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Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style

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Michael K. 19 Oct 99 - 12:56 AM
sophocleese 19 Oct 99 - 09:41 AM
james taylor 19 Oct 99 - 02:25 PM
Michael K 19 Oct 99 - 02:26 PM
Bert 19 Oct 99 - 02:27 PM
Davey 19 Oct 99 - 02:28 PM
j0_77 19 Oct 99 - 04:02 PM
1979 19 Oct 99 - 04:10 PM
Rick Fielding 20 Oct 99 - 10:10 AM
Jack (Who is called Jack) 20 Oct 99 - 11:28 AM
Magpie 20 Oct 99 - 11:43 AM
Easy Rider 20 Oct 99 - 01:26 PM
Roger in Baltimore 20 Oct 99 - 07:12 PM
MandolinPaul 20 Oct 99 - 09:07 PM
Neil Lowe 21 Oct 99 - 12:13 AM
Rick Fielding 21 Oct 99 - 12:40 AM
21 Oct 99 - 01:02 AM
Frank Hamilton 21 Oct 99 - 11:39 AM
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Subject: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Michael K.
Date: 19 Oct 99 - 12:56 AM

While I do understand the importance of taking an arrangement and learning it note for note from tab (and from instructional videos) in order to acquire ''the intellectual hearts of tunes'', how does one eventually move beyond the point of playing others' great arrangments and developing one's own style?

There is a very good (IMHO) guitar player I am friends with who's been playing for many many years, and he is totally ''anti tab''. He feels, that learning tunes over an extended period of time soley through tablature ultimately restricts and binds the player to that particular arrangement, so much so that one loses the ability to think on one's feet, improvise and even recover from a mistake when playing a tune learned from a tab arrangement. He's not entirely wrong.

It's funny, but when I have learned an arrangment from tab, it never occurrs to me to take a given riff that might be over a bar or two bars, out of that context, and plug it into another tune in the same key over the same duration...that was, until this was pointed out to me. I guess I was becoming guilty of getting locked into a total tab mentality.

Perhaps the idea of developing one's own style, is taking all the knowledge, skill and licks you've acquired through study and improvisation, and finding or reinventing ways to combine these ingredients in such a way that defines your unique style...sometimes by intention; sometimes by total fluke.

Lately, I seem to have gained more insight by spending more time improvising than studying fixed arrangements via tab. I can take a standard blues progression (say in E for example) and intertwine a little bit of John Hurt, Sam McGee, Chet Atkins, Stefan Grossman, RGD, Blind Blake and have it all come out sounding almost original, eventhough I don't think anything I'm doing IS....but I guess it's in the order and the way I do it (a.k.a. interpretation?)

I know I'm sort of answering my own question a bit here, but I would be interested in others' opinions and their takes, on developing one's own style.

Another thing that hangs me up (and maybe I just think too damn much about it) is that there is almost nothing original left. (Is this insane?)

The reason why there are so few, true innovators today, is that pretty well everything in finger-style/thumb style has been done....and we are totally overexposed and bombarded with outside conscious and subliminal music being thrown at us. Commericals, soundtracks, theme songs, radio, tv/MTV, mp3. Makes it hard to have an original musical thought - especially if you're striving for a certain sound.

Seems like all the great innovators existed before our time, because they had fewer distractions and much less exposure to outside musical influences.

Every lick I play, every fingerstyle pattern I can ''dream up'', syncopate the hell out of while maintaining an alternating bass -- I can't help but feel that it's all been done before and better.

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: sophocleese
Date: 19 Oct 99 - 09:41 AM

I feel also that all of what I'm doing has been done before but I keep doing it because I like doing it. This seems reason enough. I think you did answer your question a bit there. Learning tab is helpful, it can give you tools to play with, just keep the 'play' in play and it'll be more fun.

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: james taylor
Date: 19 Oct 99 - 02:25 PM

can you show me your all song in tabs

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Michael K
Date: 19 Oct 99 - 02:26 PM

How much outside influence do we want or need in order to enhance our own creative process?

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Bert
Date: 19 Oct 99 - 02:27 PM

The more outside influence you have, the more material your creative process has to work with.


