My Advice To Those Seeking Tabs

This is going to sound a bit " old geezer banging on about the old days " I'm afraid - but since putting some guitar duets on YouTube I keep getting requests for tabs.

I can see the reason for this as a tab gives the notes in the right order with neck positions and everything. - Saves a lot of time having to work it out yourself but what you're not getting is the ear training that comes from having to intently listen to a piece of music to try and get the notes and/or chords.

When I started to learn guitar there were three options ( in the UK anyway )

You either learnt classical style by learning to read music and follow the "dots"

· You might possibly have had access to an old style jazz teacher

· You bought Bert Weedons' "Play in a Day" and taught yourself

There was no internet, there were no tabs and no other written forms of the kind of music guitar fans like me wanted to play
- so if you wanted to learn a particular piece of guitar you had to put a vinyl record onto a turntable and try to play along
( if you were lucky you may have had a reel-to-reel tape recorder which could be slowed down to half speed! )

the "dansette" the primary tool of the sixties guitarist!

All the great British guitarists of the sixties learnt to play like this.

Eric Clapton · Jeff Beck · Jimmy Page · Peter Green · Brian May.

Check out Keith Richards' biography for his description of learning in this way.

Bert Weedons' "Play in a Day" has achieved mythical status as a result but in truth it isn't particularly good it's just all there was at the time.

These players became great improvisors partly because they learnt to play by ear

Reading any sort of music at that time was considered the antithesis of what Blues/Rock music was all about.

In my opinion it still is - so my advice to those seeking tabs is to forget about it.

Instead learn as much theory as possible and learn to use your ears.

A good knowledge of theory makes working out melodies easier once you know what the chords are. When trying to find the notes of a melody I always work out the chords first - this makes the melody lines much more obvious ( melodies often derive from the notes within the chords )

Analyzing songs/tunes

Here are some tips as to what I do when working out the chord sequence of any song/tune.

Regardless of the style of music that I'm analyzing I use an acoustic guitar tuned normally and a CD player with pause and rewind ( computer programmes that make it possible to loop audio are ideal for this as well ).

I don't have ' perfect pitch ' or any other special attributes - this a skill anyone can learn.

Step One

Get in tune with the track.

Not all music is recorded at concert pitch and it is very difficult to spot notes and chords if you're even a bit out of tune

- It's worth spending a bit of time playing along with the track using just your top or bottom E string to try and spot some notes to get this string in tune

- when you have done this stop the track and retune the other strings to your top or bottom string.

Step Two

Listen to the bass

- this means either the lowest guitar note that you can hear or the note that the bass guitar is playing.

This is likely to be the root note of the chord you're trying to find - with experience you get to spot when a chord has an altered bass note [ a slash chord ] .

Most chords are rooted on the proper bass note.

There are only 12 different notes to choose from - one of them has to be the right one - keep going till you find it!

Step Three

Major or Minor

Having got the root note of a chord established [ C say ] I then try playing a small major chord [notes C and E ] along with the track - if that sounds wrong I'll try a small minor [notes C and Eb ]

Most chords are either major or minor [ '5' chords by definition aren't major or minor but quite often they are an abbreviated version of a chord which is ]

If both major and minor sound wrong or ' not quite right ' then I assume it's a ' sus ' chord of some kind - I would therefore try a Csus4 or Csus2 along with the track.

If the chord doesn't seem to fit any of these then it is probably either a diminished or augmented chord. I would try Cdim or C+

Step Four

Find any extensions/alterations

Assuming that I've correctly identified the chord as a C major of some sort but a straight C major still doesn't sound right I would then start looking for extensions.

" Is it a seventh? [ C7 ] " is probably the first question - closely followed by " is it a Major Seventh ? [ Cmaj7 ] "

Try these and if one seems to fit try some further extensions just to see if C9 sounds more correct than C7 or Cmaj9 sounds more like it than Cmaj7.

If none of these make a complete fit try some alterations - the most common being flat 5 - C7b5 or Cmaj7b5 for example.

Another commonly used alteration is the sharp 9 - C7#9 for example.

If you're into jazz there are quite a few others to consider but with experience you can spot some complex chords just by the context they appear in i.e. the other chords in the piece.

Trial and error

This may all sound very complicated and long winded [ so much easier just to get the tab off the net! ] but if you're serious about music this is a great way to sharpen up your ears and gain insights into theory , chord construction and songwriting. [ by the way a lot of tabs on the net are wrong ]

Like most areas of music the more you do it the easier it gets.

Chord Families

It is useful to think of five families of chords for analysis purposes

- these are , in order of usage ;

· Major chords

Any chord with a major third - [ except an Augmented chord ]

I'd subdivide this category into Dominant Seventh and Major Seventh types. [e.g. C7,C9 etc. or Cmaj7, C maj9 etc. ]

· Minor chords

Any chord with a minor third - [ except a Diminished chord.]

· Suspended chords

Any chord with a second or fourth instead of a third

· Diminished chords

This is really just one chord i.e. a full diminished chord,also known as a Diminished 7th chord, but it needs its own separate slot as it is different to all other chords in its effect.

· Augmented chords

Like the diminished this chord has its own character so it's useful to regard it as a separate class of chord - any sharp 5 chord could fit in this category.

Stick at it !

You are unlikely to successfully work out a piece of music straight off - it is a process that accumulates from experience so don't give up if your first attempts at this are unsuccessful - getting things wrong is part of the process !

Don't get me wrong - I'm not anti tab. I use tabs all the time as a teaching aid but I just feel that too many young players have become totally reliant on finding a tab for any tune that they want to learn rather than trying to work it out themselves and thus never develop an "ear".

If you find any of the above baffling or slightly out of your comfort zone visit my free lessons site and check out my  music theory for guitarists  tutorial.
You may also find some actual tabs on this site - All transcribed by me listening to the music!


© Nick Marchant Guitars

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