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Guitar/Piano/Vocals Music Sheets and Books


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I have been learning to read music again in my rebirth as a musician, this time older, wiser & more dedicated. This is happening 20 years after I quit trying to be a musician several times in my earlier days.


After seeing that bass books are not abundant, I have been tempted to buy sheet music and/or books that are labeled for Guitar/Piano/Vocals because they have the bass clef. Here is my question and problem.


I have a 4 string and only go as low as my E string. On the bass clef (I know it is for piano) I see some really low C's that I know I cannot get down to(I am using the C as an example, there are others lower than my E). Should I:


1) Not buy the book

2) Use the lowest C that I have for those notes, then continue as usual.

3) Raise everything an octave so that C is my lowest and everything above it is in a higher octave. (this will eliminate any low end E F G)

4) Limit myself to only learning songs that are printed specifically for the bass.


At this time, learning by ear is not an option (just yet)



"The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know" by Me
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I'm in the same boat. I recently bought a two-volume set of Beatles songs for vocal/piano/guitar, then found that the bass line is missing certain riffs and accents that can be heard in the recordings. I reluctantly gave the books to a keyboardist and ordered a hardcover book on Amazon.com that the reviewers say includes accurate bass tabs (although I prefer real notation to tabs). Same with the Fleetwood Mac Anthology, published by Hal Leonard. The bass line doesn't match what I hear John McVie playing on my CDs, and I can't find the bass guitar music for sale through music stores nor on the Internet (except for occasional tabs that are obviously incorrect). I'm happy to pay for bass guitar music, but in most cases it's simply not available--which strikes me as odd because sheet music is available for instruments that were not used in the original recordings, but bass guitar, which was used, gets glossed over.


I'd recommend getting the book anyway. At least it'll show you other chords and notes you need to harmonize with, and will serve as a foundation on which to build your bass line. Just carefully compare it to the recordings, and you can probably figure out the missing parts or at least something that works. I use a program called "The Amazing Slow Downer" which helps a lot for studying recorded music.


As for the very low notes, I asked my bass instructor about this, and he said that notes on the bass guitar sound an octave lower than on the piano, so raising everything an octave is workable. He has a five-string bass and says he can count on one hand the number of times he's actually needed the fifth string.


I hope that helps.

As an illustrator, I might hope my work could someday touch someone's heart, but a musician has the potentital to touch a person's very soul.
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Sheet music for bass (and guitar, for that matter) is written one octave above actual pitch.


That is, the low E string of a standard 4-string bass is written on the first ledger line below the bass clef staff. But the actual pitch of the E string would be written below the 4th ledger line below the bass clef staff!


Since it is difficult to read (and write!) music that hardly ever rests on the staff, the convention of writing bass music an octave higher than actual pitch was adopted. (Tuba players do not have this luxury and have to learn to deal with all of those notes below the staff, down to the same low E.)


Because you're looking at piano music instead of bass music, the notes are written at actual pitch. Simply play everything as if it were written an octave higher.



A guitar/piano/vocal book is not typically a note-for-note transcription of the de facto studio recording. Instead, it is an arrangement for piano. That is, a piano player can read the music and perform a recognizable version of the song in question, even though the recording was done by a guitar band.


The vocal line defines the song: words (lyrics) set to music (melody). There should be a separate treble clef staff to denote the melody of the lyrics.


The guitar part is typically only given by chord symbols. For a guitar-based band, a memorable guitar solo may be transcribed (in both standard notation and tab), but otherwise there is no indication of how to strum the chords (what rhythm to use). Riffs may be indicated in the piano music, but they may not accurately reflect the original recording.


The chord symbols themselves are often simplified versions of the actual chords played on the recording. It may still be a C major chord, for example, but the sheet music will show the fingering for an open C chord (one of the first ones learned on guitar) instead of whatever voicing (fingering) was used in the recording. For a bass player this doesn't matter as long as the proper chord name is used.


In short, a guitar/piano/vocals book will get you in the ballpark, but it won't be note-for-note. The bass clef is the left hand piano part, which may resemble the original bass guitar part but probably won't be the same. The value of such a book is that it serves as a chord chart; that is, it has the chords over the melody/lyrics. That's about all you get for most jazz standards (if you even get that much).


You can still use them to practice your reading skills. It doesn't hurt to learn how to read actual pitch for those times when a bass arrangement is not available. But, uh, you may want to get used to reading the conventional way first.


Buying a "bass methods" book is probably better for practicing reading. As a bonus you get to work on your technique and/or theory.


Remember, books written for "double bass" work for bass guitar, too. Just ignore all the notation regarding bowing, if present.

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Yes, thanks, Ric!


Does anyone know of a source for either tabs or sheet music (preferably both) for classic rock bass guitar? I was told much was available on the Internet up until a year or so ago, but was understandably removed because of copyright issues. I'd be happy to pay for accurate bass info, if only I could find it. For example, all I could locate for "Say You Will" by Fleetwood Mac is software to play the song on a Yamaha Clavinova. Even if I had a Clavinova, I doubt it would be of more than marginal value compared to just listening to the CD. I sure envy experienced pros who can simply listen to a song a few times, then play it and remember it for life.