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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Davey
Date: 19 Oct 99 - 02:28 PM

I think you should explore other influences as much as you can. You may start off imitating another artist, but over time your own singing range and instrumental ability will influence how you interpret a song or tune, and it will take on your own individual style, often without you being aware of it.

My partner and I sing a song written by a friend, that we learned from his singing on an album he was part of. We finally had a chance to sing it for him after we had been singing it for about 3 years, and he was pleasantly surprised and full of praise at how we had interpreted it. We weren't aware that we had substantially changet the delivery, although the words and the tune were the same.

SO, Michael, I'd say listen to everything you can in the genre you choose, and other things as well... Davey :-)

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: j0_77
Date: 19 Oct 99 - 04:02 PM

Here is something that sometimes yeilds a great result, take a piece off another instrument or ensemble and try adopt that to the Guitar. I know it may not always work but when it does, the work is well worth the effort.

For example a march played by a Braas band can sound very beautiful when set for the finger picked Guitar. I have some problems with a rolling bass line but it can be done.

Some remarks on thumb routines for setting a March for Guitar.

The base line for a tune in C fingering would perhaps be G G /C G C G/ etc. Playing true to a Piano arr would also require the Thumb to strike the 'UPBEAT' as well so assuming a mini chord at g/c for that beat we now have, G(gc)G(gc)/C(gc)G(gc)C(gc)G(gc)/ etc. As you can see this would be fairly hard to keep up as well as play a melody on the free string E, and grabbing what you can off of the B string on the DOWNBEAT and OFFBEAT. Happily when these notes are dropped and one keeps the thumbed notes, the tune is still intact. There is also the option to jazz these 'clashing notes'. :0)

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: 1979
Date: 19 Oct 99 - 04:10 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong but most of us play guitar for the sheer enjoyment of it. I'm not trying to sound cruel but who really gives a shit if it sounds the same as something else. When I make up my own songs there is no question that there are parts that sound alot like other songs but the personal significance and meaning are different. It's like by playing that note with a certain picture in your mind, combined with other notes that may sound almost exactly like another song, you have created something totally unique to yourself and even if other people here it and like it it dosen't matter because you do anyway.

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 20 Oct 99 - 10:10 AM

Since Mike was (probably) referring to me vis. the anti-tab stance, I want to say once again that I'm NOT opposed to tab completely, I just think it gets a player out of the habit of learning by ear. Occasionally you'll hear a really unusual chord on a recording, and certainly tab can be a much quicker way of picking it up. On the other hand if you've learned a Mississippi John Hurt tune in G from tab, why would you want to use it for several others also in G? 10 to 1 he's using basically the same notes and bass patterns, so why not excersise your ear a bit and try to hear the variations on the first piece you learned.
I think it's also about who you listen to. I love the music of Blind Blake, Sam McGee, Dick Justice, Blind Boy Fuller, Merle Travis, Doc Watson, The Rev., Bill Broonzy, and so many other pretty traditional artists. Just can't imagine any of them learning by tab ('specially the blind ones).
Fortunately, as you develop your ear you'll see that the musical possibilities are endless. During the time of Mozart, scholars wrote that there was nothing original left to play. They were very wrong obviously - and still would be today.


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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Jack (Who is called Jack)
Date: 20 Oct 99 - 11:28 AM

I develop my 'own style' because technically I am not that gifted. I compensated for my lack of manual dexterity by learning lots of the underlying chord structure of music. That way I can experiment with different chord inversions etc to make a piece sound more interesting without making it more difficult.

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Magpie
Date: 20 Oct 99 - 11:43 AM

Davey, I think you have a good point!

When I learn songs or tunes, I usually start by learning tem from a CD.(Reading music is NOT my strong side). Of course I'll be influenced by the original artist at first, but after having done the number for a while, it becomes "my own". I used to sing a Cat Stevens song on every possible occasion, much the way he did (if that is possible). I lost the album (read:wore it out) and didn't hear the song for years. Then I found it in a store. I bought it, ran home, put the album on, waiting for that special song. And what happened? I hardly recognised it! I had been making small changes for so many years, that there was not much Cat Stevens left, just me.

I'm not ashamed to steal or borrow from other musicians, it's a way to learn more, and to have more ideas to draw from when I try to make my own style.


