Saturday, January 31, 2009

Brazilian Guitar

Just a quick note about a nice guitar site we've just listed -- Mauro Samuel's site offers his own transcriptions and original tunes (standard notation) with a Brazilian twist!

You'll find some neat Brazilian tunes, plus some original Jazz work. There are also some Classical transcriptions. All sheets are in PDF format -- very clean and easy to read.

His site is "geocities" hosted -- that unfortunately means the site may or may not be there next year ... so you might want to pay him a visit early and perhaps encourage him to look for some more long-term options. You'll find his site at!

Monday, January 26, 2009

How to Read and Write Guitar Tablature

Sometimes we assume that everyone is familiar with the same things we're familiar with -- and sometimes we're wrong in doing so!

Guitar Tablature is one of those things -- guitar players are usually quite familiar with it -- but other musicians may have never heard of it. Most stringed instruments have some tablature notation -- for instance, banjo tab or ukulele tab -- even lute tab!

In any case, I'd like to post this short article (written by Howard Wright at on reading and writing Guitar Tablature!


1.0 What is TAB
1.1 What TAB will tell you
1.2 What TAB won't tell you.

Reading Tab :

2.0 TAB notation - The Basics
2.1 Other symbols used in TAB
2.2 Hammer ons and pull offs
2.3 Bends
2.4 Slides

*** 1.0 WHAT IS TAB ***

TAB or tablature is a method of writing down music
played on guitar or bass. Instead of using symbols like
in standard musical notation, it uses ordinary ASCII
characters and numbers, making it ideal for places
like the internet where anybody with any computer can
link up, copy a TAB file, and read it.


TAB will tell you what notes to play - it will tell you
which string to hit and which fret to fret it at.

TAB will tell you where hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, slides, harmonics and
vibrato are used.

TAB will tell you what tuning the piece is in. If this isn't given explicitly, assume normal tuning. TAB should also give you information on use of capos etc.

TAB will give you an indication of the ryhthm of the piece - i.e it will tell you which are the long notes and which are the short notes.

However it will not tell you exactly how long or how short they are.

This leads me on to ...


TAB will (usually) not tell you the note lengths of the notes - so in most cases you will *have* to listen to the song yourself, with the TAB in front of you to work out the ryhthm of the notes.

TAB will not tell you which fingers you use to fret which note.

TAB will (usually) not tell you anything about picking and strumming - you will have to decide for yourself where to use upstrokes/downstrokes and so on.


TAB is simple to read, and should be simple to write if you want to submit a song you have worked out yourself. The idea is this :

You start out with 6 lines (or four for bass). These correspond to the strings of the instrument. The top line is the highest pitch string, and the bottom line is the lowest pitch string. Below is a blank bit of TAB with the string names at the left.


Numbers are written on the lines to show you where to fret the string with the left hand. If a zero appears , this means play the open string. Like standard musical notation, you read from left to right to find out what order to play the notes. The following piece of TAB would mean play the sequence of notes (E F F# G G# A) on the bottom E string by moving up a fret at a time, starting with the open string.


OK so far ?

Here we have notes being played one at a time. If two or more notes are to be played together, they are written on top of one another, again just like standard notation.

In the next example we have a G bar chord.


So this means play all these notes together as a chord.

You might see the same chord written like this :


Which would mean strum the same shape starting at the bottom string, so that each string is hit slightly later than the last string, but all notes will ring together. Below is am example of the same shape again, but now the gaps between the notes are bigger - so you would probably pick the strings separately instead of slowly strumming the shape.


You might ask - How do I know how fast or slow to play this ?
Are all the notes supposed to be the same length ?

This is where TAB differs from standard notation. Most often TAB will *not* give you any information on the note lengths. It is usually left up to you to listen to the song to pick up the rhythm.

However - don't despair. TAB should give you some indications of timing. In the example above all the notes are evenly spaced so you can reasonably assume that the notes are the same length (maybe all eighth notes or quavers) but this may not always be true - it depends on who wrote the TAB.

As a general rule, the spacing of the notes on the TAB should tell you which notes are the long ones, and which are the short and fast ones, but obviously it won't tell you if a note is a triplet or anything like that. Again, this will depend strongly on the person who wrote the TAB.

As an example, here are the first few notes of the American National Anthem in TAB. You should see fairly clearly that the different spacing corresponds to the different note lengths.


Obviously it will be a lot easier to play the TAB for a song you know well than for a song you've never heard of because you will already be familiar with the ryhthms of the familiar song.


So far I've looked at what notes to play : which string to hit, and where to fret it. I've mentioned how to get an idea of note lengths by looking at the spaces between notes on the TAB, but this can only be a rough guide. You will always have to check with the original track to work out details of the rhythm.

