"How to Read Tablature for 5-String Banjo
By Mickey Cochran
is one of the oldest forms of written music...it is a visual approach
to reading music that gives you an exact position of slide placement on
your instrument's slideboard. There are many advantages of tablature
that many are not aware of...for instance, if you use different tunings,
tablature does not deviate from the standard number positioning;
whereas, standard notation has to be re-learned for every tuning.
Additionally, standard notation requires a roman numeral positioning to
denote where to place your slides. Tablature is much more direct.
Ultimately, it's best to become well-versed in both standard notation
5-String Banjo TABLATURE:
line represents one of the banjo strings. In this 5-String Banjo tab
representation, the top line represents the "D" string...the next below
the "D" would be the "B" string...the next below the "B" would be the
"G" string...and the next below the "G" string would be the low "D"
string...and the next below the low "D" string would be the high "G"
string...So visually, you're looking at the Dobro strings, as
represented by these lines, as upside down.
The "T", "I" and "M" represent which right hand fingering to utilize as you play the notes.
T for thumb
I for index finger
M for middle finger
below Em Chordal Study example, you'll see the "T", "I" and "M" above
the Tablature...this indicates that all notes are played with a
downstroke of the thumb and upstrokes with the index and middle fingers.
You'll also notice the two dots and double line at the beginning and
end of this passage. This means that the piece is to be repeated after
reaching the two dots at the end...after reaching the two dots at the
end, you'll return to the two dots at the beginning and repeat the
passage one more time (or indefinitely if it's an exercise).
diagrams are located above the standard notation...in this example,
you'll see the Em, D, C and B chords...notice the numbers to the right
of the D, C and B chords. This indicates which fret position to play the
If you see numbers below the tablature, this would represent the
beats per measure. For instance, a 1 2 3 4 would be counted out evenly
as beats...If you were to tap your foot in a rhythmic manner as you
count to four methodically, you have the beat of the piece. In the above
example, it would be 4/4 timing. This means, within every measure,
you'll want to count out 4 beats as if you were tapping your foot
(measures are divided by the vertical lines on the music staff)
case of waltz timing you would have a count of 1 2 3 for each measure.
You'll notice also the line that separates the two measures that run
vertically through the tablature. This line divides each measure so that
you can always tell how many beats are in a measure. If this was a
waltz (3/4) piece, it would look like the following Dobro tablature (as a
5-string banjoist, you'll find very rare occasion to play waltz
timing...even so it's great to know):
Adding Notes to the Tablature
We will now incorporate notes to the tablature which will be
represented by numbers on each line. Following is a simple Banjo
exercise that incorporates the numbering we are discussing. Each number
will represent what note to be played. For instance, a number "5" means
to place your finger on the fifth fret. A number "4" would mean to place
your finger on the 4th fret of the string being represented by the line
it's placed on...for the below example, you'll notice that within this
chordal exercise you have a G to C chord progression...on the C chord,
at the 3rd measure, you'll see the numeral "5" on three of the top
lines. This is simply played by laying the index finger flat on the the
fifth fret...you'll be covering all four notes indicated on the chord
diagram above the standard notation...and only playing the top three
strings as indicated in the tablature. The chord symbol above the
standard notation indicates this in a diagram with "5fr" beside the
position where the index finger lays flat.
would mean the string would be played open without fretting. Here's an
example of a forward/reverse roll played with all open strings.
exercise takes you through a roll pattern in a 4/4 timing. As you're
tapping your foot to a count of "4" you'll also notice that you'll want
to count 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & to cover each measure's total
beats...the in-between notes will represent the off "and" beat between
each tap of your foot. Each downbeat would be a thumbstroke with your
right hand or middle finger; each off beat, represented by the "&"
symbol, would be played with an upstroke with your right hand index
finger...(unless you're left handed and then you would be picking with
your left hand).
How to read the number system (tablature)
that each string of your banjo is represented by a line on the tablature
staff. Picture these lines as the strings on your banjo. The very top
line is the bottom string of your banjo. The bottom line is the top
string of your banjo. The numbers on each line represent where the
string is to be played. For instance, a "0" on the top line means to
play the D string open. A "2" on the top line means to play the D string
at the 2nd fret. In the following exercises, all strings are played
open...notice that the only number on the tablature is the numeral "0".
These studies are all played in the open position, without fretting, so
that the focus will be on the picking hand...to ensure that you're not
distracted with having to work both hands at the same time.
4 beats to each measure...for each measure count out four beats as if
you're keeping the rhythm by clapping your hands or tapping your foot.
Keep in mind that you're trying to keep these notes played evenly
without faltering. There are no pauses between the notes. Start off
slowly and keep the timing even.
Thumb = T
First Finger = I
Second Finger = M
Copyright ?1999-2004 Mickey Cochran