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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Easy Rider
Date: 20 Oct 99 - 01:26 PM

I've found that, even among professional, Classical musicians, there are those who can learn by ear and those who learn from written music or TAB. Both paths are valid, and we should be able to use both.

Certainly, the more material you learn, whether from TAB/Music or by ear, the better your skills and the larger your toolbox. The more you learn, the more you have to work with. Even if you learn a piece by ear, you should write it down anyway, so you can remember it years later. My TAB binder gave me a great start, when I picked up the guitar again last Summer, after twenty years of not playing. I would have been lost without it.

I get annoyed at those who say that everybody should learn by ear. That's elitism and snobbery, IMO. Some of us can't. We don't have the ear. We are hobbyists, not aspiring professionals, and the written music gives us access we would not otherwise have. I'm finding, though, that, the more I learn, from TAB/Music, the better my ear is getting and the easier it is to pick up new licks. I use an electronic tuner too, but, I'm slowly getting better at tuning the strings. There is hope for me yet!

I won't stop depending on written music/TAB or my electronic tuner, just so I can be noble and struggle. Music is FUN, and the more I can learn, by any means, the more FUN I'll have.

So... Does anybody have the TAB to...?

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 20 Oct 99 - 07:12 PM

Michael K.,

Do whatever works for you. If some of these suggestions come as news and you want to try them, then try them.

Rick F.,

Rigidity is the issue. There is no one way and if you try just one way, you will limit your results.

So just how did those "old guys" learn to play. Well, the "story" on Robert Johnson is he could be talking to you while the juke box was playing and then two hours later he could play that song for you. DON"T TRY THAT PATH!!!

Some of these old blues guys followed their blind mentors around for years. None of them chose to become blind, but certainly part of how they learned was aural osmosis (hearing the same thing over and over) [that's the CD of those days], part of it had to be from watching it over and over again [that's the video of those days], and maybe some of it was sort of written down in some crude (or refined, but now unknown) tablature [the tab of those days].

Michael K.,

I have been playing guitar for 35 years or there abouts. I have learned my material just about any way there is to learn it. Living in a rural area there weren't too many places to go watch others play and when I could I might only pick up a hint or two. So I have bought books, I have bought videos, I have taken lessons, and I have learned off records (some may ask "what the hell is a record?"). There has been some good and some bad in all fo that learning. From my years working with adolescents, I learned that people with less knowledge and skill than you possess may still have something they can teach you (and hence I learned the intro to Stairway to Heaven, thank you).

My thoughts on personal style.

Learning what others do gives you more tools to do what you want to do. Not all of us are Richie Haven's and can develop out style seemingly from whole cloth. Yet you should remember Richie was really working with his limitations at the start.

Creativity can be stitching up an arrangement completely original or it can be quilting an arrangement from various pieces you obtained elsewhere.

My limitations are very often the source of my creativity. I can't do it the way someone else does it, so I find my own way.

If we had an aural record of the old bluesmen, we could probably piece together an intertwined tree of knowledge constructed from various "licks" and "turnarounds" that might include an originator of each particular "lick" or "turnaround". Many of the bluesmen (even that genius Robert Johnson) have licks on their records whose origin clearly comes from some previous recording, sometimes lifted as a solid chunk from one man's song and into another man's song.

So, Michael K., don't get caught up in a debate over how to learn. Just know that you never have to do it just like Mississippi John Hurt and in fact you should not do it just like Mississippi John Hurt. Color outside the lines, ALWAYS. Eventually you will make new lines.

I think all of us who have been playing for a few years have had Magpie's experience. Thought we were doing it just like the originator, but without a reference we have turned it into "our version>"

Just play whenever you can and hopefully when you play you won't ever have to think of it as "practice." It should be "just having fun."

I better step down off that soap box. If my head swells any bigger I'll probably collapse under its weight.

Roger in Baltimore

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: MandolinPaul
Date: 20 Oct 99 - 09:07 PM

Tab, like standard notation, is an excellent tool for learning tunes and riffs. The true value is when you can dissect and assemble what you've learned to develop your own riffs and style. Play with other musicians; improvise on the tunes you've learned, and jam out some tunes you don't know. You won't even realize how much better you've become.

