learning guitar without sheet music

The Surprising Benefit of Learning Guitar Without Sheet Music

learning guitar without sheet music

We’ve talked about how to read chords and tabs before on the blog — but what about a new approach of learning guitar without sheet music at all? Here, Austin, TX teacher Samuel B. explains his teaching technique…


During my college years, I was given a brief introduction to instructional methods common to Japan. Specifically, I was told that playing the shamisen or the koto (two native stringed instruments) is a skill learned by way of the student facing the teacher and playing what the teacher plays. I continue to use this teaching technique, and feel it has many little-known benefits.

I should begin by making it clear that I’m a kinesthetic learner — I learn by doing more naturally than I do by seeing or hearing. I didn’t even know that I was kinesthetic until I was in my early 30s. Up until that point, I knew of only two orientations (visual and auditory) and I had no idea which one I was.

I began learning guitar — the blues, specifically — by hearing the music of Delta artists such as Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson while I was in my teens, and I began developing my adaptations of their techniques simply by building on basic first-position (first three frets) chord patterns, which most of my students master in fewer than five lessons. I picked out various riffs that now seem to me to have been more like tributes to these giants of the form than actual attempts to imitate them. In reality, I was just experimenting.

How I Teach My Students

These experiments have given way to effective instructional techniques based squarely on factors such as your coordination and the development of your left-hand muscles. ”F” in first position is a good example. Given that the chord involves holding down two strings with one finger, I taught my first student to play each half of the chord (the index finger holding the first and second strings, the third and fourth fingers holding down the third and fourth strings). Several go-arounds of playing each half of the chord solidified her understanding of it to the point of her now playing it as proficiently as I do.

Learning guitar doesn’t have to include sheet music. In fact, I’ve never actually taught with it, because I regard it as an emotionless third party to my very personal teaching style, which is tailored as closely as possible to your individual needs and rate of progress. I’m committed to focusing squarely on your gradual accumulation of knowledge, confidence, and personal initiative beginning literally on the very first note. I believe that sheet music widens the distance between you and I, producing weaker results that the ones achieved by imitation. As a former classroom teacher (who still retains a New Jersey-based K-8 certificate), I’m a veteran of alternative education that provides exactly this — fluid individualized instruction with minimal deadlines that develops your personal strengths rather than your ability and/or willingness to assimilate.

I’m remembering a scene in the film “Hoosiers” in which the coach reminds the team that the dimensions of the hoop and the backboard (width and distance from the floor) are EXACTLY the same on the state championship court as they are in the small-town gym back home. Similarly, I will remind you of the following:

  1. The progression of triads in the middle of the neck are the EXACT SAME chords you will have learned in first position during your introduction to the blues. As you are learning guitar with me, you will learn “Sweet Home Chicago” and “How Long Blues” (or similar tunes) involving the first-position versions E, A, and B7.  Afterward, the fifth-position triad version of “Mailbox Blues” will be taught.
  2. Any scale can be transposed to another key in another position. It’s easy to lose sight of the identical fingering of a scale in first position (which typically involves playing open strings) and its counterparts elsewhere, which involve using the left index finger to play the transposed versions of the open-stringed first-position notes. As you may have guessed, I will merely be teaching you different versions of the same thing and/or the same thing in different keys.

My body of musical knowledge is not exclusive to only one genre. I specialize in folk, rock, blues, and (some) jazz. I consider it fitting to create a space where you can explore your preferences of genres, playing styles, and hand-strengthening processes, in a space squarely conducive to the development of all three. “You cannot teach (a person) anything,” said Galileo. “You can only help (the person) find it within.”

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!



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band practice

The Real Secret to Improving Your Band’s Sound

band practice

Do you want your band to sound even better? (Who doesn’t?!) Here, San Diego, CA teacher Maegan W. shares her secret for improving the group’s sound as well as your individual musical skills…


Do you think a metronome is just a personal preference for some musicians? Are you one of those musicians who KNOWS your time is perfect and unmatched? Well I’ve got news for you — it probably isn’t as spot-on as you think.

