Tabbing songs


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                Tabbing songs....                            

One of the questions I always hear is "Why in the world would anyone want to learn 'tab' to play songs?"  

My answer is simple:  In five minutes an inexperienced person can easily play a tabbed song.

That's correct.  In as few as five minutes with a bit of knowledge of how the song goes, you're up and running.  Many people say they do not read music.  If you view sheet music such as Over the Rainbow, it can be scary for those unaccustomed to reading music.  But - with a tabbed sheet in front of you for the same song, it's not so intimidating and the learning time interval can be dramatically decreased.

Another question is:   Why learn to read music at all?   I do not believe anyone should rely on tabbed music exclusively.  You can - but - you get a much more rewarding music experience if you understand at least the basics of music theory.  The more you learn, the more rewarding it will be.

There are many websites designed to teach music theory and I highly recommend you visit and learn from these websites.  One that I recommend is:   Ricci Adams'  You can tab a song for the Diatonic or the Chromatic harmonica.

To tab songs, you will need to find the sheet music.  There are websites offering free sheet music with popular songs requiring a fee.  You can also use software to open MIDI files and essentially create the music sheets from all the instruments used to create the MIDI.  I find that using the guitar, piano or the melody line is very good for converting the sheet music to tab notation.

Song key:  At the top of the sheet music you will see a number of #'s or b's.  You may also not see any - this will indicate the song is in the key of "C".  The Circle of Fifths will provide you with assistance in determining the song key.  Once this is determined, we go to the scale for that song key and match up the number of #'s or b's on the song sheet to the matrix.  This tells us which scale to use.

Let us assume the song is in the scale of "C" (no #'s or b's) like Over the Rainbow.   If you review this sheet music you will note it's in the song key of C" and it's to be played moderately bright (100 - 120 beats per minute).

Take a moment to remember your  first musical learning experience in school.  I think everyone remembers FACE and EGBDF (Every Good Boy Does Fine).  These acronyms come from the STAFF.  Music is written on a staff of 5 lines and 4 spaces.  Some notes are written on the lines and some are written in the spaces.  From the piano book:

Take note of the MIDDLE "C" on the leger line.  This is important as it typically will guide you in starting the tabbing process.  Using the Treble staff as a starting point, we can use this to determine which hole number to use in notation.

                                    _______________                  F - Fine
                                    _______________               D - Does
                                    _______________            B -  Boy
                                                 A---> ("A" harmonica - holes 1, 4, 7, 10)
                                    _______________        G  - Good ("G" harmonica - holes 1, 4, 7, 10)
                                            F ---> ("F" harmonica - holes 1, 4, 7, 10)
                                    _______________     E - Every   ("E" harmonica - holes 1, 4, 7 10)

At this point - you CAN read music!  You should also be seeing a pattern above.  Study the above carefully and refer to it often in your path to learning music.

Since Over the Rainbow starts on "Middle "C", we can start the tabbing using either holes 4 blow or 7 blow (both "C" notes) on a "C" harmonica scale.  For simplicity, I will use the 4 blow starting point and center the other notes around this.  (We can't start on hole 1 (also a "C" note) since there are notes lower than middle "C".  We could start on  hole 7 blow, but the higher ranges can get squeaky or too high.  Starting on hole 10 blow won't work because there are notes higher than 10 blow (also a "C" note)).   The scale to use for reference for a "C" harmonica is:


Hole 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Blow C E G C E G C E G C
Draw D G B D F A B D F A

You would want to write down above the word "Some" the notation "4" indicating this is a blow note.  (See my tab notation).  This note is a "half note" so it has a timing of 2 beats.

The next set of notes is actually two notes that are played together.  Using the scale, we find that the lower note is an "E", or 5 blow and the upper note is a "C" or 7 blow.  Skilled players will play both notes using the tongue to cover the 6 blow hole.  For us, we will simply use the upper note and notate it as 7 blow.  You would want to write down above the word "where" the number "7" indicating this is a blow note.  This note is also a "half note" with a timing of 2 beats.

At this point, you have tabbed the first measure.   In the staff, the first upright bar is a measure bar.  The timing between measure bars for this song is 4 beats.  Although you are only playing 2 notes, the timing is 4 beats (2 beats for each half note). 

We now proceed to the next measure where the next note is on the "B" line and is properly notated as a 7 draw.  Continue this process for the entire song referring to my tabbed song here.

As mentioned above, since this song is in common time, or 4/4 time, the first note ("C") is held for 2 beats.  The 2nd note ("C") is also held for 2 beats.  The 3rd note, ("B") the 7 draw is held for 1 beat.  The next 2 notes connect with a bar are the 6 blow and -6 draw.  Each note is held for 1/2 beat.

After completing the first line, you should have tabbing that looks like this:

   4   7     -7 6  -6  -7  7      4  -6     6   R      3   -5
| Somewhere | over the rainbow | 'way up | high,  | there's a

Email me at with questions you have and I'll try to provide more help.

Helpful music information to assist you in understanding a music sheet.

Lively            play at about 144 BPM
Andante        play at about 104 BPM
Flowing        play at about 96   BPM

Tempo Marks:
Allegro            Quickly, happily
Moderato        Moderately
Andante          Moving along  (the word actually means "walking")
Adagio             Slowly
Maestoso        Majestically
Largo               Very slow
Marcato           marked, stressed
Tranquillo       tranquil

Fine                                             end
D.C. (da capo) al Fine               repeat from the beginning and play to Fine (end)
Coda                                            an added ending
D.C. (da capo) al CODA          repeat from the beginning to 0, then skip to CODA (an added ending)

p        piano                        soft
mf      mezzo forte              moderately loud
f         forte                         loud
mp    mezzo piano             moderately soft
pp     pianissimo               very soft
ff       fortissimo                very loud
         cantabile                  in a singing style
         leggiero                    lightly
Seen:    mf - f                     1st time is mf,  2nd time played is f.
Seen:    p leggiero            soft and lightly

crescendo (cresc.)         gradually louder
diminuendo (dim            gradually softer     (also seen  decrescendo or decresc.)
poco                                 little (as in poco cresc.   - little louder)

staccato touch            a "dot" over a note means to make these notes very short!

Melodic  interval            Notes played separately make a melody.
Harmonic interval           Notes play together make harmony.

Transposition                 Playing music in a different key from the original key.

Key Signatures:            Sharps or flats that follow the clef signs.

Quick method to determine the signature key when viewing sheet music:     

Sharps:  The name of the sharp major key can be determined by moving UP a half step from the LAST sharp.
        Ex:  LAST sharp (far right) of 5 sharps is on the "A" line (of FACE), then up 1/2 step from A# is B major.
                Thus,  B major has 5 sharps and the song key is B major.

Flats:  The name of a flat major key can be determined by the name of the NEXT -T0 - LAST flat.
          Ex:  Next to last flat (far right) of 4 flats is on the "A" line (of FACE), then the signature key is Ab      major.


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