If You are a Happy Non-Reader of music, an ear player, content with your playing and its future, and of your ability to communicate to and with, other musicians, Lucky You.. That's great. Being Satisfied is Good. No argument there, at least not from may opt to skip this page.

For the rest of you, including those who believe that TABbing is how Beethoven and those other guys wrote music back in the Big Band Days......consider reading on.....

For the record (or CD), I've been a studio player of woodwinds since 1971. For most of the years before that, I was younger.

Usually, working as a studio musician requires a high degree of Sight Reading ability. I do that. We all do that here. Nobody EVER asked me if I read music until I started working on the chromatic harmonica. Not once.

NOW, when people call, they usually say something like "Hi, Tommy's out of town, and recommends that I call you. Are you free on Tuesday afternoon?"

If I, after pretending to look at my work calendar, say "sure", the next question is either:

  • "Do you read music?"
  • "I know you read music on clarinet and oboe and sax and flute, but do you also read music on harmonica?"

So that brings us to the topic of Reading Music.

Reading Music

Our Lot in Life:

Lots of people have lots of fun playing lots of music on lots of chromatic harmonicas. Some read music, some don't. others, however, have taken to reading TABS.

If you don't understand TABS, then just appreciate a system that looks like each
word has a grade attached to it, on what looks to be a -1 to +10 scale, but I'm not sure.

IF you know what TABS are, here's some music you'll really enjoy:

If you don't understand TABS, then just appreciate a system that looks like each word has a grade attached to it, on what looks to be a -1 to +10 scale, but I'm not sure.

Hold .. me close .. and .. hold me fast.
-6, 6 -5, 5, -3 -6 6.

This mag----ic ..spell you cast.
-5 5 -3, -2 6 -5.

this is .. la vie .. en .. ro...--se.
5 -3, 2 -2, 6, -5, 5.

When .. you kiss me .. heav----en sighs.
7, -6 6 -5, -3* -6 6.

SO, you'd expect that having the above notation, any TAB-Aware player can then play (and perhaps, sing) the tune. "La Vie En Rose" in at least one key, and could also send it to a friend and have that friend be able to play from the same notation.

AND, you'd be wrong.

Lots of people do get by without learning to read normal musical notation. (See left sidebar)

Some even become Legends and are actually Great Players with lots to offer. (See sidebar "Are you good enough to not read music?"...over on your left and up a bit.)

TABbers have loads of fun, no question. Music is all about having Fun. This Fun ends the minute they want to send the music to a friend to have him/her play it with another friend. 

Not that it can't be done, all you have to do is send the TABS, a recording of the melody, the chords and Good Luck Wishes.

The discussion between TABbers and REAders goes on quite a bit,  usually in Written English, which seems to be something they can agree upon. especially if Spelling is Optional...(or if they agree to use Internet Spelling, that works.)

TABbers think that their way makes sense, and that for them, having to learn to read music seems an unpleasant and time-consuming proposition and thus, an imposition.

REAders of Normal Musical Notation take exception to that view, partially because they'd already had to learn to read music, when they could have been playing baseball down the street with their friends, after school, but "NO, you need to practice your lesson first, your friends will still be there after you finish", (fat chance) and partially because they realize how wrong the TABbers are, in their Fear of Reading Music, and how limiting it can be to not learn to REAd music. 

Vern Smith's Take

First, Vern's credentials:

"Better known as a technician than as a performer, Vern is a retired mechanical engineer who has posted on harp-l and Slidemeister for about 20 years. He is an outspoken skeptic who has taken aim at beliefs in tab, breaking-in, and the effects of comb and cover materials on tone. In a quest to solve sticking and popping valves, he has experimented with various materials and wax on reed plates. His magnum opus is the buttonless Hands-Free-Chromatic which can be played on a rack with another fretted or keyboard instrument."

And, in his own words, his words:

By the time you have created a system to convert standard notation to tab, have elaborated it to accommodate timing and expression, and have converted your repertoire to tab, you will have expended more time and effort that would be required to learn standard notation. Not only that, but the music in tab will be more difficult to read and will mean absolutely nothing to other musicians. You will have to convert every new piece that you wish to play. What a drag!

The superiority of tab (especially for chromatics) over standard notation cannot be defended on any rational basis.

The superiority of tab (especially for chromatics) over standard notation cannot be defended on any rational basis. Your trepidation arises from the notion that you are going to have to understand an entire different-looking system at once. Your emotional panic, fear and revulsion of standard notation can be overcome if you approach it one small, easy step at a time. You can nibble your way don't have to take it all in one gulp!

When you learn to swim, you must first learn to overcome the revulsion to putting your face in the water. In learning to read music, you first learn to see the musical staff as a source of information and not of confusion. If you can adopt that point of view, learning to read music won't be difficult.

Start this way:

  • Forget the button for the time being.
  • Find three Cs on the staff ( One line below the staff, third space up the staff, and two lines
    above the staff)
  • Find those three Cs on the chromatic ( blow 1, blow 4,5; blow7,8;)
  • Find some sheet music with no # sharps and b flats at the left end of the staff...key of C. Go through it and find/play just those Cs until you get the "feel" of them and can find them easily. You can already find them from your experience with tab but you are now learning to recognize them on the musical staff and think of them by their name "C".
  • Now remember that there are only three blow notes: C, E, and G and you already know how to recognize and play C.
  • Repeat the above process, one note at a time for two more notes, E and G.
  • Now you know all of the blow notes!
  • By now you should have lost some of your fear and revulsion of those "golf clubs on the fence."
  • There are now only four draw notes to learn. D, F, A, B.
  • Use the same process to learn them and you are reading the pitches in standard notation.

At this point you should be able to get the same information from standard notation as from tab in the key of C.
You will still need to add the use of the button for accidentals and other keys, but by the same easy, panic-free, step-by-step process, you can gradually become acquainted with standard notation.

(A second article from Vern begins here-same subject, same iconoclastic attitude.)

Don't blame standard notation for the complexity of the music itself. Music is what it is. What we need is a good means of writing and reading it. I posit that TAB is not it. TAB ignores the timing which is 60% of the content of a song and then claims to be simple. TAB doesn't bother with loud/soft, punchy/smooth, speedup/slowdown, brief pauses, two notes at the same time, grouping of sets of short and long notes, etc.

TAB gives no analog feel for high notes high on the staff or large intervals with large spaces between notes.

A vocalist can read standard notation but not TAB. That is because standard notation describes what you should hear and TAB describes how to manipulate your instrument.

The question is, "For an equal amount of study, is TAB or standard notation faster/easier to write and read?" I compare TAB to training wheels on a bicycle. It should be discarded after page 2 of the harmonica instruction book.


Thanks, Vern.

And, lest there be any question, the rest of these words are mine, not Vern's.

In the time it takes for a TABber to successfully defend his choice to not learn to read music, he/she could have learned to read music, cleaned the house, and both started and failed in an Amway Business, and figured out what to do with all that unsold Amway Soap in the garage.

Case Closed.

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