Most fights in bands are due to someone being off-time, and unable to accept that it is them. The truth is that most people honestly believe they are on time. As a drummer, I learned a long time ago the only way to know for sure how good your timing really is, is to use a metronome.

I’m not suggesting that you always play, practice, and perform with your metronome — not all music calls for that. What I am suggesting is that you take your musicianship to a whole other level, and take your power back! There is no greater feeling than knowing 100% where each note, beat, lick, and fill fits in the time and space of the song.

Singer-songwriters and guitar players… I’m calling you out. I challenge you to use a metronome when practicing and learning songs. I have played with so many amazingly talented musicians, guitar-playing singer-songwriters who performed and sounded fantastic alone, but when it came to a band setting, they were like complete beginners. Don’t let this be you.

Here are some ideas on how to get comfortable with the metronome as you’re singing or playing guitar with your band:

1) Listen to your songs against the “click.” This will help you to see where everything really lines up, and how much time you actually have to do whatever you want to do or play.

2) Devote at least 10% of your practice routine to practicing with the metronome. I recommend more like 50-90% but baby steps are fine for people not used to practicing with the metronome.

3) If you’re in a band, have “The Talk.” This will hold everyone equally accountable for doing what they can to improve their personal timing, which will improve the band’s time as a whole. Also having a group practice where the drummer listens to a click is helpful too. It instantly builds trust and competence. (If there is a problem member that can’t admit or see their faults, it may be helpful to have some practices where everyone can hear the click through the speakers, to shine light on what needs extra attention.)

4) Be humble. Learning that your timing sucks can be a hard realization, especially for sensitive musicians. This can bruise the ego and come out as anger. Remember the point is not to be “right” or make someone feel defeated. The point is to improve your band’s sound, as well as individual sound. The metronome is the Truth, and sometimes the Truth hurts.

5) Slow down! The best way to really lock down any song, riff, groove, fill, or solo is to slow way down. Take the tempo down to half or 3/4′s of the original tempo and practice in slow motion, to let your brain and muscles learn exactly where everything fits. Do this until your muscle memory learns the movement of the piece. Then when you speed back up, do it gradually in increments of 5 or 10 bpms until you arrive back at the original tempo. Then push past 10 or 20 bpms so you truly have it mastered. You never know when you will need to play it faster or slower, but with this practice, you will be prepared no matter what the speed.

These are just a few ways to incorporate the metronome as you’re playing guitar, singing, or whatever part you play in your band. I hope this is helpful — and remember, it’s about taking baby steps. This is not something you just want to brush off. Being a master at time will make you a more valuable musician, and more confident in your skills too. It may be tough at first, but anything worth learning is.

Go easy on yourself and/or your band. It is challenging, but I know you can do it!

Maegan WMaegan W. teaches drums, songwriting, and more in San Diego, CA. She earned a degree in Percussion from the Musician’s Institute, and has been teaching private lessons since 2004.  Learn more about Maegan here!



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The 10 Best Acoustic Guitars Under $500 [Infographic]

When you’re looking for the perfect beginner acoustic guitar, there are lots of factors to think about. For many students, finding a great guitar for a low price is a huge part of the search. Guitar teacher Jeff S. sent us his recommendations for the best acoustic guitar under $500, and we put them together into this handy chart to help you find the best guitar for your buck!

Is there anything we missed? What do you think is the best acoustic guitar under $500? Let us know in the comments below!


Jeff S. teaches guitar, ukulele, speaking voice, songwriting and more in Perth Amboy, NJ, as well as online. Jeff has created and taught songwriting and music business classes at colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the country for many years. Learn more about Jeff here! 



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3 Mistakes New Guitar Players Make With Strings


The guitar strings you choose – and how you care for them – can make a huge impact on your playing ability! Here, Warner Robins, GA teacher B. Greg C. shares the three mistakes that can hinder your learning…


As a teacher and as a musician, I have found time after time new players making the same three big mistakes with their guitar strings. These issues may seem small, but when it comes to learning to play the guitar, these amount to huge failings. Beginning players already have a hard time and enough frustration to deal with learning fingerings and fatigue of the hand. Handling these three issues will help alleviate some of the frustration and help make playing and learning easier.

