An an effort to communicate quicker and with less
misunderstanding I have come up with a new
tablature system for the NAF. This has become
extremely useful when teaching workshops and for my
private students. Since the feedback I'm getting is
very positive, and it seems to be helping people
make more sense of what they are playing on their
NAFs, I thought I would share it here. This new
Tablature system is called Number TAB. Number TAB
fills a gap between graphic finger symbols and NAF
TAB. But ultimately it helps a player define what
they are playing which which in turn helps them
remember what they play. It also gives NAF players
a fast way to jot down their ideas for future
WHAT YOU PLAYED?
Has this ever happened to you? You play a song, or
a tune, which you really like only to forget it
later? If could have been a tune you played two
weeks ago or two minutes ago, either way, it has
slipped your mind. This is the most common
complaint I hear from other NAF players and my
students. Having trouble remembering the tunes that
they create. If this has happened to you, you know
how frustrating it can be.
doesnt have to be this way. You just need a
different way to think about what you are playing.
A technique to help you remember what you just
played, or help you create something completely
new. That is what this post is all about.
One of the biggest challenges facing NAF players
when it comes to remembering what they play is due
in part to not having a firm grasp of the NAF
scale. This includes not knowing the names of each
note. In the NAF scale each note has a name based
on its interval distance from the root. Many people
don't know this, including a lot of NAF teachers.
It seems reasonable that if you don't know the name
of something how can you remember it? If you don't
know the name of something how can you think about
it to yourself or talk about it with others?
Test your grasp of the NAF scale by answering a
couple questions. If you can answer these questions
immediately, without having to think about it, then
you have a better than average grasp of the NAF
scale. If you have to think about it, or don't even
know the answer, then you'll find the information
that follows extremely useful.
Do you know the name of this note?
In the NAF scale it is called a 5th. Do you know
how it gets its name?
How about this note?
This fingering is give you a minor 3rd in the NAF
scale. How does it get its name?
FINGER CHARTS DON'T TELL YOU
If you see a finger chart for the basic NAF scale
you can easily cover and uncover the holes that are
indicated. But what if you needed to pick out one
of the notes and tell someone verbally to play it?
How do you communicate that? If you don't know the
name of the note then you have to say something
like, "Cover the top three holes and leave the
bottom three uncovered." That takes time. Time
away from making music. What if you could just say,
"Play the 5th"? or "Play the 7th"?
Wouldn't that would be much easier.
One note-fingerings is particularly hard to
describe. If I tried to describe it I would say
something like the following, "With your top
hand cover the holes corresponding to your index
and ring finger, not the middle finger. Don't cover
any of the holes on the bottom hand." Or I
could just say, "Play the 7th", or, "Play
7". Either way, as you will see later, what I'm
describing is this note:
the intervals is not that hard. The basic NAF
pentatonic scale only has five notes and the
octave. That's only six things to learn. Anybody
can learn them. You don't have to have a musical
background to learn six note names, but you will
become a better NAF player if you do!
THE DISTANCE FROM THE ROOT
Number TAB, or NBR TAB, started with a need to name
each note of the NAF scale to my students. Since
this had to be a self transposing system, able to
work on any NAF, in any key, it couldn't use note
names like C or D# or F# because it would need to
have a different sets of notes for each key.
However, since every standard NAF uses the same
pentatonic scale the intervals of the scale could
describe each note across all keys. An interval is
the distance between two notes. When talking about
the NAF, that distance is the one between the root
and the notes above it.
Below is the basic NAF scale shown in finger charts
with the interval for each note beneath them.
intervals tell you several things about each note.
First they act as de facto names. Something you can
recognize and remember. Notice that as you play up
the scale the numbers for the intervals get higher.
This is because the distance from the root
increases as you play up the scale. Also, as the
interval distance increases the notes get higher in
pitch. So the higher the number the higher the
pitch. The interval names also indicate if the note
is a major or a minor interval. However, as you can
easily see, in the basic NAF scale there are no
major intervals, only minor, so that information is
not that essential when only playing in the basic
For those of you who can read NAF TAB here are the
interval names below the scale shown in NAF TAB.
(If you don't know how to read NAF TAB just skip to
the next paragraph.)
and memorizing the intervals of the basic NAF scale
is something every NAF player should know within
the first couple weeks of playing. I'm sure you've
been told that anyone can play the NAF, that you
don't have to have any musical background. While it
is true that the learning curve for the NAF is very
shallow compared to most musical instruments, that
doesn't mean that you shouldn't know the basics
about the notes you are playing. How else will you
know and remember what you play? That would be like
trying to write without ever learning how to
Although using the intervals can work as a TAB
system it can quickly get cluttered. A better TAB
system would be cleaner and work like real musical
note names (C, E, G#, Ab, etc.), being just one
letter or number in length, with a sharp ♯
flat ♭ or natural
♮ behind it when
needed. (These symbols are called accidentals.)
This need to reduce the note names to one character
led to Number TAB.
Here is the basic scale shown as finger charts and
below them the Number TAB number assigned to each
note. The interval names have now been condensed to
their basic numbers (1, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8) to make
them only one character. Since the default key is
based on the NAF TAB key signature of four sharps
we don't need to show that 3 and 7 are minor. We
already know they are.
