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Learning Songs by Ear VS Tabs - an observation


Fingerstyle_Jim

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Way back when me and my buddies were putting together our first band and learning hit songs our best resource was AM radio. We didn't have the internet(or computers), cassette recorders were in thier infancy and most of us could barely afford to buy a record, let alone sheet music in real notation because tab was almost non-existant in those days. So, when a song came on the radio that we wanted to learn we grabbed the guitar and picked up as much of it as we could. This forced us to commit it to memory because we didn't know when we would hear it again. In fact me and my best buddy used to stay up late calling in requests in disguised voices! Anyway, in the past ten years or so I had about 40 students a week that were for the most part working from tab, my big observation was - they couldn't play it unless the tab was right in front of them. No memory, no need for memory, it's right there on the sheet. I tried to get the point across that if you were to perform in public you don't want to be shuffling sheets of paper and trying to read tabs in front of an audience but not many got it. I'm still not sure if attention spans in general are in question or maybe I've always been an over-zealous fanatic, anyway, I don't teach anymore, for a lot of reasons, not just this one.

 

Jim

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whenever i had learned a song by tab i tended to eventually forget some or all of it. songs i figured out by ear stuck with me. i have occasionally glanced at a tab to get a bearing, and quickly chucked it aside because it wasn't needed.

hell i have seen tabs in books that were wrong.

i don't even buy mags anymore because of the tabs. i will buy GP because it actually has lessons or musical building blocks you can use.

nobody tabs anything i want to play anyway.

 

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tabs are almost always wrong. but I use them all the time.

I use to get me a starting point and believe it or not. I use

them for memorization. Every song i learn is to be performed.

so you have to memorize it. thats the deal. even young students

should know that.

Why do you lay down? I say that it beats standing up! whats got you feeling so down? I hold up my empty cup!
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Everything is necessary. As a working musician, you're gonna run into everything. That being said, learn how to sight read notation, how to read tablature on the fly with the rhythm already in mind, learn how to transcribe lines and flesh out chords, and how to transpose with or without a capo. Learn how to identify when something's in another tuning by how chords run accompanella. Be able to fake genres you've never played by learning theory on the genre. When I teach, I teach everything to prepare them for everything, regardless of the genre they want to learn (such skills benefit you regardless of the genre, though obviously some more than others for specific parts).

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I'm with Benny (love the blue axe!), tab is a good starting point but realize that yes, lots of tab is wrong. My teacher has taught me tons about listening to music and picking out the nuances, from that we go into inversions and the many different chord voicings. Botton line is like you say, get to where you play the song by memory period.
I was born at night but I wasn't born last night...
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As others have said, tabs are almost always wrong. It is a rarity to find a correct tab.

 

With a little practice, you can learn most songs, first time through by ear.

 

However, if I'm learning a really complicated piece with lots of changes or notes, I will often use the tab, as a reference point to get me started quicker. I will always go over each note or chord, one at a time, to correct the inaccuracies of the tab though and often only use the tab for the first time through, just to get a gist of the key and changes etc.

 

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It's best to be able to use all three approaces- "by ear" with recordings, notation, and tab (said the guy- me!- who needed to really improve his reading!)- and to use all of them together as often as is possible.

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Yeah, tabs are terrible. I actually have a thread about that.

 

But for the most part, I just change it... I can tell when something doesn't sound right, and I find what does. It might not be what the actual artist plays, but it sounds good.

 

However, I find that I actually can't play while looking at a tab. I just can't. I look, maybe practice it a few times slowly while looking back and forth. But when it comes to actually playing it true tempo, I'm never able to look at the tab and follow along. Its all muscle memory at that point, and my attention is on the guitar and not the computer. Reading the tab actually screws me up, because it changes where I'm focusing.

Yep, I play the gee-tar
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I don't know much about tabs these days, other than most of what I've seen isn't real accurate.

 

I DO remember the old "Piano/voice/guitar" popular song books, that would show every song with first position folk-style chords. So you had to know your chord voicings in the upper neck positions, and apply your ears to get the right voicings and find the riffs. A lot of those old song books also had the tunes in the wrong keys, to make them sit on piano better than guitar.

 

 

However, I find that I actually can't play while looking at a tab. I just can't. I look, maybe practice it a few times slowly while looking back and forth. But when it comes to actually playing it true tempo, I'm never able to look at the tab and follow along. Its all muscle memory at that point, and my attention is on the guitar and not the computer. Reading the tab actually screws me up, because it changes where I'm focusing.

 

For simple pop songs it's always better to memorize, but at some point when you are dealing with a large repertoire of tunes, you might have the sheet music acting as more of a "cheat sheet" to remind you of the basic elements for a tune. You aren't really reading each chord change or note, but spurring yourself to the right basic area. Practice makes perfect ;)

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I can barely struggle through simple tabs, and I never understood why there wasn't a chord name where a chord was played. But then, as I recently discovered, I can barely struggle through learning a song by ear, either, unless I know the song by heart. I'm just so out of practice from so many years of playing original music.

 

So now my task is to get my ear back in shape... I was trying to learn Totos "Africa" (admittedly ambitious to create an acoustic version, but it's just for a guitar night jam), and Nancy Wilson's version of "In Your Eyes". I was having all sorts of fits with that one, because she's strumming to beat the band, and there is a place in there where she's playing an A, and I want to play the A in the I orchestral 5th fret, then lift the first finger to let the E B and E chime in modally...it sounds really cool.... then I realized that if I capo on 2, the whole song falls together, but I lose my modal chord because the A becomes a G. (waaaahhhhh....) But either song would be easier if I could hear them better in my head.

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

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Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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It is good to work on both ear training and memory and reading. Tab has its place, especially if the tune is an odd tuning, but I usually work from standard notation, because guitar tab is useless for mandolin and flute, whereas you can play the written notes on ANY instrument (you might have to adjust if the instrument is in Bb or Eb...).

I find now that I need to sit down and work much more learning stuff by ear off records, because we usually have lyrics and chord changes to work from, and the chords are often wrong and/or the keyboardist/band leader plays something different from the chords on the sheet, and I adapt to HIM, since that's what the audience hears.

Also because we'd like to add horn players and/or fiddler(s), and they like to see written charts, so it may well fall to me to learn to write them... I can READ them, but that's not the same thing!

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So now my task is to get my ear back in shape... I was trying to learn Totos "Africa" (admittedly ambitious to create an acoustic version, but it's just for a guitar night jam),...

 

This will get you back in shape!

 

[video:youtube]hH4caZ1oaL8

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As others have said, i think all three approaches offer their benefits, learning to read tab, learning to sight read well, and learning by ear. For me however, learning by ear is the fastest way to get something memorized and in my head. It just seems to stick better. And the more stuff you learn by ear, and easier it is to pick up other music by ear.
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" And the more stuff you learn by ear, and easier it is to pick up other music by ear."

 

To follow up on that thought though, if you can sight read, you'll get more opportunity; and most sight readers do work by ear a lot, with the score keeping them on track.

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

Steve Martin

 

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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I don't enjoy it as much as I used to. But I seem to be able to do it as quickly as ever, even though I don't do it as much as I once did. Try sight reading if you don't do it for a few years...

Always remember that you�re unique. Just like everyone else.

 

 

 

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" And the more stuff you learn by ear, and easier it is to pick up other music by ear."

 

To follow up on that thought though, if you can sight read, you'll get more opportunity; and most sight readers do work by ear a lot, with the score keeping them on track.

 

Imagine driving down the road, checking your map every 100 feet. :eek: You learn the tune, and use the written music to cue you to the twisty bits.

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