Not Keeping the Guitar In Tune

The first mistake is not keeping the guitar in tune. Some new guitarists may not hear the tonal differences right away while playing, but most will wonder why the chord sounds slightly foul, or more foul than usual. Tuning the guitar with a tuner before any practice session helps a great deal in the quality of the chord. When two or more strings are not correctly tuned the chord can have a quality to it that simply frustrates you compared to what you remember hearing during your lesson. This adds to the frustration of checking fingerings and the structure of the chord. Tuning should become a habit before you play — give it a shot before you start practice!

Choosing the Wrong String Gauge

String “gauge” or thickness is a touchy subject at times. While your instructor should be aware of what music tastes you have and what sound you want to get when learning, be wise in your choice of strings. Using a light or extra-light gauge on acoustic guitars and medium-light or light on electrics will make learning as a beginner much easier. The smaller diameter of the strings makes learning the motor skills and muscle memory easier. The lighter gauge strings also make finger fatigue less of an issue. You won’t be fighting the strings and trying to understand why that new chord is buzzing (from lack of pressure) or why the strings do not sustain as well. After you start to get the skill and muscles built up, then worry about going with the fat juicy sound of heavier-gauge string sets!

Not Remembering to Change the Strings

Last but not least is knowing when to change your guitar strings. Uncoated strings “die” or “deaden” over time and some break, and even coated strings die eventually. As a beginner, you should consider changing uncoated strings once every month if you are practicing 30 minutes for three to five days a week. If you are practicing less you can go a little longer; if you practice more then consider changing them more often. To keep the strings clean, be sure to wash and dry your hands prior to playing, as this reduces the oils, dirt, and sweat accumulating on the strings that cause the metal in the string to deteriorate. You can also wipe the strings with a dry cloth or a string wipe, which helps remove some grime. When a string deteriorates it will not stay in tune well, has a chance of breaking, and does not sustain as well. Coated strings can be great for beginners, but uncoated do tend to have a different sound and a different feel. Whether you choose coated or uncoated, be sure to look them over and change them when they need it.

Hope this helps some of the newer students! Best wishes to your endeavors as a musician, and keep the beat going!

GregB. Greg C. teaches guitar and music theory in Warner Robins, GA. He is a 2010 Graduate of Berklee College of Music’s Guitar Program and has been teaching students on and off since 2005. Learn more about Greg here!



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Why You Should Learn Acoustic Guitar First


Not sure whether to buy an acoustic or electric guitar for your first try at the instrument? Read on as Corona, CA teacher Milton J. shares his expert advice…


Deciding on which guitar to start with is a big step. Not only do you want to feel comfortable with playing guitar for the first time, but you also want to suit your musical tastes, style, and aptitude. So should you learn to play acoustic guitar first? Or go straight to the electric, if your style leans more toward Hendrix? There is, in fact, a best choice — and that is the acoustic.

Acoustic Guitars Help With Initial Technique

The thicker strings and neck on the acoustic guitar will promote the building of finger strength. This will come into play as you continue to learn proper fingering technique, chords, and strum patterns. Moreover, learning rhythm, and the aforementioned strum pattern – the up-and-down motion of striking the strings that creates the main sound of the guitar – is easier and more conducive to successful repetition on the acoustic guitar. As you move to the intermediate stage after learning fingering technique, chords, and basic songs, understanding how to utilize the strum pattern as a percussive technique transforms the acoustic guitar into a drum and melody instrument. This opens up the stylistic interpretations of various songs you may learn along the way tremendously!

One common misconception prospective guitar players make when choosing which acoustic guitar to purchase start with the question, “Which guitar will be the easiest to play?” I feel this is the wrong question to ask. Try starting with the questions, “Which guitar feels most comfortable for me?” and “Which guitar fits into my budget?” Once you understand those parameters, you’ll find the best acoustic guitar for you to start with.

