Many people who play at the guitar ask me why I don’t use TAB in my teaching. I have several valid reasons.
Students who study orchestral instruments, which includes piano among a myriad of other instruments learn to read standard notation without question. It comes with the territory. Guitarists seem to have the idea that they can forgo learning to read standard notation, until of course they find a piece written in standard notation in front of them. Then the panic sets in!
Oh we do have our chord charts and fingerboard charts and TAB. Each has some merit and validity depending on the purpose. For one thing, I’ll readily admit that in order to read chords in standard notation requires not only that one can read standard notation but also that one can read standard notation extremely well. The guitar fingerboard is highly complex and, although visual in nature, it’s not nearly as readily visual as the piano keyboard.
Regarding the guitar fingerboard, think of six pianos that look exactly alike except the notes on each separate keyboard are a 4th apart from the notes on the keyboard next to it...except for the 5th keyboard over from the 1st keyboard on your far left which is a 3rd from the 4th keyboard from the left. No need to reread that. If you’re confused by it, that’s the idea here. Lastly, unlike the piano as well as many other instruments, the guitar has the same written pitch in several locations. I attempted to teach ONE student the basic Cowboy Chords using standard notation. After two lessons I decided Chord charts are better. They’re quick and dirty.
TAB has a history as it can be traced back well into the 15th century. So, if you wish to play early music and perhaps transcribe those pieces to the present day guitar, learning to read early TAB is obviously a necessity. Beyond that, relying on TAB and avoiding making the leap from a obsolete 15th century notation to the modern world will become more and more limiting to a guitarist should they, as they should, devote their practice and study to mastering the instrument, understanding the theory behind the music and developing their ability to be a truly creative artist.
Oh I can hear the argument even now: “Well, I see TAB in published music books!” Yes you do.
1. It’s there to sell a book. 2. Try using TAB to play a piece you’ve never heard before. 3. Good luck.
Here’s my advice: Take a leap into the brave new world; learn to read standard notation and then master the guitar fingerboard. Make sight reading a regular part of your daily practice. Become a reader. Don’t be an illiterate guitarist. There are far too many.
This week I interviewed classical guitar virtuoso Adam Levin. Not only is Adam a superb, that's spelled SUPERB, guitarist, he's an activist in terms of commissioning new works for the guitar from some of the world's finest and most respected performers. Enjoy the podcast and look for his lengthy list of recording on iTunes and the Naxxos label.
Good musicians are, by nature and necessity, dedicated practitioners of practicing. I get up early in the mornings excited and focused on one thing, getting my morning practice session done and then determining when I can work more practice time into a schedule that is already quite full.
Sometimes finding that extra hour or two to work on music is frustrating to me. But, after years of playing guitar, studying and working on music I've learned how to get the most out of the limited practice time that must be weaved into a demanding schedule where a majority of my work is not directly related to music.
Here's how I do it.
1. Have a set warm up routine that makes demands on you physically, technically and mentally. I do this by playing through all of the modes and hybrid scales followed by playing diatonic 7th chords in root position and all 3 inversions. This needs a lot more explanation than I want to cover here. But my point is that this takes a lot of mental focus, which good for the mind, and a lot of agility, which is good for the fingers. So...I combine many things together which means I cover a lot of technical, physical and mental ground in a short period of time. 30 minutes for me.
I follow this with sight reading and limited review of a piece, or two, that I've worked on the previous day. Kind of a refresher after a night's sleep. Ah, and I always find the mind has practice and learned over night. Thank you sweet slumber!!
2. Don't just play...do the work! Playing is either an after-work activity for enjoyment ... or for pay. Playing guitar is fun and expressing yourself through great music is highly satisfying for both you and your listener(s). But don't waste valuable practice time (Spelled W O R K) playing and relishing pieces you have already mastered. Focus on mastering new things, new ideas, new music.
3. Start each session with a goal. Maybe you just tackle one measure that's really difficult or a section or maybe you pre-read, i.e., read through a piece without that guitar in your hands, a piece you're planning to work on next. Whatever. Just know what you're going to do in each session.
4. Practice at a snail's pace. We've all heard the term Practice makes Perfect. Truthfully though only perfect practice makes perfect. Perfection at or beyond an indicated or perceived tempo is an impossibility. Just think, absolute perfection. Not possible. But varying levels of excellence is always achievable, in life and in art. So, how to get there? The answer is slow practice and I mean slow....S L O W. Tom Johnson, my former guitar instructor at North Texas State University, taught me the benefits of slow practice. Although he had to remind me many times...in each lesson, "Slow down. Slower....slower.....slower....slower. Finally it clicked after I'd practiced slowly with focus for a week. At my next lesson the result was nothing short of magical. I tell my students this: If you play a piece at one beat a minute you can come ridiculously close to perfection in most pieces. If you can read at a high level of competence you can probably play any piece nearly perfect the first time through.
5. Practice 6 days a week. Honestly, even God took a day off. As a mere mortal you probably should too. It will clear your mind or as I like to say, clear the buffer. You will notice a decided difference in your focus and playing overall Monday morning (in my case).
6. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. The science behind Sleep shows overwhelming benefits in getting plenty of sleep and the best part of your sleep, believe it or not, occurs at the 7 to 8 hour mark. Shoot for at least 7 hours and reap the benefits mentally and physically. Plus a longer and healthier life is more likely.
To recap here:
1. Have a set routine warm up routine.
2. Don't just play...do the work.
3. Start each session with a goal.
4. Practice at a snail's pace.
5. Practice six days a week.
6. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
Now...go practice. Then email me and let me know how your guitar work is going. Honestly, I'd like to know how it goes.
Nothing to see here. This isn't the blog post, or droids, you're looking for. Move along now.
Either my age is catching up with me or this particular piece is just hard for me to memorize but.....
Les Yeux Sorciers
by Leo Brouwer is giving me a run for my memorizing money.
I know many musicians no longer work on memorizing pieces. I personally use a large iPad Pro with an AirTurn Pedal now (thank you for the suggestion Michael Partington and David Russell). It works great! Although, my practice sessions now involve some real work learning how to infuse a piece with a valid personal interpretation infused with a proper sprinkle of emotion all while pulling it off of the page.
For years I found that easier to do after memorizing and pondering the composition for a few months.
Seattle Snowmageddon 2019.
Well, no teaching today as no one can get anywhere. So, what to do? I went through my normal morning practice routine: warm up and some technical work and then some sight reading. Then there was some work to do preparing for a Friday recording session. All this is pretty normal. What was different was having some extra time for an additional project.
I'm working on a new composition I've commissioned. "Pleiades" is being fed to me page by page, which gives me time to play through a section, devise some fingerings and then discuss the piece with the composer. A fun project!
Tomorrow looks like another opportunity for some good work....snow is still falling this evening, schools and many businesses are closing. My whole-house generator stands at the ready if a tree just can't bear the weight and takes out a power line.