I am learning classic banjo and all the books I have seen are notation. Are there tablature instruction books?

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The Clifford Essex book is the only one I know of.

However, don't skip the "Learn To Play" section here. It is a tab up above ^. Wonderful videos there, one even deals with reading Tab vs notation.

So, lots of resources right here!

If you're just learning the banjo, it would be well worth your effort to simply learn to read notation (I can't believe I just said that =8^0 ). There are many tutors on the tutors link and we've got an ongoing blog for the Weidt Tutor...you can jump in at the beginning and there are lots of people who here who would love to help.

Take my advice (and that of Marc and many others on here!) . You have put the effort into learning the Tablature and that is only of use for one instrument... why not put the effort into learning the basics on Notation that will be useful for EVERY instrument?

Notation is no more difficult than Tab, just different.  99.9% of Classic Style music is available as Notation so after learning where a few notes are on the score and the banjo fingerboard you will be able to read EVERY piece of Classic Style, not just the  0.1% that are in Tab.

For some people ( I am one) reading and writing tablature is more difficult than doing the same with staff notation.  Staff notation is literally a map of the music it represents.  A higher note is higher on the grid and a lower note is lower. You look at the notation and you see the shape of the tune. Tab doesn't do that. And tab  is laid out in a way that is backwards from how I perceive my banjo. In tab the fifth string is at the bottom and the first string is at the top.  When one plays the banjo the first string is closest to the floor and the fifth string is closet to the sky. So why represent this as if the banjo were being played upside down?


thereallyniceman said:

Take my advice (and that of Marc and many others on here!) . You have put the effort into learning the Tablature and that is only of use for one instrument... why not put the effort into learning the basics on Notation that will be useful for EVERY instrument?

Notation is no more difficult than Tab, just different.  99.9% of Classic Style music is available as Notation so after learning where a few notes are on the score and the banjo fingerboard you will be able to read EVERY piece of Classic Style, not just the  0.1% that are in Tab.

Since I 'grew up' with tab, it is my default. Makes total sense to me.

For whatever reason, Tab has been represented with the 5th string on the bottom since day 1 (Dobson, 1877, I believe). To me, it makes perfect sense as when I hold the banjo out in front of me, fingerboard facing me, that's what it looks like. That's no different than how any other stringed instrument is presented (bass strings on bottom, etc.). The banjo is an oddity because of its re-entrant tuning. However, most software programs for Tab have a 'reverse Tab' button that will produce 'upside down' Tab if you wish.

It is all good. Notation or Tab are simply two ways of writing/reading. Modern Tab has gotten so much better than the old stuff. Modern banjo notation (with all the fingering) is almost Tab. I can read Steve's latest offerings almost as well as I read straight Tab.

Jody Stecher said:

For some people ( I am one) reading and writing tablature is more difficult than doing the same with staff notation.  Staff notation is literally a map of the music it represents.  A higher note is higher on the grid and a lower note is lower. You look at the notation and you see the shape of the tune. Tab doesn't do that. And tab  is laid out in a way that is backwards from how I perceive my banjo. In tab the fifth string is at the bottom and the first string is at the top.  When one plays the banjo the first string is closest to the floor and the fifth string is closet to the sky. So why represent this as if the banjo were being played upside down?


thereallyniceman said:

Take my advice (and that of Marc and many others on here!) . You have put the effort into learning the Tablature and that is only of use for one instrument... why not put the effort into learning the basics on Notation that will be useful for EVERY instrument?

Notation is no more difficult than Tab, just different.  99.9% of Classic Style music is available as Notation so after learning where a few notes are on the score and the banjo fingerboard you will be able to read EVERY piece of Classic Style, not just the  0.1% that are in Tab.

You are right that banjo tab has gotten better and yes, it is the same as guitar (etc) tab in presenting what is skyward at the bottom and what is earthward at the top. It's still upside down to my subjective brain. My comment was meant to modify Ian's comment that staff notation is no harder than tab. I was saying that for some people it is easier than tab because to a certain kind of brain it makes sense whereas tab appears counter-intutive...  to a particular sort of brain. That sort of brain wants to see the representation of the strings as they appear when looking at another player playing. In other words, people like me are more comfortable studying a map right side up rather than upside down. For those who walk a particular terrain regularly a map is superfluous. For everyone else it is helpful. 