Acoustic Guitars Offer Portability

Lastly, the acoustic guitar’s portability will promote more playing, possibly in places away from home. The more possibilities you have early on for playing your new guitar in addition to your lessons, the better. I encourage you to take your guitar to a nice area at your local park, in your backyard or apartment balcony, or with you on that camping trip in order to receive a new perspective instead of just your teacher’s studio or your bedroom. This will help you appreciate your new instrument even more.

Now, it’s time to rock out! Find your nearest guitar teacher, garner advice from him or her on where to purchase or rent your first guitar, and use this as a guide as you learn to play acoustic guitar! Have fun!

MiltonJMilton K. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!



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Musician Secrets: Budgeting for Becoming & Being a Guitarist


How much will it really cost you to become a great guitar player? Here, North Wales, PA teacher Nathan D. shares what you need to know…


So you’re in the market for your first guitar? Congratulations! Learning to play an instrument is much like learning to drive. It’s a road that is not typically paved with gold, or even pennies (just ask your average street busker). Time and money will become ever-growing obstacles. I personally skipped lunch for an entire school year to save up for my first guitar and its accoutrement (I wasn’t old enough to get a regular job). I’m not saying you need to be as extreme, but there’s quite a bit to consider when deciding to travel the path to becoming a guitarist.

You would rather spend your time playing, and spend your money on cool new equipment, right? You want to take guitar lessons eventually? Well, make sure not to make any costly mistakes that will cut your lesson budget short! Reading further will potentially eliminate a lot of mishaps that I’ve seen.

How Much Will The Initial Guitar Costs Be?

Expect to budget about $300 to $500 for everything.

I recommend going the path I did for purchasing an electric. I bought a “jump pack” (also called a “starter kit”), which has everything you need in one convenient package. They also have these available for acoustic guitars, or at least some kind of starter package deal. Mine included a starter Ibanez guitar, gig bag, small 10-watt amp with a 6” speaker, cable, strap, extra strings, tuner, picks, chord chart, and an Andy Timmons instructional video. Sometimes these package deals can be as low as a couple hundred dollars, but just be sure to try out a display model to evaluate the construction.

This is a great option for managing your guitar costs, since buying all of the little accessories separately will add up! Depending on what comes in your kit, however, you may still need to grab a few more things. For example, I recommend a string winder. For a couple dollars, you can quickly change your strings (which as a beginner you will break frequently) instead of wearing out your wrist and spending less time practicing. Pick up a decent guitar stand and sheet music stand, too; it will save your instrument and your neck.

Don’t get ripped off buying guitar cables. Most are just in fancier packaging and you’re paying for advertising. If you can unscrew it to resolder the tip, it’s usually decent. Just test it out if you can.

If you don’t have experience setting up intonation and making electronic repairs, prepare to shell out $30 per hour or more for the guitar tech’s labor at your local shop, plus the cost of parts. As great as it can be to get a $500 guitar used for $200, it would be terrible to have it sit in a guitar shop for a month and paying another $150 when it’s finally finished being repaired. That’s a month of potential practice out the window.

How Do I Make A Smart Purchase?

Much like buying your first car, it’s highly recommended to get something affordable, dependable, and capable of taking a few hits. The great thing is you can eventually save up to buy a mid-range priced guitar that you can treat better than your old “beater.” You can also save up to customize it down the road with new pickups, tuners, and other fancy accessories.

If possible, bring a friend with years of experience along with you to make your guitar purchase. Don’t make the mistake of bringing someone who has only been playing a couple of months, because their influence on your purchasing decision isn’t going to be much better than you going in blind. You might both be so in awe of a manager’s special no-name $200 flying V that you take it home, only to realize within weeks that it sounds like total garbage and is totally uncomfortable. Do some research online, but don’t be afraid to ask questions at your local store. If you can find a great buy at your local pawn shop, make sure to test it out there, and also ask about their return policy.

Put in a few thousand hours of playing before plopping down four or five figures on an instrument, because you’re going to want to afford insurance on it as well. A friend of mine had his Dimebag Darrell custom stolen from his house after only a couple of months, and didn’t get a penny for it from his insurance company. If at the moment you don’t have a job that can easily support extravagant spending, it would be a very bad decision to make your first guitar a 10 grand or more Gibson Les Paul Special simply because you HAD to have the guitar that makes you look like Joe Perry.

