anyone to play like he did.

Nov 4, 2021 - 8:27:22 AM

890 posts since 5/22/2021
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by DC5
quote:
Originally posted by BeeEnvironment

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.


And that's why Pete used tablature in his "How to Play the 5-String Banjo" book.  He didn't want anyone to play like he did.


Hahah, I get your joke. Pete's tabs in the book really helped me off, because I knew almost nothing about music notation or theory.

Nov 4, 2021 - 9:24:03 AM
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Players Union Member

DC5

USA

21993 posts since 6/30/2015

quote:
Originally posted by BeeEnvironment
quote:
Originally posted by DC5
quote:
Originally posted by BeeEnvironment

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.


And that's why Pete used tablature in his "How to Play the 5-String Banjo" book.  He didn't want anyone to play like he did.


Hahah, I get your joke. Pete's tabs in the book really helped me off, because I knew almost nothing about music notation or theory.


Many of us do not have the background from birth that Pete Seeger had.  His father was a Harvard trained musicologist and composer, his mother was a concert violinist who was trained at the Paris Conservatory of Music and taught at Julliard.  Pete was raised with music, and had a strong musical background and a solid understanding of music theory long before he ever heard a 5 string banjo being played.  To say he didn't need to use tab was disingenuous, and in a way insulting to those of us who came to banjo with little or no musical background.  If I had to learn the banjo by ear in my 20's, with my only music background being accordion when I was 6 or 7 and trombone in the 5th and 6th grades, along with whatever music was taught in school - mostly singing songs, I would have been so frustrated I would have given up as quickly as I gave up the accordion.  It was Pete's book, along with the accompanying LP and other tab sources that gave me what I needed and kept me going.  Granted, there were many stops and starts along the way, but I always enjoyed playing the banjo, even if it was just strumming cords and singing. 

Nov 4, 2021 - 3:02:28 PM

890 posts since 5/22/2021
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by DC5
quote:
Originally posted by BeeEnvironment
quote:
Originally posted by DC5
quote:
Originally posted by BeeEnvironment

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.


And that's why Pete used tablature in his "How to Play the 5-String Banjo" book.  He didn't want anyone to play like he did.


Hahah, I get your joke. Pete's tabs in the book really helped me off, because I knew almost nothing about music notation or theory.


Many of us do not have the background from birth that Pete Seeger had.  His father was a Harvard trained musicologist and composer, his mother was a concert violinist who was trained at the Paris Conservatory of Music and taught at Julliard.  Pete was raised with music, and had a strong musical background and a solid understanding of music theory long before he ever heard a 5 string banjo being played.  To say he didn't need to use tab was disingenuous, and in a way insulting to those of us who came to banjo with little or no musical background.  If I had to learn the banjo by ear in my 20's, with my only music background being accordion when I was 6 or 7 and trombone in the 5th and 6th grades, along with whatever music was taught in school - mostly singing songs, I would have been so frustrated I would have given up as quickly as I gave up the accordion.  It was Pete's book, along with the accompanying LP and other tab sources that gave me what I needed and kept me going.  Granted, there were many stops and starts along the way, but I always enjoyed playing the banjo, even if it was just strumming cords and singing. 


Yeah, you make good points. I did not mean in any way to be insulting to you or other banjoists/musicians who learned from little or no musical background. I guess, what I meant, was that he was able to do a good job from learning the banjo in ~5 years, but like you said, he was blessed to have many great teachers during his rambles with his family in the southern states.

As I said though, I meant, in no way, to be insulting. My fault for that. My bad if some folks on here took it that way...

Russ A.

Nov 4, 2021 - 5:00:07 PM
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98 posts since 8/13/2017

I didn't want to provoke a series of arguments for and against the use of tablature. §I had noticed, on a number of posts, references to controversy surrounding its use and I wondered why on earth there should be this controversy and what it could be. I now understand the debate as I mentioned above and I thank you for your help and it’s good to know there’s a good variety of ways to play and enjoy this music.

Nov 4, 2021 - 6:10:40 PM
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7377 posts since 11/4/2005

quote:
Originally posted by chip arnold

YellowSkyBlueSun has made a pretty bod claim in his post above. I'd like him to name those who he thinks have an undisclosed financial interest in this thread.


Yeah, I was wondering the same thing.  I've posted hundreds of tabs, don't make a dime off of them.  In fact, it costs me money. 

Nov 5, 2021 - 5:36 AM
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Players Union Member

DC5

USA

21993 posts since 6/30/2015

quote:
Originally posted by wooster

I didn't want to provoke a series of arguments for and against the use of tablature. §I had noticed, on a number of posts, references to controversy surrounding its use and I wondered why on earth there should be this controversy and what it could be. I now understand the debate as I mentioned above and I thank you for your help and it’s good to know there’s a good variety of ways to play and enjoy this music.


