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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi, all

I've been developing a shorthand notation system, a jazz "tablature", if you will. My students use this as a crutch when learning music by ear from recordings.

1. You can check them out HERE

2. You can read my explanation / educational approach here:

There is a whole lot of essential musical information that traditional notation cannot and does not express: time feel, rhythmic placement, tone, gesture , timbral shading, articulation, phrase shape, etc.

And, the most direct way to grasp and internalize these musical elements is through hearing, then emulating. In fact, much of the time, when learning music aurally, we automatically absorb these elements of the music without even trying. It's the analog to learning the cadences, inflections, grammar, and accent of a spoken language.

So, with this in mind, I have all of my students-at every level-learn music by ear from recordings. I also teach them music by ear in our lessons.

Aural learning can be difficult. Here is a helper tool.

But, it's not always easy for students to figure out all of the pitches. And, this part of the process is where most students seem to get hung up. So, inspired by GuitarTAB notation, I've begun using these home-brewed "tablatures" as a small crutch for these students to help them in the learning-by-ear process. (GuitarTAB only shows the user which string to play at a specific fret, in order of the song. Beyond this, the user needs to know how the song sounds in order to make music using this notated tool).

I am finding that the students using these JazzTABs are still absorbing ALL of those other musical elements mentioned above. And, more importantly, they're losing their reluctance to play something else by ear. AND, they're also getting better at picking out melodies by ear. AND, they're having fun!

(Un-)Conventional wisdom?

My former teacher at Northern Illinois University, Ron Carter, who is one of the US's leading authorities on jazz education, told me recently that he advises developing musicians to have 2/3 of their music-learning be aural and 1/3 be notated. It's a natural way to learn music, fostering the student's direct connection between sound and his/her instrument.

I believe that aural learning allows student musicians to tap into their natural, innate musicianship, something we all possess to one degree or another. As students become more engaged in sound relative to their attachment with sight (i.e. "read this note, press these keys and blow"), notation becomes a more meaningful representation of music (i.e. sound).
 

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Eh, I think playing by ear is good, but teaching them some weird *** notation system isn't going to do them any good. I don't see the point. For example, I have a Korean student who learned how to play everything using fixed Solfeg. So, middle C on the Treble clef is Do, and a C# is Do sharp (I forget what she calls it). Anyhow, it works for her, but say she goes and plays in the school band. Or somewhere else.....and she has a question about a note. Or they want her to play a D? Wouldn't it just be easier to learn proper notation? My beginners I usually will either put letters above notes or have them do it, and that lasts for a few months until they start seeing that, hey, a D is always in that position. I know what that is. And then they don't need it anymore.

As for the Tab thing making it easier to learn stuff by ear? I don't buy that. When I have students learn by ear, it is on songs they know or can sing. A TAB isn't going to make it easier. It adds another layer.....a layer that doesn't offer anything better than standard music notation. So, when my students learn something by ear, it's like say a pop song that has a lot of similar structures in it. Say, the Black Eyed Peas "I've got a feeling" or similar song. Where the rhythms are similar, but the pitches shift. Or perhaps a Katy Perry tune, or the one hit wonder Daniel Powter's "Bad Day". Any mainstream pop song is good to try to learn by ear....except maybe Jason Mraz.....

I think all this touchy feely "innate musicianship" stuff is hogwash. Heck, one of my Oboe students can play the first movement of Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin pretty much by memory. Some sort of hokey tab system didn't do that for him.

I mean, all you are doing is removing the stems......I don't see the point at all.
 

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So far it makes no sense to me...Guitar Tab replaces the musical staff with representations of the strings...and I it seems to me that it was generally developed for kids who weren't going to be in a music program where they would learn to read sheet music.

This looks like music with stems removed. I agree that students should listen, but I think if they listened to "Take Five" while they looked at the sheet music (with stems) they would see the exact same thing they see here, except they would also be absorbing things like "Oh, that sound I heard looks like that when it's written."

This looks like it might be a good introduction to a very, very young beginner- just so they can see and hear that "when the sound goes up, the dots go up too." But to me it's analogous to removing punctuation and capitalization from a book.\

However, I am open to further argument. I don't deny that aural learning is very important. The students that are the most frustrating are the ones who can't simply stop and listen for a moment. But...tell me again why listening to music while looking at this "tab" would be more helpful than listening to music while looking at the regular sheet music?
 

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I disagree with the whole premise.
There is a whole lot of essential musical information that traditional notation cannot and does not express: time feel, rhythmic placement, tone, gesture , timbral shading, articulation, phrase shape, etc.
that quote to me is completely false. Nearly all of that IS expressed in properly written sheet music. I don't see how having the note only, with no value of time at all can be remotely helpful to "ear training". You are removing the most important part of the ear training which is to be able to hear the intervals. At least looking at proper sheet music you can anticipate if a long or short note is coming. This method seems 100% reactive. You couldn't possibly play the tune without hearing it first, several times. You will always be behind trying to figure out how long or short a note should be.

I can reactively get closer without any notation at all just plying by ear, and probably learn a whole lot more than if the tones are expressed with this "tablature".