Most people I know that do this end up with an expensive piece of furniture that gathers dust on a stand or wall hanger, and spend years paying off the interest that eventually caught up with them on their store credit card. Don’t assume you will land that dream job, let alone become an overnight rock star by the time that “15 months no interest” ends. Also, understand the concept of what interest is before enrolling in any credit program.

How Can I Avoid Costly Mistakes?

You might make mistakes handling and storing your first instrument. I’ve seen friends leave their guitar in the car all day in the hot sun or freezing cold, then bring it in, open the case immediately, and completely destroy the paint job and warp the neck due to the extreme temperature change (always leave the instrument alone to acclimate for half an hour or more in the bag or case before opening!). Or, you might forget how to use your folding guitar stand properly, and have the guitar fall face down and gouge the fretboard and destroy a fret with one of the strings (or worse, snap the neck completely).

Realize that guitars are mostly wood, which is basically a very dense sponge. Humidity and temperature can wreak havoc on such an instrument. Unless you (or your paid guitar tech) want to constantly adjust your truss rod and intonation, you should take some preliminary precautions. Do you live in a dry climate? You might need a humidifier system, at least for your guitar case. How about a humid zone or a sub-level basement? You’ll need to buy a dehumidifier that can accommodate your space (and hopefully be in a separate area if you intend to record in the room, unless fan noise is your thing). Below 40 or above 50 percent can be problematic or even potentially deadly for your instrument, depending on its composition.

Now that you know what to look for and how to treat your guitar, go out there and explore the possibilities at your local shop! That timid feeling and the butterflies will subside the instant you fall in love with your new instrument!

NathanDNathan D. teaches guitar, bass, drums, music recording, and more in North Wales, PA. He is an ASCAP songwriter, and has played guitar and bass for over 17 years and drums for about 15 years. Learn more about Nathan here!



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4 Common Challenges Faced By New Guitar Students (And How To Overcome Them)

As with any new skill, learning how to play the guitar comes with challenges. Here, Perth Amboy, NJ teacher Jeff S. shares his guitar playing tips to help you stay motivated…


I’ve been teaching guitar to students of all ages and skill levels for many years and have gotten quite adept at spotting and remedying the challenges faced by beginners. So I’ve decided to address them in this article to offer students and their parents some insight on how to get beyond the problems so they can truly enjoy the guitar experience.

Below are brief descriptions of each problem and the guitar playing tips to correct them:

Problem #1 – The guitar pick keeps slipping out of my hand


While the thickness of a guitar pick is an individual preference, I don’t recommend a thin pick. It’s too flimsy and offers little stability and control. So I suggest a medium gauge pick (.60 mm to .88 mm) and sometimes a medium-heavy pick (.80 mm to 1 mm). I also strongly suggest a “grip pick,” as the regular flat plastic picks can be slippery and fall to the floor. There are many varieties of grip picks, but I personally prefer the Jim Dunlop Nylon Standard pick (I use the 1 mm, but some might find it too rigid).

Besides the type of pick, it’s important to hold the pick with the thumb and index finger (tucking in the other three fingers to form a loose partial fist) and in doing so create a striking surface of no more than a quarter of an inch (at the tip end of the pick).

Problem #2 – The notes I’m trying to fret sound muffled or not very clear


There are three important guitar playing tips that go along with this. First, you want to be sure your nails aren’t too long (i.e. beyond the fingertips) and you’re making fingerboard contact using the fleshy part of the fingertip — not with the nail or under-nail area or the back of the finger. Second, the point of contact should be with the fleshiest part of the fingertip. Third, the left hand needs to be arced upright as much as possible (without causing discomfort) so that it’s reasonably perpendicular to the neck. And finally, the left hand fingers shouldn’t press down on the fret, but rather slightly to the left of the fret.