If you post that the sky is blue you will create a controversy.  If you post "Why is the sky blue" you will create more.  It's in the nature of the beast.

Nov 5, 2021 - 6:01:51 AM
Players Union Member

ndlxs

USA

451 posts since 9/26/2006

Aw, c'mon folks, that ain't "NextDoor"..

Edited by - ndlxs on 11/05/2021 06:02:13

Nov 7, 2021 - 4:48:52 AM

Fathand

Canada

11868 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by doryman
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!


One of the most "unfeeling" performances I ever saw was by a sight reader reading notation as he played.

Nov 7, 2021 - 8:10:55 AM
Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

41320 posts since 3/7/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Fathand
quote:
Originally posted by doryman
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!


One of the most "unfeeling" performances I ever saw was by a sight reader reading notation as he played.


I think that all classical music usually are performed with a sheet of notation for each musician. But in that case there is no room for individual "feelings" but more a collective "feeling" governed by the conductor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jieumPlxdxE 

Nov 7, 2021 - 3:22:57 PM

Fathand

Canada

11868 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by janolov
quote:
Originally posted by Fathand
quote:
Originally posted by doryman
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!


One of the most "unfeeling" performances I ever saw was by a sight reader reading notation as he played.


I think that all classical music usually are performed with a sheet of notation for each musician. But in that case there is no room for individual "feelings" but more a collective "feeling" governed by the conductor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jieumPlxdxE 


I rarely observe classical music but I think the lead/front artist, usually a pianist, performs from memory, i.e. they know the piece well enough to play it with feeling. All those others with a score in front of them are backup musicians at some level.

I don't think I'll ever understand what the conductor does.

Nov 7, 2021 - 3:31:52 PM

121 posts since 5/8/2021

What upsets me is there are certain banjo teachers on YouTube who say not to use tab on their beginner videos, but certainly don't have a problem selling their own tabs.

Nov 7, 2021 - 4:42:02 PM

316 posts since 4/10/2018

For example?

Nov 8, 2021 - 6:05:29 AM
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Players Union Member

DC5

USA

21993 posts since 6/30/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Fathand

I don't think I'll ever understand what the conductor does.


He collects the tickets from the train passengers.

Nov 8, 2021 - 1:01:57 PM

Danaher

USA

255 posts since 6/25/2012

I thought the main controversy with Tab was which sweetener was used, which tasted better, and which was least toxic. Folks I know say the original cyclamate/saccharin mix tasted best. Some others were upset when the saccharin only was replaced with nutrasweet. Haven't seen it in a store around me for some time, not sure if they still make it

Wish I was good enough to play a new song by ear, at some point I realized I am just never going to have that skill. I rely on others' written notation to help me figure it out, but never use it once I've learned the song, and seldom play exactly the way it was written.

Nov 8, 2021 - 2:10:04 PM

190 posts since 1/30/2010

Interesting discussion. Tab has been a boon to me, but I think it's important to remember to learn the tune by listening to it, and then learn some useful left and right-hand patterns from tab. As Hobart Smith I believe advised, you've got to be able to hum the tune before you can play it. That's been true for me.

Nov 8, 2021 - 3:15:43 PM
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slc

USA

367 posts since 9/19/2010

Personally, I would NEVER have learned the banjo at all without tab.

No, tab doesn't replace listening and working out tunes by ear. But when I was younger I was just this side of tone-deaf, and having a tool like tab was absolutely necessary for learning. Yes it was a crutch - but using the word "crutch" is NOT disparaging at all. Sometimes, if there's a limp or whatever, a crutch is the perfect tool to keep moving.

Tab doesn't show the "feel" of the tune, or all the variations, or what it's like to play with a fiddler, or how to get that "pulse" of rhythmic playing. But tab is brilliant for showing the basic shape of a tune, or communicating how someone plays a specific sequence of notes - and for just remembering how a tune starts.

My transition from depending entirely on tab to being able to play by ear was very gradual and almost seamless. I'd learn a tab version and - when I could play it well enough to join a session - I started to notice that my tab-learned notes weren't the same as the session notes. So I started listening more, and slowly but surely was able to add the different notes in as needed. If some teacher had told me to ditch tab entirely, those sessions would have been incredibly painful - and this music is supposed to be fun. Even today I'll sometimes hunt down the tab version of a tune if I can't quite figure out how to get those notes on a banjo.