Articulation and phrasing, time feel, rythmic placement all have methods of being notated on sheet music. Accents, phrase markings, pitch bends, etc.... it's all there but there is a language to it that is important.

Seems to me that the most important part of ear training is what is being removed by this method.
 

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Historical note: Guitar players did not invent tablature. It's been around for lute players since at least the 1500s.

BTW, I agree with the comments above. When my guitar students learn using tab, they aren't learning by 'ear', they're learning by 'tab'. Most of them would never get it by ear.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I really do appreciate all of the feedback.

I'm not going to attempt to refute points made above—some of them are quite good. Quite frankly, there may be some fundamental philosophical differences at play. But, that's good with me.

However, if I may, I would like to elaborate a bit more, and attempt to clarify my angle.

*

These tools are not intended to replace reading conventionally notated music, a skill that I value as highly as being able to play by ear. In fact, these tools have nothing to do with reading music. They have everything to do with developing aural skills, beginning to internalize musical syntax, and making a connection between sound heard and execution on the horn...using real music — not contrived etudes or other.

This is not about being a noble savage, a musical illiterate with great ears. This is simply about increasing emphasis on aural learning and development.

One only needs to scan improv how-to posts on any given day on these SOTW forums to find that people are searching for magic bullets to help them learn to play jazz, and to sound good.

And the magic bullet—if there is one—is to learn to play by ear. Period.

You want to improve your tone? Copy Trane on his ballads record. (for example)
You want to improve your articulations and time feel? Then try to emulate some other great player—from a recording.
You want to be able "hear" chord changes and the rhythm section? Then spend time with your headphones on and your horn in your mouth.
etc.

This is not easy work. But, it is the most direct path to improving in many areas of performance, most of which deal with SOUND.

But, as stated in my original post, students are often daunted by the assignment of "hey, kid, go learn this Kenny Garrett tune" (or Miles tune, or Paul Desmond, or whomever). I've seen it time and again, where it's simply too overwhelming of an assignment for a student who is accustomed to "learning p.12 in the book."

So, I came up with these little cheat sheets — because I want them (1) to HAVE to spend time with the recordings (2) to experience success with the assignment (3) to get accustomed to learning music by ear.

After learning a bunch of tunes with these "TABS", the students wean off of them and they're off and running, learning music by ear the old-fashioned way, without any sort of cheat sheet.

Basically, these help them get out of the gate.

*

OK -- discuss. :)
 

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Eh I kind of agree it would help learning by ear, only rhythmically unfortunately. But as a start to students learning things aurally it would certainly be a great start. Also, I find this very similar to guitar tabs in that they give you the note just not the rhythmic value. I have never found that to really help, but it does cause you to listen, and that's certainly not a bad thing.
 

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OK, maybe I need to rephrase my criticism- perhaps it isn't even a criticism-

Let's say that you give a student a Jazz Tab for for "Now's the Time."
With the JazzTab, they are able to find out what the notes are, and by listening to the recording, they can hear the rhythms, and the subtle tonal colorations, and all that stuff..you are basically telling the student, "Here are notes that are in the song, listen to it, get it in your head, then learn to play the song by using the combination of what you have heard and memorized along with this Jazztab that tells you the notes." Am I correct so far?

What I am having a hard time understanding is, what is the advantage of the exact same situation as described above, except instead of giving them the jazz tab you give them the sheet music? They can still work the same way, yes? I do it all the time, since I am a crummy reader...that is, I look at the sheet music but with a song I know (already have in my head), I only read the notes on the sheet music and not the rhythms. Do you know what I mean?

I'm not trying to argue so much as understand the whole idea, and what the difference is...do you think that young students sometimes get too hung up on the rhythms and don't actually listen the way they should?
 

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I agree with what people say here. The primary advantage of TAB is that you don't need to know what to "press" on the guitar/bass to make a certain note. So if there were SaxTAB (JazzTAB doesn't make sense, as this has nothing to do with jazz) it would be specific to the instrument. For example, trumpet might look like:

C scale:

| o * o * |
| o o * * |
| o * * o | (etc.)
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
OK, maybe I need to rephrase my criticism- perhaps it isn't even a criticism-

I'm not trying to argue so much as understand the whole idea, and what the difference is...do you think that young students sometimes get too hung up on the rhythms and don't actually listen the way they should?
This is EXACTLY it. But, actually, it's the more experienced readers who are even more guilty of this than the younger ones. It's kind of like removing any preconception of interpretation - so they can just concentrate on capturing and reproducing the sound of the music.
 

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Ok. I can see that as a useful tool then, a good exercise rather than taking the place of anything else. Thanks for bearing with me!
 

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I think it's a great idea for what Rick is using it for. When I first started reading out of the Charlie Parker Omnibook (back in the late '70s) many of the recordings were out of print and not readily available. So I read the solos, and worked out the rhythms as best as I could. It was quite a revelation to later hear the recordings and find out how rhythmically different the sounds were from the written rhythms.

The idea of using Rick's JazzTABs to force a student to REALLY listen to the recording to learn the phrasing, rather than LOOK and the rhythms and decide how to play them is great. I'm looking forward to using some of it with my students.
 
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