Problem #3- My fingers hurt and it’s tough to keep playing

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The old-school solution would simply be to say “No pain, no gain,” or “Your finger discomfort will go away soon.” And honestly, that’s probably pretty good advice. But here are some more constructive solutions:

  • Make sure the guitar has light or extra light gauge strings on it, as the thickness of the strings directly impacts how sore the fingers get.
  • Soak the fingertips in apple cider vinegar for 30 seconds to a minute after playing (be sure to wash with soap thoroughly, as you don’t want your guitar or guitar strings to smell like apple cider vinegar!) or try icing the fingertips after playing.
  • Take the guitar into the shop and get the “action” lowered as much as possible (see my other article, “How Playable Is That New Guitar of Yours?”, for more details on this).

If none of these guitar playing tips offer sufficient help, consider trying a pain-reducing ointment with benzocaine on your fingertips. (Be sure to consider the allergic potential and also be sure that your child doesn’t put his or her fingers in their mouth after applying such a product.)

Problem #4- I can’t stretch my fingers of my left hand to reach the 3rd or 4th frets, or I’m having trouble applying enough pressure to fret a note


Every guitarist will need to access the 3rd and 4th frets with their ring finger and pinky, respectively. And it’s not just to play the notes on those frets, but to gain overall hand control and fingerboard accessibility.

I often assign the chromatic scale to students as a finger stretch and warm-up exercise. Using the left hand index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers, respectively, play the notes on the first four frets (delegating index to 1st fret, middle to 2nd fret, ring to 3rd fret, pinky to 4th fret) to play a total of 24 notes (four per string).

Another great way to increase reach is to pick up a small rubber ball (handball size) and squeeze it several times before you practice guitar. You can also spread your fingers apart on the ball, much the way a baseball pitcher would spread them to throw a changeup. This particular pitch calls for separation between the index, middle, and ring fingers, and that’s the perfect stretch to develop more finger reach for guitar. You can see the grip here.

Whether you’re the one learning guitar, or if you’re a parent trying to support your child, the most important thing to remember is that there’ll always be learning curves and growing pains to overcome and a need for patience and perseverance to get beyond them. Once a new guitar student gets used to fretting notes and how much hand pressure is needed to fret notes, and their skin toughens up a bit on their fingertips, things will fall into place. Be encouraging and they’ll get past these early challenges.

JeffSJeff S. teaches guitar, ukulele, speaking voice, songwriting, and more in Perth Amboy, NJ, as well as online. Jeff has created and taught songwriting and music business classes at colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the country for many years. Learn more about Jeff here! 



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How to Read & Find Bass Guitar Tabs For Your Favorite Songs


Want to play all of your favorite songs on bass? Learn where to find the tabs you need in this guest post by San Diego teacher Justine D...


Bass guitar tabs can help you sharpen your listening skills, try out new skills and techniques, and — of course — learn your favorite songs’ bass lines! In this blog post, we’ll cover where you can find bass guitar tabs and how to decide which one you want to use.

What is a bass guitar tab and how do you read it?

Did you know that “tab” stands for “tabulature,” a kind of musical notation that focuses on fretted finger placement rather than the actual pitches? It’s been in use for years; in fact, during the Renaissance tabulature was used to help lute players play and write down songs! Today, many bass tabs are written and shared online by musicians like you who want a way to remember their favorite songs.

tabulature example

Bass tab features four horizontal lines that represent each of your strings; the line at the very bottom represents your low E string, while the line at the top represents your G string. The numbers on the lines represent what fret to play. Read the tab from left to right, playing only the notes indicated by the numbers. In this example, you would play the 1st fret of your E string six times before moving on to the next measure.

Where can you find bass tabs online?

  • Ultimate Guitar: Despite its name, this website does have bass guitar tabs, too! Use their advanced search to make sure you only get bass tabs in your results. I like this site because tab submitters can indicate the difficulty of the tab and the genre, making searching easy. There’s quite a range of genres here — anime to electronic to world and rap — but most of the tunes are in the rock genre.
  • Big Bass Tabs: Here, the name rings true: this site only lists bass tabs! The majority are rock songs, though you can find the occasional rap and pop bass tab, too. They have a dedicated requests page that you can try if you’re looking for a hard-to-find tab. You can also find bass lessons here.
  • 911Tabs: If you can’t find a good tab on the above two sites, this is another good website to try. This site doesn’t actually host the tabs on their server; instead, it’s more like a search engine that checks other sites’ databases (including Ultimate Guitar) and shows results from multiple places. However, they don’t show all the versions that other sites may have.