I find the occasional disdain for tab perplexing. For me, diving into the music without tab would have been like being expected to learn to swim by being tossed into Niagara Falls. It would have been utter crash and burn (or drown I suppose, with this analogy) and would have turned me off music entirely. Because of tab I was able to actually wrap my brain around this music, and progress steadily (though slowly) for many years.

I'm sure there's a range of experience, and trying to fit into a hot jam by reading tab in real time might raise some eyebrows (when reading while jamming, one isn't listening to the feel of the other players, even if the notes are technically correct). But there are ALL kinds of learners, and it makes sense to let everyone figure out what works best for them.

PS: for me, the adage "sing it before you try to play it" NEVER worked for me. Even now, 45 years (?!) later, I doubt I could hum Cripple Creek credibly enough for anyone to recognize, and if I made it a rule to sing/hum the music first I'd never have learned to play at all. My brain just isn't wired that way! I use other pathways/strengths to play - I feel a tune as a kind of pulse. I visualize it as a shape in space (as a kind of a cloud of lights...) - but straight melody, not so much. I'm better at it, over the years of playing, but it's still not a strength. I bring this up from time to time partly to support other people who are like me, who don't feel "musical" at all but still want to play an instrument. I don't want them to be discouraged by advice that works for more "normal" people!

Edited by - slc on 11/08/2021 15:27:05

Nov 8, 2021 - 4:40:12 PM

3258 posts since 10/17/2009

Not everyone that uses TAB/notation is the same. It's in how or what you use it for... and bit of what goals are.

People who know how to play might use a writing method and symbols representing sound; as documenting/recording device; as memory aid; or for written communication.

It can also be seen as a set of instructions to follow. So it appeals to some folks in teaching/learning in that regard; as easy place to start. As worked out instructions to follow; doesn't require any prerequisite of developing ear skills, nor understanding music. This is where the controversy is.

Should point out, for some people that is perhaps all they really want or need for their goal; just to be able to follow written instructions and it sounds like music.

The issue comes when the goal is more, trying to advance... where ear skills and listening are important to understanding the music. To which is why many folks advocate starting with ear only... as it will foster development of those skills... as well as other strategies involving understanding or mapping the layout of fingerboard, to a bit of theory of key, scales or chords.

Edited by - banjoak on 11/08/2021 16:45:20

Nov 11, 2021 - 8:33:18 AM
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andantino

Canada

62 posts since 12/13/2012

With certain instruments the controversy might be tablature vs the ability to read standard notation rather than tablature vs playing by ear. I'm new to banjo. I have always used tabs for guitar. I can figure out melody notes by ear, I can arrange my own fingerstyle versions of songs, but sometimes I like to see what another player is doing. I want to know their arrangement, I want to know exactly how they are doing what they do. Even if I can't truly emulate them. Some folks have really brilliant ideas you can learn from. And as for tabs vs standard notation, it's just a lot easier to use a tab that gives you some general idea of the easiest way to finger the notes, though everyone plays a little differently. I think tabs are great.

I like to do things the old way as much as possible, too. But there were other ways to learn than by ear. There was always the experience of just getting to know good players and learning from them. Sort of an unofficial apprenticeship. Not everyone has that. I don't know any banjo players where I live. Old time banjer players didn't have the internet either. I'd probably never be learning banjo without it.

That said, I don't think anything can replace things like learning to have that musical sense to pick out a tune or learning from real people, the same way that zoom calls can't replace human contact. Coffee whitener certainly doesn't replace creamer, but when you don't have one sometimes you have to make do with the other.

Edited by - andantino on 11/11/2021 08:48:59

Nov 11, 2021 - 8:58:13 AM

338 posts since 10/30/2009

quote:
Originally posted by andantino

With certain instruments the controversy might be tablature vs the ability to read standard notation rather than tablature vs playing by ear. I'm new to banjo. I have always used tabs for guitar. I can figure out melody notes by ear, I can arrange my own fingerstyle versions of songs, but sometimes I like to see what another player is doing. I want to know their arrangement, I want to know exactly how they are doing what they do. Even if I can't truly emulate them. Some folks have really brilliant ideas you can learn from. And as for tabs vs standard notation, it's just a lot easier to use a tab that gives you some general idea of the easiest way to finger the notes, though everyone plays a little differently. I think tabs are great.


I've learned all my songs via standard notation other than an extremely brief try at tab.  I just prefer it, I learned standard notation in band class in jr. high and for some reason it stuck -- 20+ years later I could still read it.   There is so much more standard notation available than tab, pretty much any song every played in a variety of arrangements.   And I can take sheet music from most instruments and play/adapt the song on the banjo without issue.  Plus I like figuring out how to play it on the fretboard, its like doing a puzzle.    There is a lot of old classic banjo music in standard notation available for free too; which is nice.   I simply can't learn to play by ear -- it just isn't something I can do -- but I can read sheet music and hear it.    I don't know why there would be any "controversy" though; whatever works for each person is fine with me.

