Teaching TAB

Categories: Classroom,Education,Principles,Tips + Tricks

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Matt-Gerry_webPhilosophy in teaching guitar. If you want to divide a room of guitar teachers fast…just bring up TAB. Strong feelings abound!

Here’s my take….
1. TAB is important.
2. Teaching students to be literate musicians (who can read sheet music on a staff) is important.
3. Teaching students to be able to continue to play once they leave your class is important.

So with those three things in mind…YES…I believe we must teach TAB, but at the correct time. I think students need to have a firm foundation in notation FIRST. Once that is established, yes bring out the tab. It really will be important for them to know once they have left your classroom (especially if they are only with you for a short time like my students are).

HOW TO INTRODUCE IT:
I’ve found that telling students that TAB is just a map of your guitar turned sideways works well.

I always use Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” to introduce it. Great lick that you can walk them through just a few notes at a time. You can totally tell if they’re picking it up by when the riff changes. The change is shifting what you’ve already learned up a set of strings. If they understand tab, they’ll get it without a problem, if not….better go back and explain some more.

http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/c/cream/sunshine_of_your_love_tab.htm

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Author: Matt Gerry

Matt Gerry is a guitar teacher at Salina South Middle School in Salina, KS. In his 10 years at the school, he has started a guitar program that has become very well respected in the area. His students were selected as the grand prize winners of the Makin' Wishes with Weezer contest, and were fortunate enough to meet the rock band via webchat and also receive new classroom equipment from their win. Mr. Gerry was named the Salina "Teacher of the Year" in 2012 and was a semi-finalist for the state of Kansas' "Teacher of the Year" in the the same year as well. He hold a music education degree from Wichita State University, and will complete his master's from Kansas State University in educational leadership in the summer of 2013

  • Glen McCarthy

    Well said Matt. I find most kids that are interested in playing guitar know about tab thanks to the internet. My feeling is the important thing is telling them the individuals posting tabs are rarely the artists themselves but someone’s interpretation.

    • Matt Gerry

      Good point! Do you have any songs Glen that you use when you’re first introdocing tab in a classroom setting?

  • Paul Desmarais

    Hello Matt,

    I’ve been playing guitar for a little over 30 years and teaching for about 25. I used to be one of those who shunned TAB thinking
    it was a non-musical approach to teaching and playing. It wasn’t until my
    music history course in college that I realized tab had been used since the
    early 1600s by John Dowland and Thomas Campion, the 2 leading lute composers and performers of their time. I thought, “If
    they were teaching with it way back then, maybe I should look into it”.

    I’ve since discovered it is an in-valuable teaching tool. I‘m a get the student’s
    fingers moving first, then read kind of guy. I will use tab to get my beginner
    students able to play, then after a couple of weeks and a few easy songs, use a
    process to switch over to standard notation. It is a method that has yet
    to fail with any of my students.

    As guitarteachers, we need to choose the tools that will inspire, motivate, and educate our students. Starting with TAB, then moving to standard notation is 1 out of the many successful approaches we can use.

    Thanks for all
    your tips!

    Paul Desmarais

    • Matt Gerry

      I had no clue that Dowland and other lute composers used tab! How cool.
      I like what you said about getting fingers moving first. That’s good stuff. I didn’t really think about it this way, but I guess I kind of do the same thing. I get my students motivated when they first start by teaching them to play smoke on the water on the low E string. 3,6,8…3,6,9,8….3,6,8,6,3. I didn’t really think of that as tab, but I guess it totally is. I have been using the FJH book with my 6th graders and they start off with fret numbers too which does work really well.
      My more advanced students don’t move to “six string” tab until we’ve learned all the notation in first position. Otherwise I find…they aren’t motivated to learn the notes and they just want the tab instead. Do you have any problems with your students with that kind of situation?

      • Paul Desmarais

        In a way, we all use a form of TAB, whether it be the standard
        6 lines, the number system you mentioned or even chord diagrams. Any device used to show finger placement other than standard notation I consider TAB.

        That being said, I use TAB when introducing new concepts or
        positions. Usually, it is in tandem with standard notation. Once the material is introduced, TAB becomes a reference tool only.
        The students will need to refer back to it if they have not committed the notation to memory.

        My goal is to have students know how to use TAB but not rely
        on it. I get them away from TAB as soon as I can.
        When teaching 1st position, I use TAB on the 1st 3 strings, introducing notation as soon as the students demonstrate accurate hand a finger placement. Once I see they are comfortable and can produce sound with good technique (usually after a couple of lessons) I re-introduce
        the strings using standard notation.
        Once passed the 3rd string, the students have had plenty of
        practice moving fingers 1,2 and 3, so I generally don’t use TAB passed the 3rd string when introducing new pitches.
        Paul

    • David Jackman

      After teaching guitar for four or five years and never touching tab (due to beleiving the teachers on that side of the argument too easily), I found I had kids unsuccessful and losing interest way too quickly. This year, I’ve switched to the curriculum on cmilearn.org (Mike Christiansen). This includes rhythmic tab. Essentially, then, kids are learning every aspect of notation except the staff (which will be introduced later.) As outlined in Matt’s post on “chunking”, kids do so much better when new skills are added one at a time.

      BTW, I couldn’t be happier with the results. My kids are far and away more successful this year than ever before.

  • Erik Herndon

    Good article! I have had much success teaching tab before standard notation. I use it as a bridge between sound technique & comfort on the guitar playing tunes and learning to read. Hal Leonard has a Tab Method which I have used for the last two years as part of instruction and it works really well for my students and me. When I create resources for my students, I usually chart out both tab and notation as well as any boxes or visual cues needed.

  • James

    TAB lis a lot like the old dance mats with the foot prints on them from the 50s and 60s, or painting by numbers. It is just a visual representation of what you are supposed to do physically. My younger students use the FJH book that starts with one finger and fret numbers, which is simplified tab. I have no problems using standard notation and tab from the beginning. How is tab different from a chord chart/ diagram? Both just show you where to put your fingers, and chord diagrams are great teaching tools. It is extremely hard to play from tab if you have never heard the song before, so any student who is interested in learning new music will get frustrated by the limitations of tab. I keep my students READING every day. Always at least one new piece of music or exercise in standard notation. Teaching new fingerpicking patterns can also be easier using tab, or standard notation in combination with tab.

    • Paul Desmarais

      Sounds like a lot of us agree with the use of TAB as a tool to get students familiar with new material but get them reading as quick a possible! Nice!

      • http://gerrysguitars.wordpress.com/ Matt Gerry

        TAB is a great tool. I like how you put that! It is a tool…and a great one, but like James said…it does have it’s limitations.

        I can’t build a house with just a hammer…and teaching guitar with just that one tool isn’t as effective as it could be.

        I never really thought of tab including things like chord diagrams and such…but all you guys are all correct…they 100% are. A visual representation – thanks for pointing that out.

  • Pingback: PGLC’s – Professional Guitar Learning Communities | Gerry's Guitars()