A lot of other imprtant information can be included in a piece of TAB. This includes hammer-ons, pull offs, slides, bends, vibrato and so on.

The standard practice is to write extra letters or symbols between notes to indicate how to play them. Here are the letters/symbols most often used :

h - hammer on
p - pull off
b - bend string up
r - release bend
/ - slide up
\ - slide down
v - vibrato (sometimes written as ~)
t - right hand tap
x - pl!y 'note' with heavy damping

For slides, s is sometimes used to indicate either an up or down slide. Symbols for harmonics are explained below in Section 3.2

That last one, the x, is used to get a choppy, percussive sound. You usually use your fretting hand to lightly damp the strings so that when you pick the note it sounds dead.

Note that the use of 'x' is *totally* different from the use of an 'x' when giving chord shapes.

For example if you wrote the chord of D, you would see :


where the 'x's mean do not play this string.

In tab it is implicitly assumed that a string is not played if it is not marked. So the same chord in TAB would be :


with no 'x'. The x is is only used in TAB to represent a heavily muted string which is picked/strummed to give a percussive sound.

There are a number of other symbols for things like whammy bar bends, pick scrapes and so on. There seems to be no particular standard way of writing these - details should be given in the TAB to explain what the symbols mean.

Bass TAB will probably need a few extra symbols to cope with the different techniques used in bass playing - for example slapping and 'popping' the string with thumb or middle finger. You could use 's' for slap and 'p' for pop as long as you wrote them *underneath* the lines of tab to distinguish them from slide
and pull off which would be written *on* the lines of tab.


With hammer-ons and pull-offs you might find things like these :


which would mean play the open E twice, then hit the A string at the 5th fret and hammer on to the 7th fret.

Pull offs look very similar :


Here we have a descending blues scale using pull-offs to the open strings. For each pull off you only pick the first note of the pair with the right hand - so in this example you would pick all the notes on the 3rd and 2nd frets, and the open strings would be sounded by pulling off.

Because you give the string an extra bit of energy when you hammer on and pull off, you only need to hit the first note with the picking hand. You could even have a long string of hammer-ons and pull-offs like this :


In this case you only pick the first note.

Note - you might see other symbols used to mean hammer on or pull off, for example ^ can be use to mean hammer-on and pull-off.

e.g :


which would mean "hit the note at the 2nd fret, hammer-on to the 4th and pull-off to the 2nd fret". It would make things easier if everyone used the same symbols, so unless you have a strong objection to 'h' and `p` please use those. In any case, for any tab you send you should always explain what your symbols mean so if you use anything 'unconventional' make sure you explain what it means.

*** 2.3 BENDS ***

When bends are involved you need to know how much to bend the note up. This is indicated by writing a number after the 'b'. For example, if you see this :


it means strike the B string at the 7th fret, then bend the note up two semitones (one whole step) so that it sounds the same pitch as a note fretted at the 9th fret would do. (Sometimes the bend is written with the second part in brackets, like this ---7b(9)--- )

Something like this :


means play the note at the 7th fret, bend up two semitones, strike the note again whilst it is still bent, then release the bend so that the note has it's normal pitch.

Sometimes a pre-bend is used - this is where the string is bent up *before* the note is struck. After striking the note, the bend is released. Pre-bends are usually written like this:


This means: fret the note at the 7th fret and bend the string up two semitones (without actually playing the note). Now strike the string and release the bend.

You sometimes get a note which is bent up only a quarter of a tone or so. In this case it would look a bit strange to write :


if you have to bend it up half a fret's worth. Instead it's written as :

bend up 1/4 tone

with instructions on how much to bend written above the note.

*** 2.4 SLIDES ***

The most common symbols used for slides are / for a slide up and \ for a slide down.

You might also see 's' used to mean slide.

You don't always need separate symbols for 'up' and 'down' slides since a line of TAB reading :


is clearly a slide *up* from 7th to 9th fret. However you might also see things like these :


where the exact start or finish of a slide is not given. Here you have to know whether you're sliding up or down. In these cases use your judgement to choose the starting or finishing fret. The effect usually desired is to have a note 'swooping in' from a lower pitch or dropping suddenly in pitch as the note fades.

You could have a whole series of slides running together, like this


which would mean you only strike the first note with the pick using the sustain to produce the other notes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stairway to Heaven

So why a post on one particular tune?

Well, ever since I've built my tab search engine, this one tune has been targetted for search more than any other -- by like a ratio of 3 to 1. There are lots of folks getting the "Led" out!

