Saturday, August 20, 2011

Piano tabs

Piano Tabs vs. Guitar Tabs

Piano Tabs are basically the same as guitar tabs. Why is that fact important to you? Simply because most chords/lyrics which are in tab form on the internet are going to be listed as "Guitar Tabs" and not necessarily "Piano Tabs". The chords to a song, the lyrics to a song are the same regardless if a guitarist or a pianist is playing it. So if you're looking for the "tabs" for a song on the internet, you may end up having to look at a guitar tab site rather than a piano tab site. But no big deal here!

One big difference with guitar tabs, which of course is short for "guitar tablature", is that the guitar diagrams are almost always shown and these indicate what fret, string, etc. to play. Just ignore that part. You're only looking to get the lyrics and chords and disregard everything else relating to guitar playing. A student of mine once pleaded with me to explain how to directly translate the guitar notation into piano. Here's the deal though, pianists DO NOT waste time doing that exercise. Maybe it'll be fun for you but practically speaking, it's a waste of time. Guitarists don't typically take a fully written piano arrangement and extract out each note to directly use that to perform on guitar. So conversely, why whould you want to do this for piano? Just chords and lyrics my friends, chords and lyrics!!

By the way, many pianists never use guitar tab books or guitar tab sheets to work up songs. I certainly do! They argue that the melody line is not included there but it is always found in "lead sheets". What I do for a song I'm familiar with, is I have already memorized the melody line, (a relatively simple task) so all I'm missing is the chords and lyrics. Case in point, recently, I bought a fantastic Billy Joel Guitar Tab book. I would assume though that very few keyboard players would consider picking up such a book. My thought though was that the fact that I know these songs so well, just having the chords in front of me would enable me to play the song. Additionally, I could now concentrate on working on my singing without being bogged down on the note for note piano arrangement. When you're on stage, chances are you have memorized everything already, but if you have the guitar/piano tabs in front of you as a "cheat sheet", it enables you to still perform the song with minimal diversion to "looking at the music".

But the most important aspect of this type of "tab" playing is that in my experience, with pop/rock band performance, the best, most efficient information you can have to play any song and learn it quickly are guitar tabs!! That is the Secret Weapon all these garage bands use to work up songs and they're able to do a great job playing these songs, regardless of how much traditional harmonic theory they have been exposed to!

Lesson learned? Go Google or search out your favorite songs and put "tab" after the song, and you're 80% on the way to perfecting that song in its entirety!

There are many sites on the web where you can find Piano Tabs. If you are able to find a good piano tab site or at least accurate tabs for a song you're searching for, you are well on your way to playing that song. The major obstacles to creating that song from tabs are


1. Sites infected with Viruses - Unfortunately, this is a very common problem at tab sites. More often than you'd like, your computer can be infected so make sure your viral protection programs are up and running. If you do not have protection for virus infection, you can get free trail downloads at

2. Wrong chords and/or lyrics -
Many of the tabs listed on the web for your favorite songs have been put together by well intentioned amateurs who either don't double check that all the chords are correct or perhaps are unable to distinguish between a correct chord and an incorrect one.

On a scale of 1-10, there are varying degrees of "wrongness" for any chord. Example, if the correct chord should be G7 and instead the chord is listed simply as G, well that's a minor offense and you could say it's a "9" in terms of accuracy. A common mistake is listing the relative minor for a major chord or visa versa. For this error, we might consider it a 6 or 7 in terms of accuracy. In short, for well regarded substitutions for chords, one can live with that. However, with free piano tabs, you can often see wrong chords listed which are at the opposite end of the spectrum for what the chord should in fact be. The chord might be a B flat minor and the tab says that it's a G sharp major, not even close and completely out there in "left field"! We'd give that infraction a "1" on a scale of 10. Then again, you will definitely see chords that are that far off. Your final judge should be your "ear", engage your inherent musicality- if it sounds wrong or really bad to you, there's a good chance that it is in fact wrong.


For lyrics, again, the same principal applies here - you will see major infractions and minor ones. Just take the posture that the lyrics are "guilty" until proven innocent, i.e., are not 100% accurate until you proof them against either an artist songbook or against a recording.

With No Written Reference for the Lyric: If a song has never been published or perhaps is out of print and one simply can not find a written reference to check the song tabs against, then your guess is as good as anyone's really. In this case, you basically have to check it and proof it against the recording to find out how accurate it is.

Missing Lyrics and/or Chords

Another common phenomenon with free piano tabs or free tabs is that entire whole portions or sections of a song may be eliminated. It can be frustrating when this occurs so just check against the artist songbook if you have one or if one is available or check against other tab sites for that song. Speaking of which, "comparison shopping" can be a good idea with free tab sites, taking a consensus of opinion, using your own musicality as the ultimate judge again and determining which portions of a tab for any song is correct or appealing to you and which ones are not.

To discover the "pro way" to play piano songs using only piano tabs and eliminating the need to read note-for-note sheet music arrangements, be sure to visit
David Seagal is a New York City based pianist and teacher. A musician for over 25 years, he is a piano teacher, songwriter pianist and is the author of "Play Piano Like a Pro" video course. His formative music education was orchestral training on clarinet with Naomi Drucker, Hostra University and the late-great world-renowned Leon Russianoff, Professor of Music Julliard School of Music and Manhattan School of Music. Pop and rock piano and songwriting studies with Frank Doyle, New England Conservatory of Music and "Moogy" Mark Klingman, author of the Bette Midler hit "Friends" and former keyboardist for Todd Rundgren's "Utopia". Classical piano studies with concert pianist Dmitri Alexev.
His piano course is available at

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