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Neil Lowe
Date: 21 Oct 99 - 12:13 AM

Interesting food for thought, with most things there are salient points to consider in both approaches to developing your own "style." My personal (and ideal) approach is to try not to be influenced by anyone or anything - just play whatever I feel, for better or worse. Social scientists fantasize about such experiments: give a subject who's never heard music a guitar, isolate the subject from outside musical influences and see what develops...and, most of us can probably name off someone whose approach to their instrument was so unique, who pioneered a sound that was considered so radical or unconventional (the composer Charles Ives comes to mind), that it seems as though they emerged from exactly such an reality, though, I find that I am influenced by everything I've ever heard..from commercial jingles to ambient noise...I'm just a walking conglomeration of everything I've ever heard...and one can make an argument for that approach also. After all, one of the most recognizable forms of music (rock 'n roll) built on the framework of another recognizable form of music (blues), by adding a twist here and there. And there's always room for a few more new forms: Heavy Metal Country & Western, or New Age Blues....bands with names like "Dark Tractor" or "Harmonica Dream-Catchers."

Regards, Neil

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 21 Oct 99 - 12:40 AM

Michael, you mischievious son of a gun! (he just walked out the door after his lesson) Don't go telling people I'm totally anti-tab. T'ain't true. I'm completely in favour of EVERY method a person uses to learn and have fun in the process. There are draw backs and plus points no matter what direction you take. I learned banjo by tab from Pete Seeger's book many years ago cause there was nobody in Montreal who could teach that style, but without all those records it would have taken a heck of a lot longer.
Roger, if I implied by what I said a certain rigidity than I really should clarify that. In working with other folks for over twenty years I know that absolutely everyone has different goals, different initial skill levels, and perhaps most importantly different amounts of time to spend learning an instrument. I've kept a teaching diary for years and sometimes when I look back at older stuff, it's a real eye opener. I've used some extremely odd methods at times to help someone over that initial hump. far as rigidity in one area..Mea Culpa. I have to admit that if someone wants to learn faster (and much easier) an instrument that TRULY suits them is IMO absolutely crucial. I don't mean more expensive, just the right size, neck width, decent tone, and especially good action. When I started, that would have meant pretty big bucks, but today a hundred and fifty bucks can buy an extremely good instrument to learn on. No question about it, if someone really seems to want to learn (as opposed to being dragged here kicking and screaming by mom) I'll do most anything to get them to invest in a decent instrument.
Once again , as far as tab, I use it with virtually every beginner for right hand patterns, BUT I encourage them to listen constantly to the recordings of the folks who pioneered the styles. I know it's a good way to lose them and scratch them, but I've loaned out hundreds and hundreds of extremely valuable (to me) records, 'cause the kick I get when I've made a convert to trad music can't be beat.


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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
Date: 21 Oct 99 - 01:02 AM

When the hands are so disciplined that they 'think' for themselves then you have to train your brain. It is almost a certainty that a person will not be another Robert Johnson or Jimmy Hendrix, but it could happen.

Hearing Jimmy live was another world entirely !

For what it's worth be yourself, it is more fun and a pleasure to hear as well.

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Subject: RE: Tablature vs. Defining Your Own Style
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 21 Oct 99 - 11:39 AM

IMHO this is a great thread! I need to assimilate everything that has been said here but before I do I'd like to interject my opinions. Tablature is a valid neumonic device, basically graphic. Musical notation deals with musical ideas. Tab just shows you where to put your fingers. Tab is a very useful way to learn to read music.

Now, about the cult of originality. Everyone is original. Every one is unique. If you copy someone elses notes, you are going to play them differently. Now if you're talking about musical ideas, then, this is a different matter. IMHO the best interpreters of folk music are those who have studied it. This means learning to play it like the original folk "masters". Once this is done, then you look for the music inside of you. It's there. Stop comparing yourself to others and do what you genuinely feel. Look for that musical integrity within yourself. You'll find your voice. To sum up, a balance between studying how others do things and incoporating them into your own voice is where it's at.

Sorry if I sound like I'm pontificating here. I've done a lot of thinking about this kind of thing and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

Frank Hamilton

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