As an illustrator, I might hope my work could someday touch someone's heart, but a musician has the potentital to touch a person's very soul.
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Transcriptions of classic rock songs do indeed exist, but more as an exception to the rule. That is, there aren't many songs you will find in standard notation (sheet music).


One good source for transcriptions is Bass Player magazine. (I'm not just saying that because they host this site.) Find a library in your area that has a collection of the magazine and ask the librarian to show you how to look up the transcriptions. They may have other sources of transcriptions as well.


Nowadays, a chart exists for almost any jazz standard. These charts have been collected and compiled into "fake books". While not note-for-note transcriptions -- hard to do with music that is supposed to be improvised -- they at least give the chord changes for each song.


Even a fake book is a lot more than what jazz musicians had to go on when those standards were first released. Believe it or not, each musician simply memorized his/her part. Nothing was ever written down unless it was written down by the composer. It could make things a little tricky when band personnel changed.


In order to receive copyright, a simple arrangement of little more than the lyrics and the melody were written in standard notation and sent to the U.S. Copyright Office. You'd hardly be able to dig out the actual bass line from one of these, let alone the 3rd trumpet or 2nd alto. The full score was simply never written out.


Now you can simply send a recording (a CD) to the Copyright Office instead of a transcription. So the need to make transcriptions is even less than before.


The musicians that play/played those classic rock songs are like the jazz musicians of the former era. They just memorize their parts and never write them down.


Learning to play from sheet music is still a good skill to acquire and have. It's better to have it and not need it than to have to pass on an opportunity because you can't read.


However, for most rock and other modern pop music, we as musicians learn our parts by ear from the recordings.


For classical music I can go to the music store and buy the full score, or I can just buy the 1st trombone part if I want. It'd be nice if I could do the same with classic rock, for example, picking up the bass part to an individual Fleetwood Mac song. Unfortunately, that doesn't exist.


Modern pop music is usually sold in book form, and yes, arranged for guitar/piano/vocals.


The publisher holds the publishing rights for a piece of music. For most recording artists I believe the publisher is the recording company (or perhaps one of its agents). If the publisher doesn't feel they will make a profit by selling a transcription of a song, they won't make one.


Notice the distinction between an arrangement of a song sold in books versus an actual transcription of what the original artists played.


Classically trained pianists learn to play strictly from reading sheet music. If they want to play a popular song, they need to buy an arrangement for piano. So there is a market for these music books. It wouldn't help them as much to see a transcription of what the guitar(s), bass and drums actually played.


For a fairly complex song and/or one in which only a poor recording exists, it can take a lot of effort to write a transcription. The transcriptionist is therefore going to charge a lot of money for his/her time and effort. If the publisher tries to keep the costs down, the transcriptionist won't be as accurate. If there are errors in the transcription, nobody will want to buy it. So I imagine that is part of the problem as well, but a bigger part is that guitarists, bassists and drummers are generally taught to learn by ear instead of by reading music notation.


Now, with the advent of transcription software and the use of digital recording equipment, it should be a lot easier (and cheaper) to generate accurate transcriptions, since the computer will be doing most of the grunt work. In our free market society all that is left is to find a sizeable market.


Unfortunately it is kind of a "catch 22" at this point; more musicians would learn to read music if the music existed, and more music would exist if more musicians knew how to read music.


So, enjoy the bass transcriptions that are available, make use of the arrangements that are available, maybe buy a classic rock "fake book" for the charts, and above all learn to use your ear.



[Also contact the editors at Bass Player and let them know how much you appreciate the transcriptions, especially if you are a subscriber. These cost the magazine a lot of money to publish; it would cost even more if they published the lyrics, which is why those are left off. As long as people buy the magazine at least partly because of the transcriptions, they will continue to publish them. Otherwise ... ]

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Thanks, Ric, excellent explanation! I really appreciate your taking the time to cover all of these issues. It really puts everything into perspective, especially for a new player looking for music to play. I've read some single copies of Bass Player magazine, and agree there's a lot of great stuff in there, so I do intend to subscribe real soon. Thanks again!
As an illustrator, I might hope my work could someday touch someone's heart, but a musician has the potentital to touch a person's very soul.
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Go to the Hal Leonard website.


I typed bass into the search box and got this list.


A few minutes ago I was in a store and saw a lot of these books. They are very well done and the note for note transcriptions of bass parts looked very accurate to me. Just pick an artist or style you like and order one.

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Thanks, Jeremy,


I wish stores around here were as well-stocked. The "sampler" books do include a couple of songs on my list of those I most want to learn, and they contain quite a few others that would be fun to play and certainly educational to learn. I appreciate the tip!

As an illustrator, I might hope my work could someday touch someone's heart, but a musician has the potentital to touch a person's very soul.
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If you want to play bass to Beatles songs, I recommend "The Beatles Complete Scores," with every song written and recorded by the Beatles (210 of them), including the bass guitar in both tab and standard notation. It's no. HL00673228, published by Hal Leonard. This is the most awesome music book I've ever seen.
As an illustrator, I might hope my work could someday touch someone's heart, but a musician has the potentital to touch a person's very soul.
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