Music is for everyone. And with proper and regular practice, we can all be the musical wonders that we’ve always aspired to be. Most musicians start with learning the piano since it’s rather an easy way to familiarize one’s self with the notes and chord progressions. While some people prefer studying how to read actual sheet music, some beginners would opt to learn piano tabs instead. And this is where we will focus on in this article.
What Are the Tabs?
Short for the word “tablature,” tabs are numerical representations of musical notes that are used to aid a musician with which notes he is supposed to play in a song. It’s more straightforward and easy to read as compared to musical notes and sheet music, tabs have been used by many.
More commonly used by guitarists, the use of tabs in a piano is not really a famous choice, especially for pianists with formal training. However, as times change and popular music become more apparent, there is a growing number of beginner musicians who would rather choose to learn music with the use of tablatures instead. And if you’re one of them, this article will be discussing a few steps and some tips on how to start with reading tabs for piano.
Just like everything else, there are positive and negative sides to tablatures in using them when playing music. Here are a few notable points to consider:
- Easier note reading
- Widely accessible
- Can easily be made and edited
- Can easily be shared between friends across the internet
- Can be a big help for beginners to familiarize themselves with notes and chords
- Specific to a particular type of instrument – tabs are made specifically for only a certain type of instrument depending on who made it. So we can’t possibly expect that a guitar tablature would also be playable with piano since the outline and the symbols that are used have their differences from each other.
- Unable to express dynamics and rhythm as sheet music does
- It can pose limitations regarding knowledge in actual music theory – because a tablature offers exact positions for where you should put your fingers on a keyboard, it provides no guarantee that you would master the notes and chords in essence.
So, if you’ve read those things and thought of backing out from learning tablatures and learn actual music theory instead, that’s fine, and you can skip through this entire article. But if you still want to pursue doing things the more natural way with piano tabs, kindly continue reading, and we shall guide you through the wonders of tablature notation.
Learning How to Read Tabs
First off, it should be noted that piano tablatures are primarily made up of symbols, letters, and numbers which represent precisely where the piano player should press on the keys.
The numbers that can be seen on the left-hand side of the tablature represent the octave in which a specific note should be played. So for example, on a standard 88-key piano, the middle C would be the fourth note on the 4th octave, so when it is written in a tablature notation, it will read as C4. Take note that this will not always be the case for all tablatures. For pianos with lesser keys or for songs that would not use all of the octaves at once, the design of the tabs would also vary accordingly.
The symbols that can be seen in tabs such as vertical lines (|) and dashes (-) also have important representations in music. Vertical lines are used to separate measures and bars throughout the song, while dashes are used for separating notes from each other. It can also be used to indicate the length of the note that is currently in the play.
Tips and Tricks in Playing Piano Tabs
Determine the Octave Breakdown on your Keyboard
As previously mentioned, not all tablatures would look the same, and it would all depend on the keyboard you’re using and the song you’re going to play. Because of this, the first thing you should know is how many octaves are there on yours starting from the lowest C note and which of these octaves will you be using for your tab. This is how it should look like.
As you may have noticed, there is no direct identification of the white keys and the black ones. We’ll get on to that in the next segment.
Naming Each Key According to Its Octave
We have previously established that the keyboard should be broken down according to the octaves that are present, starting from the lowest C note. So by naming each key according to the octave it belongs, it will be easier for you to indicate which notes are to be played under which octave. Take note that each octave should always start with a C note on the keyboard.
Here is an example tablature of a G major scale with particular notes to be played under the different octaves involved:
Tabs are to be read from Left to Right
Just as you would with normal text, tablatures are read from left to right, with the leftmost note played first and so on until the piece ends. Always take note of the vertical lines that may exist between a series of notes. These vertical lines are used as separators for each measure in the song. Here is how a tablature would look like with these separators:
Notice how two notes appear to be stacked on top of each other. This means that instead of playing each note separately, you would have to play them at the same time as a single chord. For all the other notes in the sequence, however, you should play them accordingly starting from left to right, following the octave that they are in.
A Brief Rundown on Tablature Symbols
Here is a shortlist of symbols that are used in making piano tabs and what they represent:
- Lowercase letters – are used to represent white keys.
- Uppercase letters – are used to represent sharped notes or the black keys.
- Numbers – as previously mentioned, are used to represent the octaves present in a specific musical arrangement that you’re playing.
- Vertical lines (|) – are used to separate measures from each other.
- Dashes (–) – are used to represent the interval between notes, which basically means that the more dashes in between the letters, the longer is the interval between them in actual playing.
- L and R – in some tabs, you will see the letters L and R beside the numbers on the left-hand side. These letters indicate which hand is supposed to play which note. Here is an example illustration of how it looks like:
We can all be great musicians if we want to. The thing is, not all of us have the patience and determination to keep up with the pressure that comes along with it; either because some of us initially thought that it would all be as easy as learning the alphabet or perhaps we just set our expectations a little too high for our skills. Nevertheless, we can always pursue music if we want to. Whether it would serve as an addition to your hobbies, or something that you planto do for a long time as a lifelong profession, it is always worth it to spend our time doing an activity that we’re passionate about. The key to being successful, anyway, is to not give up in doing what we love most.