Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Is Tab Standard?

It seems like tab is a standard notation for Banjo tunes, but I’m having a hard time relating the “lowest” string to be the high note that I’m hearing and having a tough time fighting against my understanding of sheet music.

Are there banjo tunes that are written in musical notation or is tablature just part of the learning curve?


I think @BanjoBen has some videos on TablEdit to show how to turn standard notation on and off for display it his tef files.


I’ve never seen banjo “music” written in standard notation (I put the word “music” in quotation marks because that term is somewhat inaccurate… YOU are the one who plays the music; notation is just how we represent it on paper). If you have trouble with tab, there’s no reason not to try playing by hearing and feel; I find it extremely more efficient… but it depends on what you enjoy. :slightly_smiling_face: :banjo:


Standard notation doesn’t work so well with the Scruggs Style 3 Finger banjo, but you can read notation from a TAB TEF file using TablEdit software although it’s not something I would recommend. TAB is a great tool for helping to learn Guitar, Banjo and Mandolin. I encourage you to set aside your sheet music and work through @BanjoBen 's beginner learning path. Ben’s teaching approach explains all in great detail not only will Ben teach you how to play banjo but he will also teach you how to read tablature. I do believe notation is used by classic banjo players. Check out this website


I just started banjo and I feel your pain on the high G being where it is… both on the banjo and in tab. That said, my brain is starting to adjust. I hadn’t thought about it, but like Archie said, standard notation would be weird for banjo: let’s say you have a G4 indicated… are you supposed to play that on the open high G string or 5th fret on the first string?

I did used to print standard notation from tabledit for some folks that preferred it.


Hi Guy’s just to respond to issue about the high G 5th string. This is primarily a drone string and works in a similar way to the drones on bagpipes i.e. it adds a humming sound. The open first string can act in a similar way when you play a D chord, although most melody notes are played on the first string.

At the advanced level you’ll learn how to fret the 5th string and play melody notes there too. But that’s a lesson for another day and something to look forward to.

What you have to remember is that a 5 string banjo is not a guitar and the way you play it differs from fingerstyle guitar. If anything playing banjo is much more mechanical.

Here is a tip.

Focus on learning to play rolls cleanly and timely. Work through @BanjoBen 's lessons on rolls in the beginner learning track. Spend every spare minute you have on practicing rolls because until you’ve mastered the mechanics of the roll patterns progress on the banjo will be slow. Learning to identify patterns and play rolls is like learning to to drive a car with a stick shift and clutch, once you learn the art of changing gears without crunching the gearbox everything else starts to fall into place. Depending on your level of commitment this could take several years so the sooner you get to work on rolls the sooner you will begin to see progress. Good Luck and be sure to Have Fun.


There may be some musical notation, but it wouldn’t be prudent for bluegrass music because you so often play the same pitched note on different strings–tab allows you to see which string that is. There is a learning curve, so hang in there!


That’s a great explanation of what PRINTED BOOK TAB is and how most folk starting out use it with little or no guidance @Michael_Mark ( it’s the way I tried to learn from TAB in the beginning ) However Eli left out the most important tool for helping folks learn to play banjo, guitar & mandolin from TAB - TablEdit. tabed

TablEdit and the TAB TEF Files not only allow you to read TABs it also allows folks to hear TABs and play along, (A virtual Jam Session.) It’s also is a valuable tool to help you with your timing and help achieve the goal of every banjo player, to learn to play faster. Cloud961

In my experience the TAB Books and audio recordings that accompany the TABs are NOT a good resource for newbies learning to play banjo on their own. Often the recordings don’t match what is written. This is why is by far the best resource on the Internet because everything is explained in detail. The TAB is 100% accurate with the lesson (well maybe 99.9% accurate, We must allow some room for error .:rofl:

Not everyone has the skills to pick up a banjo and play it by ear right of the bat. I wish it were so. Folks that can do that are blessed. Those of us who don’t have those skills are equally blessed because we have @BanjoBen and TablEdit to help us muddle through. muddle

Eli is a great banjo player and teacher. I just wish more teachers and banjo players were less negative about the true value of TAB.

If TAB was so bad for students @BanjoBen wouldn’t use it and he wouldn’t encourage students to use TefView TablEdit.

End of RANT.


Does anyone know if it is supposed to rain today? :thinking:

1 Like

Thanks for your encouragement, my friend. I watched a bit of Eli’s video and agree with a lot he has to say. You can easily become too dependent, and I’ve actually taught that message for many years. The whole point of my build-a-break and Bag O’ Licks series of lessons is to get you off the tab and learn to process and create on your own.


Thanks for sharing.

1 Like