While they aren’t dedicated tab repositories, Bass Musician Magazine and No Treble share tabs from jazz, metal, and other rarer genres of music. You won’t find just any tab here, though; you’re limited to what they’ve chosen to provide to you. Many of the tabs are more intermediate to advanced, though, so it’s a good place to browse and learn more complex music and techniques. You may even pick up a new favorite artist or two!

How do you know which bass tab to use?

Anyone can submit a bass tab to any of these websites, and they don’t usually review the tab before it goes online. Because tabs are written by ear, some tabs may have mistakes. Other musicians may upload additional versions of a song’s tab to correct the mistakes they see or share the way they play it.

Many sites use a rating system that allows users to show which tabs they recommend and which they don’t; look for a 4- or 5-star rating next to a tab’s link.

Popular songs may have up to 20 or more tab versions on a site. I typically start with the highest number version (e.g. “Money (version 25)”, versus “Money (version 2)”), assuming that the multiple versions are fixing errors found in versions 1–24.

tabulature example 2

Lastly, most tabs don’t indicate any kind of rhythm; you have to rely on your ears to help you know how fast or short you play the notes. Some tabbers will try to space the numbers out, but this can still be unclear. If you see a tab that does explicitly state the rhythm, though, try that one first! In this example, the Es at the top indicate the eighth note rhythm of the bass line.

Good luck with your bass playing! If you come across a resource we haven’t listed here, let us know where it is by leaving a comment below!

JustineDJustine D. teaches guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, and music theory lessons in San Diego, CA, as well as online. She received a double major in in music and psychology at Kalamazoo College, and joined the TakeLessons team in 2011. Learn more about Justine here! 



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Guitar Playing Tips | Eliminating Bad Habits & Reducing Injury


As far as guitar playing tips go, understanding proper form should be at the top of the list! Here, North Wales, PA guitar teacher Nathan D. shares the basics…


As a multi-instrumental musician, I am constantly checking my form to prevent strain or injury. Hours of improperly played guitar, piano, violin, and even clarinet can make one’s fingers and elbows throb, and the impact of playing drums too hard with poor form can cause major injury to wrists all the way to your shoulders. All of this can even lead to multiple pricey and time-consuming surgeries to fix repetitive stress injury and carpal tunnel, not to mention the countless hours of rehabilitation and re-learning to play (properly this time, of course). Wouldn’t you rather be practicing to become proficient at your instrument?

I come from a family riddled with arthritis and spine problems, and my bones constantly crack and pop when I move. However, the more I play, and the more I play correctly, these pops and cracks seem to fade away.

So what to do? First of all, always remember to warm up slowly, then build up speed. This goes for any instrument. I also routinely do yoga and other stretches to benefit my hands and wrists. Always go slow and hold for several breaths while trying to increase mobility, and stop immediately if something hurts! See a doctor if something is chronic or recurring. In general, ice new injuries, and heat chronic ones (but only under the advice of a doctor!).

With guitar being my main instrument, here are my guitar playing tips for proper form:

Head –

  • Relax your neck, don’t slump to look down at the guitar for too long.
  • If playing with a strap, take a break if your neck starts to hurt, or sit and place the guitar on your leg for more support.
  • Take a break to stretch or do some head rotations when you’re fatigued.

Shoulders -

  • Keep relaxed, but put your shoulder blades slightly together to prevent your upper spine from curving.

Lower back -

  • It is tempting to slouch over to look down at the guitar, but don’t!
  • Keep your back straight, but not stiff.

Arms -

  • Use a seat without arm rests; they will get in the way and force you to use bad form.

Legs -

  • Rest the guitar on whichever leg is comfortable for the style and position you’re playing on the fretboard. Feel free to switch after some time. Don’t let the guitar go “flat” on your leg.
  • A foot rest (even a stack of thick books) can help eliminate some back strain and help place the guitar in a better playing position.
  • Keep your feet flat; trying to play on your tiptoes will cause you to shake your leg and hit wrong notes.

