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So about this tabbing thing...

Posts: 1103
So I've never tabbed a song before, and to be quite honest my ear really sucks. But I'm working on it, and I'm making some progress in my note identification.

I'd like to take a stab at this tabbing thing. I want to contribute, but I have a few struggles transcribing the music to tab.

My first problem is not being able to distinguish all the notes. I know this sounds weird. But I'll give you an example: I can identify most of the major notes of a bass line and work them out, but when a song has a key change (even a slight half note down or up) it throws me off and I get lost trying to find the one note I know is different. BUT I CAN'T FIND IT!!! It sounds like a note I think it is, but it's not exact. It's very frustrating, and there's only 12 notes!!! (or thirteen chromatically for all you theory geeks) ARGH! I know this is something that I just need to keep working at, but is there a magic bullet to this that I'm missing?

Second, is riffs. For the life of me, I can't break down fast riffs in a bass line. When I learn songs with some acoustic players that I play with, I basically come up with my own fillers and riffs because I can't replicate the original bassist's riffs.

So my second issue pertains to my question about tabbing. When you guys create a tab, and you're not 100% sure of everything, do you still submit it? Or ask someone for help? Is it bad form to submit a tab and tell the reader to come up with their own fills?

I'm such a noob at this.

Posts: 1499
Great questions Mark! Here's my attempt at answers:

Notes and key of the song - the first thing I try to do when tabbing a song is figure out what key it is in. The note the song ends on is a good clue (but not fool-proof). Whatever note it ends on, there's a good chance it is written in a key named for that note. (Song ends on E - good chance it is E major or minor.)

I break the song into sections - intro, verse, chorus, etc. - usually starting with the intro - and figure out what are the root notes for each measure, then the other notes. I try really hard to make sure I am spot on with these first notes because they will define the scale/key of the song. So If I think the song is going to be in E because that is the ending note, and I am coming up with notes that fit in E major (or E minor), then I'm pretty comfortable that almost all the notes in the song will be from that scale. (Infrequent, short duration accidentals don't count in trying to figure out the key.)

So now we get to your issue of a key change in the song, and this is where your ear has to work. (And this is where lots of tabs go wrong - continuing happily along in the same rhythm but failing to hear that the notes have changed.) You have to be able to hear that where it was an E - C# - A - B progression before, it ain't no more. So if can recognize that the notes have changed, you are good! But you are back to figuring out what notes are being played now, but you did it before and you can do it again. You can lean on music theory to have a guess at what it will have changed to given where it was, or you can figure out the (main) notes being played and let them tell you what scale/key is being used. I don't think your statement that only one note will be different is correct; it will depend on what key you were in, and what key the song moves to.

You need to know what notes are in which scales. Here's a reference: http://online-musical-scales.com/index.php/common-major-scales-and-arpeggios

For classic songs, you can sometimes find info online saying something about the key of the song, what keys it changes to, etc. Sometimes you can find sheet music and that will tell you lots - time signature, the key the song starts in, etc. Research is often a useful first step in tabbing a song, especially if you are not sure of your ear.

Fast riffs - I slow them down to try to hear each note. I use Audacity or Transcribe! - I prefer Transcribe! But even with this trickery, sometimes you just can't tell - or I can't anyway.

That said, I aim for an exact note for note tab of how the recorded version was played. I aim for this accuracy because it in itself is a great education tool - it shows how someone who knows how to play (got paid for it anyway) made the fills/transitions around and between root notes and key changes. Once you learn how to do that, you can make your own bassline to the song.

Hope that helps!

LoudLon [moderator]
Posts: 1927
1. If you're having trouble with a particular song, feel free to drop me a line and I'll have a listen. Believe me, you won't be the first person here to do so. I'm completely self-taught, but I've developed a very good ear (even if I do say so myself lol) and I'd be happy to help. And nope, no magic bullet, unfortunately. You just have to keep at it.

2. I don't have this particular problem myself (unless it's something overly complex) but there are programs out there that will slow a song down so you can more easily make out rhythms and notes. I don't use any, but I've heard good things about Audacity.

3. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but here's my tabbing process:

Step 1: I tab out any notes I know for certain, that I've been able to make out just by ear.

Step 2: I go through the song, riff by riff, making sure what I've already tabbed is correct. If I can't make out a certain note, I tab what I THINK it is, as kind of a place holder.

Step 3: For songs where I'm not certain, I'll look on youtube to see if there's an isolated bass track available. If there is, it's simply a matter of transcribing it. If there isn't, and I'm still having difficulty, I move on to…

Step 4: I look up live performances of the song. This is kind of a last resort, though, because I tab only recorded versions, but a great many bass players don't play the same notes live that they do on the record. Still, even when they improvise it'll be in the same key as the original recording, so at least then I'll have an idea of where on the fret board to limit my note search to.

Step 5: If after all this I'm still not completely sure, I just go with my gut and stick with the placeholder I tabbed the first time.

I'm pretty sure there are at least a few of my tabs which aren't 100% accurate, but as much as I will pore over a song and play it repeatedly, sometimes note by note if I have to, I'm confident that even if they're not perfect, they're really fuckin' close (LOL) and I can rest easy knowing that I've at the very least given anyone who wants to learn the song a good jumping off point.

EDIT – seems Sid beat me to it. I could have avoided writing all this just by quoting him and adding “What Sid said.”
Posts: 1499
good info from both LoudLon and I; hopefully that helps you get going. I'm sure both of us, and others as well, will be happy to try to help as you have more questions. Cheers.
Posts: 1499
Another thought: when you are unable to find the exact note but you are close, try a common interval - up or down a third, fourth, or fifth.
Latex Sex
Posts: 191
Brilliant advice from both Sid & Lon.
Posts: 189
I am at the starting level of playing by ear,right now I just listen for music on tv shows or adverts etc and try to play along as best as I can…

It sorta works b'cos the music is usually only a few bars long so this makes it easier for me.

I can read sheet for classical guitar no probs, but having a good ‘ear’ for music on the fly is something I have yet to develop, being partially deaf in both ears doesn't help mind you.
Posts: 1103
Great advice! Thanks!

I think I may be somewhat tone deaf. It takes me a tremendous amount of time and effort to find the right note. I need to go over, and over, and over the notes to make sure there's no vibration in what I'm hearing to be absolutely confident.

I know players who can listen to a song, and just by ear be able to tell you what notes the progression is. I think that's amazing. I need to slide my hand around the neck to isolate the notes.

Time & practice, I know, will get me closer to being able to do this more proficiently.
Posts: 3139
My dad was an amazing piano player and he was good on the guitar aswell but he had perfect pitch, it's something you are born with, (or not, in my case ), he could listen to a song then play it straight away, it's a gift. Peter Tosh from the Wailers is another fine example, as a child he used to visit a park in Kingston, one day there was a busker in the park and he was playing a song that transfixed the young lad, Peter asked the busker to keep playing the song. When the busker started to leave Peter asked if he could have a go of the guitar, even though he'd never even seen a guitar before he played the song back to the busker. Impressed, the busker asked who had taught Peter and he replied, “You did”

Try googling ‘Perfect Pitch’, there are ways of developing it to improve your playing
Posts: 1103
So I realized I had Audacity, but my version was 1.03, which didn't have the tempo control so I wasn't able to slow the song down.

I just downloaded the new version and will play with it tonight to see if it helps find that lost note.
Posts: 1499
The two things I used most often under the Effects drop down were Change Tempo (without changing pitch) and Low Pass Filter. The filter attenuates frequencies above the threshold you define at the rate ( in dB ) that you define. To use the filter, you'll want to know that the bass goes up to about 300 hz; to get harmonics, you should go a bit higher.

And you are probably better at getting the correct pitch than you think. Recent research shows people - ordinary, non-musician people, to actually be really good at singing in the correct pitch when asked to sing a song they know. They can't say what note it is, but having heard the song before, when they sing it, they are very good at getting very close to the correct pitch (note) - and even better at intervals. So relax, go to it, when you wanna do it…..you're likely to be better at it than you think!

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