Nov 11, 2021 - 10:17:08 AM
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andantino

Canada

62 posts since 12/13/2012

quote:
Originally posted by specs
I simply can't learn to play by ear -- it just isn't something I can do -- but I can read sheet music and hear it.    I don't know why there would be any "controversy" though; whatever works for each person is fine with me.

Ditto. It's kinda nice that there are different ways to learn things.

I bet you can play by ear better than you think, though. I think when people talk about playing by ear they don't mean in some sort of magical savant way. Just being able to figure out basic melodies. Maybe you get an idea of where to start by thinking "ok that sounds like its in a minor key". Then you just pick out some notes by luck and others you guess and test. You play the track or maybe you hum the melody note. It's more like playing by ear plus a patient process of guessing and testing. Kinda like another puzzle. And I think you improve a bit by doing it more and more.

Some melodies are easier than others. It's probably easier for most people to figure out the melody for Angels We Have Heard on High than Dream a Little Dream of Me, even though Angels would have more notes, particularly in those Glorias.

Edited by - andantino on 11/11/2021 10:31:05

Nov 11, 2021 - 11:03:03 AM

andantino

Canada

62 posts since 12/13/2012

quote:
Originally posted by DC5
 

 Pete was raised with music, and had a strong musical background and a solid understanding of music theory long before he ever heard a 5 string banjo being played.  To say he didn't need to use tab was disingenuous, and in a way insulting to those of us who came to banjo with little or no musical background. 


 

Even people who learned from an informal but traditional old time manner would have kind of used tab. For generations people learned their first chords from some other player. I learned to play guitar because my older brother played guitar. And like a lot of informally trained musicians have for generations, I got started by my brother showing me 3 or 4 "cowboy" chords. And though I can't actually remember it, I know that he had to have said something like "so you are going to put your first finger on the second fret on the 3rd string like this....". That's basically audible tablature, with pictures. And before most people even think of learning a tune by ear they have probably had someone show them a few things to get some idea of how to use instrument. Someone usually teaches you how to play a few songs to get you started. And if you aren't learning from standard notation, then its basically someone speaking tablature out loud.

Edited by - andantino on 11/11/2021 11:20:01

Nov 14, 2021 - 3:49:12 PM

stanger

USA

7365 posts since 9/29/2004

Like Don, I learned mostly by ear. Tab is easy to learn, and I used it too, but seldom to learn a complete song. I found it to be good for learning the licks that my ear couldn't catch well.

But tab is about the only way to learn a tune I've only heard once or heard in live performance. Learning by ear takes a lot of time, the ability to concentrate intensely on what is being heard, and the ability to hook it all together playing.

For me, learning by ear came pretty easily because for the first 18 months I played my banjo, I only strummed it and learned the basic chords. Once I understood how chord shapes repeat themselves up an down the neck, I could listen to Earl Scruggs and get an idea of where he was playing on the neck.

The Seeger book gave me Scrugg's basic rolls pretty well, and learning his basic strum first allowed me to understand what clawhammer sounded like.

Clawhammer tunes generally have simple melodies, but fiendishly subtle rhythms that simply cannot be written accurately. Bluegrass tunes have complicated melodies played in straighter timing.
Both are very hard to learn by ear alone, but in different ways. Clawhammer is more conceptual than bluegrass, and bluegrass is more mechanical. I love 'em both for the challenges they offer.
Neither is as hard to learn as some of the old classical banjo music that often combines elements of both styles.

But I've never learned any Scruggs tune note for note yet. To me, any song I play won't sound like him anyway because I'm not Earl. So I try to get one of his tunes close enough to be recognized instantly, but it's always my interpretation, not a copy.

I eventually learned how to read notation on the guitar, as notation is much more accurate than tablature. But the 5-string is so peculiarly singular in the way it is played and built, if I want to read notation to learn a song, I'll either learn it on the guitar and move it onto the banjo by ear, or I'll read the simple singer's notes and get the melody, then fill it in on my own on the banjo.
To do that, I have to think like I'm playing the guitar while playing the banjo. It has to be simple notes, because my head gets scrambled reading chords in notation.

There's no single 'best' way to learn except for one: Pick up the banjo and play it.
Play it often, and keep playing until your fingers are tired when you play. If you don't stretch out, you'll never get better.

Sooner or later, it will all come together. Making music is a creative exercise. I never practice- I create sounds, even if they are repetitive. I don't look at playing as work. It is, and has always been, fun for me. I go exploring every time I'm playing.
regards,
stanger

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