Tablature for Piano

Tablature is a sort if instrumental notation. Better to say, it is another way to record music (an alternative to notes on the staff). I believe, you`ve already heard the word “tabs” which is a shortening for tablature. Tabs are schemes, which consist of letters and numbers. First they will seem like double Dutch, but we will try to learn, how to read and understand them.

In a typical tablature notes are written on several horizontal lines. Here is a simple example of piano tab – F major scale.

F major tablature

The history of tablature begins with organ compositions. Organ tabs are known since 14th century, one of the first sources is Buxheimer Orgelbuch (1460).

An extract from Buxheimer Orgelbuch

Intabulation is the arrangement of a vocal piece written in tabs. Newgerman tabulature, also known as North German, differs from other types a lot, although it is also written with letters and special signs. Each voice consists of 3 elements – the name of the note, its duration and octave. The notes of different voices are written in vertical. Such a tablature is very compact, so there is no need in clefs and alteration signs.

Tablature is suitable not only for keyboard. With the help of this method are also written notes for the guitar. The base for the guitar tabs was lute tablature. Horizontal lines mean guitar strings and the numbers of frets mean notes, they are located sequentially.

Keyboard signs for piano tabs

As was already mentioned for keyboard tabs are used letters, numbers and symbols. They should be read as a book from left to right. Notes, which are above one another on different lines should be played at the same time. And now let`s have a look on basic symbols of piano tabs:

  1. The numbers 3, 2, 1 mean the octave number. Pay attention, that the 3rd octave is located in the middle of the keyboard.
  2. Small letters (a, b, c, d, e, f, g.) mean those notes, which are situated on white keys of the keyboard.
  3. Capital letters A,C,D,F and G mean notes with sharps. In fact they are a#, c#, d#, f# and g#. First they were written this way with a sharp sign before or after a letter, but then they were changed to capital letters to save place.
  4. You can face some problems getting confused with flats. Not to confuse the flat sign with the note b instead of notes with flats are written suitable notes with sharps. For instance, instead of Bb (B flat) is written A (a sharp).
  5. The sign “|” is the bar line.
  6. The sign “-” means the rests between notes and «>»  – note duration.
  7. Letters above the tablature mean chord names.
  8. «RH» — should be played with right hand, «LH» — with left.

After reading this manual you should have comprehension of what the tablature is. Surely to read it fast at sight you`ll need months of practice, but the most important facts you already know.

And here is a “dessert” for you. The composition from “Pirates of the Caribbean” played on the piano should inspire you to study tablature and make other musical achievements.