You'll find a lot of versions posted on the Internet -- although many are just modifications of a few main versions. Most all of it is guitar tablature and many concentrate on just the guitar intro at the beginning. Guitar tab is usually okay, because most folks looking are guitar players. There are ways to convert guitar tab into standard sheet music notation, though -- I'll post some of my favorites a little later.

For now, I'd like to point out one of my favorite "Stairway to Heaven" tabs. This particular Stairway to Heavent version covers the whole Led Zeppelin song -- intro, lyrics, solo, and outtro. It takes a long time to load on my browser -- don't know if that's a slow server ... or if there are just lots of people trying to access this tune (a strong possibility!)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Wonder what the term "copyright free" means?

Well, you can certainly create something as copyright free -- but most of the time, though, this doesn't apply to free, downloadable sheet music.
Most sheet music was published -- and had a copyright registered at time of publication. You actually don't need to register a work in order for it to be copyrighted -- but protecting your copyright is a lot easier if it's registered.

Once registered, the copyright doesn't last forever. Recently (in the United States) a copyright lasted 75 years after registration. An item published in 1920 became public domain in 1995.

Something happened in 1998, though. The "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act" extended that copyright period for a still to be determined number of years. So, if an item was published prior to 1923, it's now public domain. If published after 1923, it's still copyrighted.

And it's all because of Mickey Mouse. Mickey, you see, was copyrighted in 1923. If allowed to pass into the public domain like the prior law allowed, it could have caused the Disney corporation no end of grief. The whole intent of the 75 year expiration period was that an item would have passed out of public interest after 75 years. No one had thought about fictional characters who's appeal spanned generations.

So, because of Mickey Mouse, nothing since 1923 has passed into the public domain. The Sonny Bono act (also known as the "Mickey Mouse Act") doesn't really address when Mickey's copyright will expire; it just postpones the determination date until later. Perhaps Congress will allow Mickey -- and everything else whose copyright would have orginarily expired -- to become public domain down the road. But ... I wouldn't bet on it!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

You'll Like Mondays Now! Great Piano Site!

Watching the Florida-Oklahoma game ... there's a frequent "House" commercial where they're playing the Boomtown Rats "I Don't Like Mondays" in the background. Decided to visit YouTube to watch the video and stumbled across a video showing an overhead view of a piano keyboard and instructions on how to play "I Don't Like Mondays".

The video came from Piano Bible at Passed that way and was tickled to find even more "How to Play" videos ... including a great "Great Balls of Fire"! Way cool, lots of fun!

You'll find a lot of piano lessons and tutorials, plus some really cool "how to's". Some of the runs are fabulous!

If you're into keyboards, stick this neat resource in your back pocket -- you'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Free Celtic Sheet Music

Celtic music is pretty big right now. It was growing even before the whole "Riverdance" thing several years back and isn't slowing down any.
Celtic music is simple folk music; it's dance music and is meant to be enjoyed in a small hall or pub. Most tunes are "session" tunes; usually a combination of three different tunes. Each tune runs a few dozen bars before segueing into the next tune.

If you want to learn some of these session tunes, look no further than Francis O'Neill. O'Neill published thousands of these tunes in several books in the early 1900's. "Music of Ireland" was the most popular -- over 1800 different dance tunes.

You can still purchase these books today -- or you can download their contents for free from several source.

Free Celtic Sheet Music is a good place to start -- you can download the contents of O'Neill's three major works: "Dance Music of Ireland", "Music of Ireland ", and the rare "Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melodies". Combined, these three volumes contain over 3,000 celtic tunes; you can download standard notation transcriptions. Many pieces also offer accompanying MIDI files.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Free Sheet Music

Hi -- I hope you've come visiting because you're interested in finding free sheet music on the internet!

I've been operating free sheet music websites for more than 10 years and I'd like to pass along some of what I've found out during the process.

You'll be able to find lots of free sheet music -- but you may have to dig a little bit if you're looking for a specific title. Just works that way.

You'll have the most success if you're looking for classical pieces -- these have been out of copyright for many years and are the easiest to find. Popular pieces are a little tougher -- you'll be able to find chord sheets and lyrics, but the actual sheet music is still copyrighted. That doesn't mean you won't find it -- many sites scan and post copyrighted sheet music books. Might not be right -- but it is available.

If you're interested in being a better musician, you'll find loads of lessons and tutorials. The majority of these are oriented towards guitar players -- but brass, woodwind, and keyboard folks are also well supported.

So where do you start? I'll be posting some of the neat sites that I come across ... I generally have several submitted every day ... and will tell you what I think about them. You might also want to visit Free Sheet Music Downloads if you don't want to wait -- you'll find the most current information there.

So ... please pass by often to find the latest information. Even better, add this blog to your reader ... you can also press the "Share" button in the right-hand column to add this blog to your online favorites!