Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Standard Notation Reading

I was curious to open up a poll…

I saw a post on the Mandolin Cafe… mentioning the reading of “Standard Notation” (not tab).

I thought it would be interesting to read feedback from our community… By instrument and by posting if you can indeed read standard notation on your instrument(s)?

I thought there was a way to do polls here… but I don’t know how to set it up. :thinking:

For me… I can read music… and studied Theory… So I know major, minor, diminished and augmented triads, chord progression, chord notation…

However, I freely admit I have never applied to Banjo or Mandolin.

@BanjoBen, Is it necessary? Useful?

I also had a thought… I don’t want to push non-value-added work to Ben…

But… maybe there is a lesson in this to discuss?

Also @BanjoBen, if some basic or popular tunes had those charts transcribed and available… Players could learn the TAB, memorize… then print the standard notation to “read” as they play what they have memorized this, enforcing the notes to the tune they already can play. Even a basic tune might help start the ball rolling… Like “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain”.

Just an idea. What do y’all think… ?

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Hi Will, No I can’t read Standard Notation. Ben has briefly mentioned the difficulty of using SN with banjo and why TAB works better.

I do believe Classic Banjo Players use Standard Notation

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Guitar player here. I can decipher SN and am getting better at reading while I play. I generally use it as a helper to learn melodies i can’t pick out. I am much more functional in tab.


I think the best reason for tab is what i saw in a lesson once. SN shows you at what pitch the notes should be played, whereas tab will show you the most efficient place on the fretboard to produce that particular pitch. In other words… if you take a single note in SN, there may be 3 or 4 different places to obtain that pitch on the fretboard. Tab takes that frustration of figuring that out, out of the way.


This only goes for good tab…I’ve read some pretty bad ones.

I prefer TAB for Banjo, SN for fiddle, either for guitar & mando, and neither for Bass. (yes I’m a confused old coot)

Seeing chord in SN can give much quicker understanding to how they are built theory-wise than TAB can…this goes for harmonies as well.

Notation can include lots of thing that tab doesn’t …dynamics for instance.

Either is a good tool to have in the box, as are NNS and the ability to write/read charts

.None is necessary to playing, but all can help with the journey…

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Me 2, Yes I concur there is some terrible banjo TABs out there.

I remember attending a workshop in Linlithgow Scotland some years back and the host handed out some TAB which he had transcribed from standardised notation. Clearly this guy knew nothing about banjo. The notes were everywhere on the neck making it impossible to play.

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I learned how to read SN when I had violin + piano lessons although I haven’t applied it to mandolin, or guitar very much.
I think being able to read SN can be helpful in different areas like Stephen said for finding melodies you can’t pick out.
If I could sit down and make myself learn the fret note names, I would probably be able to sight read simple melodies for my mandolin.

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Sounds like a good idea to me! Probably help me learn fret names quicker.



TEF tabs can be reset in “Options” under the “General” tab, to show SN only, Tab only, or both SN and Tab.