Left (or fretting) hand -

  • Thumb should be placed in the middle of the neck, behind your 2nd (middle) finger.
  • It can be bent or straight, depending on your flexibility. Vertical is usually best for learning chords.
  • Thumb can be moved over the top, but only if your fretting fingers are properly straight.
  • Use the same parts of your fingertips on the strings.
  • Keep nails relatively short on this hand, usually if the tip is slightly thinner than the thickest string this will give you good playability.

Right (or picking) hand -

  • Have about ¼-inch of pick showing as you’re holding it between your thumb and index finger. Using the front of your index finger or the side (while curling it around) has both advantages and disadvantages.
  • Don’t curve your wrist, sideways or vertically. Keep it straight but a little relaxed.
  • Your picking motion should come from your elbow; too much wrist can cause injury over time.
  • No “anchors”; don’t place your fingers on the guitar while picking. The bottom of the back of the forearm, near the elbow, is placed on the edge of the guitar, however it is comfortable to strum or pick without curving your wrist.

Most importantly, have fun! Keep yourself encouraged to play and come back!

NathanDNathan D. teaches guitar, bass, drums, and more in North Wales, PA. His specialties include rock and heavy metal styles, but he teaches every genre. Learn more about Nathan here!



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How to Translate Guitar Tabs to Piano Chords (and Learn All Your Favorite Songs!)

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Curious about how guitar tabs translate to piano chords? Learn how to convert your favorite songs in this guest post by Greeley, CO teacher Andy W...


Why should guitarists have all the fun playing classics like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California”? Just because a song is written in TABS doesn’t mean that piano players can’t read it also. So, here’s how to translate guitar tabs so you can play piano chords!

First, let’s establish a basic understanding of the guitar. The notes of the open strings from thickest to thinnest are E, A, D, G, B, and E. Also, each fret on guitar is a half step. This means that you can find any note by starting from the open string that the note is played on and count up in half steps, one fret at a time, until you arrive at the desired note.

What you need to know about TABS is that there are six lines that represent the six guitar strings. The bottom line represents the thickest string, while the top represents the thinnest. The numbers you’ll see on each line indicate the number of fret that is played on that string. As far as reading rhythms, TABS usually only approximate rhythms. But as you read the fret numbers from left to right, more or less spaces between numbers indicate note values and rests. So, more space between two numbers means that you’ll either hold the note or rest until the next one is played. If numbers are stacked on top of each other vertically, that means those notes are played at the same time.

Alright piano players, let’s finally sink our teeth into one of the most wonderfully cliché guitar-based songs ever made, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. Take a look at the video below that provides the TABS:

Now it’s time to figure out the right piano notes, and from there the appropriate piano chords to play! We’ll just focus on the first measure for now. To find the first note, we look at which string it’s played on. The number 7 is on the third line from the bottom, which indicates the D string. Since the fret number is 7, we’re going to count up 7 half steps from the open D string. Feel free to use your piano to help you do this. When we count up we get these notes: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A. So, A is the first note.

Next, let’s look at the second note. It’s played on the third thinnest string, which is a G. Since the number is 5, we count up 5 half steps from the open G string, giving us these notes: G, G#, A, A#, B, C. So, our second note is C. Keep using this same process to find the next notes.

When we get to beat 3 of this measure, there is a 7 and a 6 stacked on top of each other. This means that both notes are played at the same time. The 7 is on the thinnest string, E, while the 6 is on the third from the bottom string, D. Starting with the thinnest string, E, let’s count up 7 half steps: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B. Now, count up 6 half steps from D: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#. So you’ll play B and G# at the same time.

And that’s the basic idea for translating guitar tabs to piano! Using this method of counting up in half steps from an open string, you can effectively steal all the guitarists’ favorite songs!

AndyWAndy W. teaches guitar, singing, piano, and more in Greeley, CO. He specializes in jazz, and has played guitar for 12 years. Learn more about Andy here!



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