What are Piano Tabs? How to Read Piano Tabs?

Lots of today’s musicians cannot read music notes but are very good skilled players.

Especially in music styles like Pop, Jazz, Gospel musicians have become famous with their music.

They often compose their songs using their ears.

To Play popular songs without sheet music you can choose to learn to play with what we call “piano chords” or “Tablature”.

What is “Piano Tablature”?

Piano Tablature is piano notes or chords written in text format, very often combined with song lyrics…

Easy To Learn

With some guidance and practice, you can learn to use, write and play tablature and chords within just a few days.

It’s a fun and adventurous way to experience music. Discover this exciting and easy way to play songs in a different way…

Advantages

The advantages of using the tablature format instead of standard notation are:

  • Can be written/read anywhere without any special software
  • They will always be a lot earlier on the web than the sheet music
  • They use a minimum of disk space
  • They use little screen space
  • They allow the writer to use comments etc., instead of necessarily having to write accurate standard sheet music

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of using the tab format instead of standard notation are:

  • Not very easy to play along with, until you learn the songs by heart
  • They sometimes are longwinded to write, but it’s up to the writer how detailed the tab is.

How to Read Piano Tabs?

Since there are very few standards to reading piano tabs you can find one of the most popular forms to write a tab here below…

If you continue reading you will also find another way to learn to play a song from radio or cd…

On this page, you learn more about reading piano tabs, how to write tabs and how to play them.

Example (the intro of “Nightswimming” by REM):

REM: Nightswimming

intro:
4|-ga–g–|g—|-ga–g–|a—|
4|d—-d–|e—|d—-d–|d—|
2|g–g-h-3|c–2|g–g-h-3|d—|
b|1-2-3-4-|1234|1-2-3-4-|1234|

  • the numbers (1-7) to the left of the tab, indicate in what octave (starting at the lowest C) to play the notes in that row. When numbers appear elsewhere in a row, it is to indicate a new octave.
  • ordinary letters (cdefgah) symbolices the corresponding notes
  • capital letters (C,D,F,G and A) are used instead of c#,d#, f#, g# and a#.
  • the symbol “>” is used to cut notes
  • the symbol “|” is used to separate each measure (section of beats)
  • the symbol “-” indicates nothing
  • the bottom row keeps track of the beats and tells if the notes above are whole, half, quarter or etc.

In the example above, a “-” in section 1 lasts half as long as a “-” in section 2. This “beat-line” is often hard to write, or even meaningless. Therefore it is optional.

under the tab, it is preferable that the text of the song is written. That way the users of the tab will have all they need in one piece.

often songs contain parts where accurate piano tabs are meaningless (or impossible).

In these cases, it is enough to write chords (and text), maybe with an explanation on how to play them.

Chords are for instance: “A”, “C”, “Am”, “Em7”. I use the symbol “*” if I want to comment something outside the piano tab

To make reading piano tabs easier, try to write the higher notes “above” the deeper ones

Before You Start Reading Piano Tabs

Here’s how you make your own tablature…

To create your own tabs and before reading piano tabs, here’s what you need before you start…

  1. A good Tape Player, or CD-Player. If possible place it within reach of your arms
  2. Recording of your Song(s) (Digital is best to work with).
  3. Piece(s) of Paper, or better, a blank piece(s) of Staff Paper
  4. Patience It may take a great deal of your time, especially when you are just starting using this technique. 🙂

Instead of reading piano tabs there are other ways to write down music….

Here’s another way to create piano tabs and write and finding chords.. This is how I always work and create piano tabs myself:

First, build a complete “structure” of the song…

1. I listen to the song all the way through.

2. Then rewind or replay. Listen again and count the number of choruses, couplets, bridges you hear and write them down.

3. Listen very carefully to the “Intro” part then count the number of bars you hear, write them down in piano tabs like below:

Intro ||:* | | | :||
* The “:” sign above means that you repeat this whole block, it saves you time and space.

4. Repeat this process for the rest of the song, write and create tabs after counting the bars of every couplet, chorus, bridge, etc.

You should get a good overview of the structure of the song in the form of a piano tab.

For reading piano tabs in the most efficient way, you might want to write something like here below…

Intro: ||: | | | :||
Couplet 1: || | | | | | | | ||
Chorus: ||: | | | :||
Couplet 2: || | | | | | | | ||
Brigde: ||: | | | :||
Chorus: ||: | | | :||
Ending ||: | | | :||

5. Finding and Inserting the right Chords

  • Listen again from the beginning but only the first few notes you hear. (depending on how well you trained your ears you can do this with more notes at the same time).First listen to the lowest tones, notes you hear. The “Bas-notes”.Let’s say the first note in the intro you hear is the lower c, then try to play it with the recording and listen if it sounds well together.With this tone, you can build your first chord.From our example, “C” is our first tone..
  • All chords are built from a minimum of three tones. “C” is our tone, we call it our Tonica, first tone.When start building chords we need to use the 1st, 3rd and 5th tones from each scale.Here’s the C major scale:1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    c d e f g a b c

    “C” was our first tone, so we go and build the following chord, starting with the lowest tone first:

    1st 3rd 5th
    C E G

We call this a C-major Chord.

6. Writing Piano Tabs and Playing the Chords

Remember, play chords with your right hand in the area of the middle c…

Play the bass notes with your left hand

Now try to “Test” it, and try to play your first piano chord with your right hand.. Start playing with your 1st finger (dumb) on “C” your 2nd finger on “E”, and 5th finger on “G”

Try to listen to the first notes only (two or three) from the intro again and try playing your first chord again. If it sounds well, write your chord down into your piano tab and move on the next few notes/chords you hear.

If it doesn’t sound right, it might be a “minor” chord, then lower the 3rd tone with one half (one key to the left)…

In our example this would be:

1st 3rd 5th C E flat G

Then try playing it again with the recording.

Move on…..

Let’s say the next bass lower tone you hear should be an “F”

We can try building a chord based on “F” Next we need to know the scale of F major which is the following

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
f g a b flat c d e f

To create a major chord we need to take the: 1st 3rd and 5th tone from the scale..

This would be

1st 3rd 5th
F A C

Now try to “Test” it, and try to play your first piano chord with your right hand.. Start playing with your 1st finger (dumb) on “F” your 2nd finger on “A”, and 5th finger on “C”

Try to listen to the first notes only (two or three) from the intro again and try playing your first chord again.

If it sounds well, write your chord down into your piano tab and move on the next few notes/chords you hear.

If it doesn’t sound right, it might be a “minor” chord, then lower the 3rd tone with one half (one key to the left)…

Now write down the names of the chords into your piano tabs paper like here below:

Intro:
||: C | F | C | G7 :||

7. Continue listening to the recording note for note, then write down each tone and try to build chords from it.

It’s a different approach than reading piano tabs but can be very useful in some cases.

Remember, it might take time to complete a whole song.

This depends on your knowledge of music theory, chords, progressions, ear-skill, etc… how fast you can actually create a piano tab with chords.

Now reading piano tabs should be easy and fun to do!

Good Luck and Have Fun Playing with reading Piano Tabs!

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap