When I first started playing guitar I depended on tab. In fact, I never really did anything on guitar without tab. If I wanted to play a song, back then I’d either buy a tab book or look for it on the internet. Nice and quick, now all I had to do was learn how to play it from the tab.
As a system, it worked. I was able to play pretty much most of what I could get my hands on, from Simon and Garfunkel to Hendrix. I did it this way for years and all the while I never really considered myself to be much of a player. Average at best I would say.
The lazy way
Tab was great because it was so accessible and so instant, but it was bad for me in so many other ways. I never tried to work songs out. Ever. Without tab I was nothing. Samson without his hair. I never got to grips with music, I never heard chord progressions the way I do now, I couldn’t recognise notes, intervals or even chords.
Whether I can blame tab for this entirely I’m not sure. I did have a little bit of music theory, and by a little I really mean a little. I knew note timings, I could work out the timing of a song by reading the music. This was actually one of the most useful things I’d learned but at the time I didn’t recognise it.
A little theory goes a long way
This time around, now I’ve semi converted to ukulele (I do still play guitar) I’m changing the way I’m learning. I’m doing a lot more listening, before I did almost none. I’m trying to work things out, I’m getting to grips with a little bit more music theory. I’m trying to understand what’s going on with the music so I can use those methods when I just want to play, rather than the robotic playing that I’d managed to develop on the guitar.
It’s early days but it’s working. Even simple things like the circle of fifths have been a huge help to me. Learning the notes on the neck too, and then following on from that, understanding chord shapes. It’s all been so much more useful to me than learning how to play a song exactly as it was recorded, note for note.
My magic moment
Probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me whilst learning a musical instrument happened the other week. I was trying to work out the song Have You Ever Seen The Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Now this may be hard to believe but to the best of my knowledge I didn’t know the song. It didn’t ring any bells when I started listening to it. I later learned that is one of their most popular songs, so maybe I have heard it before but just wasn’t aware. Anyway, I fuddled my way through the verse listening to it over and over again, trying out different chords and writing them down when I got them. It was a slow process, but I got the verse down. Then up came the chorus and I played it straight through, getting every chord right and changing at the right times. I was totally stunned. I’ve never done that before, never even been close. Even if I knew the song I wouldn’t expect to be able to do that yet. Maybe it was luck, I’m sure there was some in there. In fact I actually stopped playing after that for the evening. I didn’t want to mess up the next bit and kill the moment.
So I guess my problem with tab is that its just too easy, it can stop you developing your other skills. Well for me it did. This time around I’m trying a different way and a bit of tab will be in there, but I’ve found another way.