How to bridge the gap?!?!


Hey all!

My first time posting on the new site! Summer has been a kick in the pants! Wish I had access to some of the old posts but I suppose I’ll get over it. But here is my issue…

I seem to be having trouble connecting my playing and the tabs on this site. Yea I kind of have some songs down and enjoy playing them but get completely lost as soon as that PDF isn’t in front of me. Its like I have went from rhythm player to guitar champion (with the tabs) and missed everything in the middle! So what do I need to do to move beyond having to have the tabs? Just practice scales? How do I fill in the gap I have between the two extremes? I hope this makes sense!



Zach, it makes perfect sense.

One suggestion would be to work on the bag-o-licks and use that to start building your own leads. don’t forget that whatever you have learned form the tabs is also in your bag 0 licks once you have it memorized and can play it without reading the tab.

I usually record a very slow rhythm track and play to it over and over until I have a break worked out. The building of a lead break requires understanding how the song is built, the melody, the key, and other things. going back over the theory lessons won’t hurt either.

I’d also suggest reading any threads on building breaks or inventing solos. You may get ideas from other members plus it helps get you thinking in that mode and vocabulary.

I will normally not start a new tab until I have the one I am working on completely memorized and can file it away for later reference if needed. By playing without the tab you will find that you may change certain licks in the song to fit your own playing style - this is the goal - and the reason for the bag-o-licks approach.

When you can learn to start substituting different licks when playing and create something new from mixing, matching, and inventing from what you have previously learned you are truly on your way to understanding the instrument and being able to play it.

Be patient, all this takes time. the brain sometimes doesn’t learn as fast as the fingers can memorize things, but it all comes with patience and practice.

hope this helps.


Learning and practicing the scales is always a good idea. Work on them both directions. My problem is reading the tabs fast enough to translate to finger movement so I have been doing what ben has taught me in the video lessons. break the tabs down to 4 or so notes at a time to learn them. I do 4 over and over and then I move to the next 4 or so until I learn them. The bag o licks as mentioned is also a good idea too as stated. These are good for a quick turnaround when you need one I think.


Welcome back, Zach!

I have trouble taking ideas I learn from tab and using them in real life situations, too. One way I tackle this is by taking a single riff or idea from a tab and deciding ahead of time that I’m going to work that particular lick into my jam night. I’ve found if I can do this even one time, there’s a good chance I’ll come back to that riff again and again, and each time it gets easier to incorporate into my playing. It’s a slow, painstaking way to build up a lick vocabulary, but it’s steady and it works, and I think it’s better than just waiting for my tab knowledge to somehow magically bleed over into my improvisation.

I’m reminded of my high school english teacher who used to tell us we hadn’t really learned our weekly vocabulary words until we used them in conversation. I think it’s the same with muscial ideas - memorization is necessary, but we haven’t really learned them until we use them to express ourselves.


Larry, that is exactly what I’m talking about, you hit it right on the head.

I do the same thing. When I learn a new lick I spend the day (or week, or month) experimenting with fitting it in everywhere I can. Then I can start to hear where it works and where it doesn’t. Eventually I not only can play the lick fairly well, but have a good idea of when I want to use it even on a song I’ve never actually worked out before.

sometimes I hit some real clunkers thinking something might fit in when it doesn’t, but I take it all in stride and use something else there the next time around. It’s all just part of my learning process.


Hey Zach,
Welcome back! Great comments thus far. If you are having trouble playing a given tune without the tabs, perhaps it would help help to listen to it a bit. If you are sight reading the tab and that is your mental cue for what is coming next, that is not all bad. Being able to quickly read and convert that to playing is powerful thing, be it standard notation or tab. What could be happening is that you are so adept at reading that you are progressing to not being able to hear something in your head and make your hands do it. I started out with concert violin and many of symphony players I played with couldn’t play even simple tunes they knew without music in front of them (and that was ok for them… they were trained to play off sheet music). I am kind of talking in circles, but if that is the problem, my suggestion is to listen to the song multiple times until the melody becomes intimately familiar. You don’t always have to listen with full attention. You can have it on while you work or as you drive. For me, when I hear something enough, it becomes committed to memory. I can hear each note in my head. It sounds like you already have the mechanics of how to make the song, by internalizing the song instead of relying on the tabs for what comes next, I think that will help. If your experience is similar to mine, as you play without music in front of you, I think your memory of the song will replace the written music.
Again, welcome back. It’s great to hear form you.



Everyone in bluegrass circles makes fun of me for needing to have words/chords in front of my face when its my pick or turn to sing a song. I played the trombone from 6th grade-12th and my music instructor all those years would get so pissed if we memorized anything. He was all about sight reading and being able to pick up a piece of music and whiz through it no problems but as soon as we started memorizing and learning things (with bad habits/or getting stuck in one particular way) he wouldn’t let us play that piece anymore. He was a hard man but turned out National champ marching bands regularly! So maybe that is my problem…my eyes and fingers can play the music/tabs fast while my brain isn’t even focused on the music at hand! I like all the tips that I got! I will definitely have to put them to good use! I guess i’m just impatient at times…in my head I know I can’t be Tony Rice over night…but I sure want to be!!


Don’t let them giving you a hard time bother you. Just enjoy the laugh with them as you pull out your sheets from the portable file cabinet on casters sitting beside you :laughing: I use sheets at jams too. There are many fine players who don’t play from memory (and many of the best classical folks have no desire to do so). If it is something you want to improve on, the more you play by ear/memory, the easier it becomes. I suggest starting with simple and familiar tunes and progress from there.

Just out of curiosity, where did you go to high school? For a brief time, my high school was on the national stage (Danville H.S. from Kentucky). We won small division nationals in 81-82 and 82-83.


HAHA I used to have a rather large binder that I would carry around with me…But I got an iPad for my birthday and that is now where all my music resides! The old guys I jam with chuckled when I would bust out my book…but just about died when I pulled out my iPad!


sounds about like me. they stopped laughing at me though when one of the old timers couldn’t think of the words to one of the songs he sings all the time and I said “what you mean this one?” whipping out my ipad and placing it in front of him to read.