TablEdit Tips

John Bird

I wanted to talk a bit about some ways to use TablEdit (or whatever program or method) to learn a tune. These are a few things I've discovered about using the program--I bet other people have some good ideas too!

Listen to the tune a few times, looking at the music/tab and chords. (Go ahead and set it on repeat--you're going to be playing this thing over and over!) Especially good if it is a tune you are not familiar with. But even if you are, you want to get this version in your head firmly.

Rather than start playing the tune, play the chords along with the tune. Do that until you really know the chords. It's really important not to skip this! Most elementally, you will eventually be playing chords on this, so you need to know them. I have made the mistake of concentrating so much on the melody that I couldn't show the chords to somebody else so we can play it together. With a tune such as "Southern Flavor," you are going to have to teach the chords to most people you play with--it's not one that everybody knows. Even more importantly, when you learn a tune like this, you are not just learning the melody, you are learning the whole thing. The chords are a big part, especially with a Monroe tune. And most importantly, when you begin to improvise and go beyond this one break, you need to know the chords so you can build from there.

Slow the tune down. I usually try 50% first. Sometimes that is STILL too fast. With this tune, it almost seemed too slow. But it's important to get the whole thing, especially the one tricky place that trips you up. As you get it better, speed up by degrees. The program is great because you can do this as it plays, so you can tell how fast you are getting. On some tunes, I can NEVER get up to the 100%--but this one didn't take that long to get to. Just keep going at it until you can play it up to speed. Good thing there's that repeat button! (By the way, might not be a bad idea to use the "nuclear power" approach--turn it up past 100% and see if you can do that too. Even if it is faster than you want to play the tune, it will be good to go over the limit--shows you what you really have, and what you don't. And eventually you'll be near a banjo, and he'll play it too fast! And btw, as I will write in another post, Mr. Monroe played it MUCH faster after this recorded version! Yikes!)

When you think you have it, play it while looking away but still listening. This may mess you up--which will show you that you don't really have it yet. Just keep at it. Eventually you will need to play it without looking at music.

Once you can play it without looking, turn off the mandolin module and play it with just the chords. Yikes! This will show you what you know and what you don't. But you have to get to this point, too. Repeat as necessary.

Turn the program off and try to play it by itself, all by yourself. This often trips me up at first too. But you have to be able to do it on your own.

Once you can do that comfortably, you have learned the tune well enough to play it with actual humans (or in my case, the guys I play with). (Just a joke, Joe and Ben!) But you can still use the program to do more.

How about another break? Turn off the mandolin module and improvise a break. Keep doing it--once you loosen up with five or six passes, you can often get some good stuff. Here's where learning the chords from the start really pays off. And doing it this way is about as close as you can get to playing along with others and improvising. I have had fun trying to play this Monroe tune in a more melodic, fiddle tune approach (just as it is fun to play Monroe style over a fiddle tune). There are some cool Grisman things you can do over this melody, since it is minor feel over major chords.

I'll be anxious to hear other ways people are using this program. I really am convinced that it is the best learning tool I have ever discovered.