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How to Use Tablature  
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I use a program called TablEdit to create my tablature. To download tablature either from my Tablature page or a lesson page you will need a program called TEFview. TEFview is free software that lets you open TablEdit files and print or listen to the tablature.

Click to Download TEFview:

Download TEFview

One of the first things new banjo students need to learn is a way of writing down which string and fret is played for each note of a song or tune. We could use standard music notation for this but it doesn't tell us anything about where a specific note is should be played. Most notes on the banjo can be played in more than one place on the fingerboard. The system called tablature fixes this problem and also is very easy to learn.

Tablature is like a picture of the fingerboard. The are 5 lines across the page. Each line representing a string. The 1st string is on the top and the 5th string on the bottom. The frets to be played are indicated by numbers on the lines. These tell you where to put the fingers of your left hand. By looking at which line a number is on we know which string to pick with our right hand and which frets to play with our left hand. In addition there are often numbers or letters above or below the lines for chord names and fingering for both the right and left hand. This way we can accurately write down how something should be played.

Here is a small sample of tablature:

As you can see there are numbers showing which string is being played on which fret. A zero means the string is not fingered by the left hand and is referred to as "open". At the start of the tune we see two numbers on top of each other. This means they are played at the same time. At the start of measure 2 (the small numbers above the lines counts the measures) there is a letter G above the lines. This says that until a different letter appears, we are playing a G chord.

Tablature also shows techniques that go beyond playing a single note on a single fret. For example there are ways of changing a note by only using left hand. In measure 2 you will see two notes connected with a curved line with an H over it. This is called a hammer-on. The opposite of a hammer-on is a pull-off which looks the same but has a P over the curved line. Finally, at the end of measure 4 we see the same sort of thing with an S over it. These three techniques are covered in my Lesson 2. They are very common and tablature makes it easy to see where they should be used. There are a few other symbols that appear in tablature including a bend or choke and a harmonic or “chime”. I will point these out as they appear in the lessons on this site.

I need to mention how I indicate fingering for the right and left hand in my tablature. Right hand fingering appears below the tablature using I, M, and T to indicate the index, middle, or thumb. Left hand fingerings also appear below the lines, but they use number inside circles to indicate the fingers of the left hand. One through four are used for fingers and T is used for the thumb.

Besides knowing which string and fret to play, we need to know how long each note should last. Most tablature uses a system taken from standard music notation. In the sample above you can see that there are vertical lines under each note. In the first measure they are all just straight lines. Most of the other notes have vertical lines connected on the bottom by a horizontal line.

We all have two built-in devices to keep track of the rhythm of any type of music-our feet. I assume you have listened to music that made you want to tap your foot. Without thinking about it your foot recognizes the rhythm of the tune being played. One name for this is "the beat". If you listen to the bass in any good bluegrass band you will find that he or she is playing "on the beat". Whenever music is written down, either in music notation or tablature, there is something that tells you the beat.

In music notation rhythm is indicated by something called a time signature. This looks like 2 numbers with one on top of the other. Most tablature is based on having 4 beats to a measure. A note with a straight tail takes up one full beat. If the tail has a little tail at the bottom or is connected to the note next to it, it takes up half of one beat. In the example above the first note of measure 2 is a quarter note that lasts one full beat. The notes that follow are all eight notes lasting half a beat.

That it for the basics of tablature!

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