Evaluating Piano Tabs

A keyboard shows the different intervals betwe...

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Are you a fan of piano tabs? If you are, then you are probably not a big fan of reading music notes. The question is: which of the two options gives you more range and capacity as a pianist? The obvious answer: the ability to read music notes.

Piano tabs tell you which note to play by indicating the letter rather than the notated staff note. The octave in which the note is placed is also given, usually in a side column. For more details on how this is done, you can visit http://www.tabnabber.com for a full explanation.

The above type of tab has its limitations. Fingerings for complex passages, as well as rhythmic details, are not readily incorporated into these types of tabs. Not knowing which finger goes where is detrimental to memorizing a piece of music. Even if rhythm and fingerings were somehow placed in piano tabs, the result would probably look more complex then simply notating music on a traditional treble and bass clef staff.

Tabs are fun if you are just beginning to learn a keyboard instrument. However, I encourage my students to learn traditional notation as quickly as possible. Charts and computer generated keyboards that show notes of a scale and/or chord have their place as a supplement to notation. There are many programs that allow you to select a particular scale or chord. Once selected, a graphic keyboard displays the notes that will give you the chord or scale that you have picked to add to your repertoire. Here’s a link to one such program:


Even with cool screen options like the one just mentioned, fingering is omitted. If you want detail in terms of fingerings and chord voicing, notation is still your best option. No doubt, you could make the argument that you are a visual person and you need charts to effectively learn. I have had many students that flourish with chart use, but ultimately they learn notation as well. It may take these types of students a bit longer to grasp note naming and timing, but they eventually come around.

At this point you may be asking why it is so important to focus on fingering. Notation gives you the option of drawing numbers over notes that you are playing in order to display which finger plays which note. This type of meticulous detail allows both professional and amateur pianists to learn pieces consistently. Touch and muscle memory are the most effective ways in which pianists and other instrumentalists memorize.

On a final note, skilled note readers should be fluent in reading and identifying chords. Anyone who has aspirations of playing jazz or improvising effectively should become accustomed to both classical and popular chord symbols. Popular chord symbols are a staple in hit tunes. Knowing chord symbols is one way of breaking away from the written score and creating your own improvised version of a song. Let the fun times begin!  

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