As for my previous claims in years past that tab is a crippler ( I just spoonerized my typing as "crab is a tippler!" and I can't blame my computer spell checker this time) I have recently modified that view. I have certainly seen tab hold back banjo students from progressing as musicians and I have seen some banjo players zoom and bloom and kaboom into superb players once they put the tab aside. But people are not all the same. Last summer I played some gigs with Tony Trischka in a trio in which I played both guitar and banjo depending on the piece. (we did a lot with 2 banjos and Chad Manning on fiddle).  We did a fair amount of original pieces. When we rehearsed my compositions he wrote down a few phrases on some scrap paper. I assumed it would be staff notation but when I had a look I saw that it was tab.  Now I have never met a more able banjo player than Tony. Clearly his use of tab has not held him back. My guess is that he had already internalized/memorized the melody but was using tab to remind himself of what fingering seemed to flow best.

I agree, it is really about how the individual learns. Dobson claimed to have some students who could not get the hang of notation, so he re-invented lute tablature for the banjo. It was terrible stuff then...and well deserved the derision. However, it did help some folks. My brain is evil. It tempts me with its ability to read notation in three clefs, except for the banjo, for which it laughs and refuses to output sense.

Musescore has been a real boon for me. It does a grand job at populating the banjo's fretboard in Tab from notation. I'm getting faster at it all the time.

I prefer tab myself. I can read standard notation, in the sense that I know which note is which and where it is on the fingerboard,but for some reason it just doesn't register when I try and play the piece, unless its in tab. 

My favorite tabs are the Clifford Essex ones which include standard notation and tab, therefore I'm receiving all of the information that I need. When its only in tab, unless I know the song before hand, theres way more guess work involved.

However, being the thrifty guy that I am, at $2 a pop, things will get expensive if I don't get my act together.

Therefore, I recently ordered the Bradbury book. I'm going to give this notation thing a real go over the next few months

Have a go at the Grimshaw "The Banjo and how to Play it" on the Tutor books page. I prefer it to Bradbury's and it has the great advantage that it is FREE.

Learn my NUMBERED chord shapes as available for download below, and you will see that these numbers are used as clues on original banjo scores.

CHORD SHAPES DOWNLOAD

You will also find that most of the time the notes within the chords shapes are played as "broken chords" for either the melody or accompaniment. 

Look at this Morley Score for example:

You can see that the notes I have coloured with dots are the same as those in the chord.... this also applies to most of the other bars too... check them!

As seen in Sports Parade, the Chord Position Markers  eg  3P, means the LH  FIRST finger rests behind the  3RD fret in the chord,

6PB means that the chord with the LH FIRST finger at the 6th fret is also a barre. 

These notation markers are specific to CLASSIC STYLE scores and have been used on the published music since the year dot !      Don't ignore them, they really help with reading notation.

1) Yes, and put your left hand fingers down in the indicated chord position all at once. Don't wait for each note to appear on the page. It makes all the difference in the world for coherent and flowing playing.

2)  Ian, "broken chords" has another meaning. Generally a broken chord is one where only 2 of the expected notes are fingered and played or when 2 are played along with a note or two that are not part of the chord.  I think what you mean is that the notes of the chord are played as an arpeggio ("in the manner of a harp") 1 note after another in sequence, and in the case of banjo, it would be one string after another, which is indeed the manner of a harp.

3) I also prefer Grimshaw's book to Bradbury's. I find the musical pieces and exercises more engaging and satisfying to play and hear.

Hi Dave, have you had a look at any of my arrangements?  At last count I've reached number 482, all written in standard notation. For the past three years or so, I've used a sort of 'pseudo tab' by adding position indicators and fret numbers to  many of the notes on my scores. For example if you see an F with a 3 by it in IP,  it's played 1st string 3rd fret. If it's indicated by a 6 in 5P, it's played  2nd. string 6th fret and if indicated by a 10 in 10P it's played 3rd string 10th fret and so on for other notes. If you look at my most recent posting, The American Rag, you'll see examples of this.

The principle reason I do this is that having reached the age of 70, I've lost the will, and don't have the time, to spend hours of practice committing tunes to memory and with 482 arrangements, it would be an impossible task to remember them all anyway. As well as that, I don't play out these days so have no real reason to memorise too many tunes.

Most of what I play tends to be sight read and my system is a helpful aide memoir for me when playing something I haven't played for some time. I suppose it could also be of some use for someone learning to read notation.

I also concur with Ian that learning to read and play standard notation is probably the advisable way forward....Steve.

I've tried the Grimshaw book with mixed results. I've decided to give the Bradbury book a try after contacting Clark Buehling on Facebook. He kindly took the time, as everyone here has done, to answer my questions. He recommended the Bradbury book. He could of also told me to wear red shoes and ride a unicycle backwards and I would've probably tried it.

Honestly, it only cost me a few dollars on Amazon, tax and shipping included, so I can't wait to give it a try. As mentionned, as far as identifying which note is which and knowing where to find it on the fret board, i'm improving. I just doesn't register when trying to actually play.  

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