TAB the number assigned to each note becomes its
name. Since Number TAB is based on the intervalic
distance from the root the number also tells you
everything the interval names do, but faster and
with more clarity. Notice how the root is now
called 1 because it is the first note of the scale,
while the octave is called 8. Octave being the
latin word for 8.
Here are the Number TAB names shown below NAF TAB.
If you are thinking that all of these different
tablature systems are just different ways of
expressing the NAF fingering, are right.
USE NUMBER TAB?
The first advantage to Number TAB is that it takes
much less time to jot down a musical idea than to
draw finger charts or write it out in NAF TAB.
(Assuming you know NAF TAB.)
you come up with a tune. You can jot it down in
finger charts or in Number TAB. Both will end up
meaning the same thing --which fingering to use,
but between the two TABs, which of them do you
think would take less time to write down and be
faster to read?
the Number TAB version would be faster to write
down and read later. Even if you have a blank
finger chart template you still would have to ink
in 17 holes to write the above five notes, whereas
in Number TAB you just write five numbers. What
could be easier?
OF NUMBER TAB
of trying to describe this
one finger symbol at a time, in NBR TAB it would
another example. The finger symbols don't tell you
anything about the notes, or what to call them. You
just blindly cover or uncover holes. With each note
you play you have to decode the six covered or
uncovered holes in each diagram. That takes
the Number TAB system you could describe the
fingerings above as 1-5-3-7. Much less work and
FAMILIAR WITH NBR TAB
Here are some exercises to help you get familiar
with Number TAB.
next exercises start with the NBR TAB first. Try to
figure out the notes before looking at the finger
charts at the end of this article.
NUMBER TAB HELPS YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU PLAY
As you probably have experienced, some times
remembering what you just played can be
frustratingly vague and illusive. However, if you
know the Number TAB name for each note then what
you play becomes clearer and specific.
play some notes concentrate on remembering the
Number TAB numbers for each note, like a short
password or combination. This technique creates a
triple reenforcement. You start to develop a
muscle+sound+name memory for each interval.
Eventually this will enable you to hear a tone in
your head and your fingers will play it
automatically. It will become second nature. Since
all the notes of the NAF basic scale relate to the
root this will work on any NAF, in any key.
this technique when I improvise all the time. If I
pick up a flute in the studio or on stage and the
first thing that I play is 1-5-4-7-5, then as long
as I can remember those numbers I can repeat them.
Right away, or later in the song. I can also use
the numbers to help develop, or "grow", my song on
technique involves real improvising, not just
"playing the horizon" or a tree line. You are in
command of your ideas. By knowing the number
associated with each note you can turn your ideas
into coherent, polished, and professional sounding
EXTENDED SCALE IN NUMBER TAB
you are not familiar with the extended
scale of the NAF then this section may
seem very complex and confusing. If you
find yourself not "getting it", don't
worry about it. Just learn the Number TAB
for the notes you want to use. Don't worry
about the "why" and "how" of "major"
"minor" "sharp" etc. It really has no
impact on using Number TAB to play, write
and remember your songs. Normally I don't
even introduce the extended scale this
fast, but it does belong here.
extended scale we may have to add an accidental as
a suffix to some of the Number TAB names as those
notes take us out of the basic scale. Changing a
note in the basic scale involves moving that note
up, or down, one half step. A half step is the
smallest distance between two notes in western
music. If you have a piano you can play any black
key and then one of the notes on either side of it.
If you play the note to the right you are moving up
one half step. Likewise, if you play the note to
the left you are moving down one half step. When
moving up a half step the new Number TAB name
sometimes gets a symbol called a sharp ♯
added behind Like C♯.
When moving down the new Number TAB name can get a
symbol called a flat ♭
added to it. Like A♭.
If the note already has a sharp and you lower it,
or a flat and you raise it, then it gets a natural
example this fingering produces a major 3rd
A major 3rd is a minor 3rd (
) raised up one half step. When a note is raised a
half step it becomes "sharp", so in Number TAB this
fingering/note would be named 3♯.
example is the fingering for the so called "blues
This note is a half step lower than the 5th of the
basic scale, so in Number TAB it gets a flat sign,
DEVIL YOU SAY?
for the record, a lowered 5th is
technically called a diminished 5th. Its
enharmonic equivalent is an augmented 4th.
It is also called a Tritone and at one
time was called the Devil's Interval. --I
guess there is music in hell... In fact,
in the Middle Ages the church forbade
composers from using this interval and it
was know as diabolus in musica (the
Devil in music). However, in the NAF world
it is usually called a flat 5 or
so go ahead and call it that. Unless
you're feeling devlish!
is already major (due to the NAF TAB key
signature). The other 6th is minor, or down a half
step. In Number TAB that would written 6♮.
Why does this lowered note not shown as a flat? In
this case it is because the NAF key signature
already has a sharp for the 6th. If a note already
has a sharp (for example in the key signature) then
to lower the note one half step you remove the
sharp, which makes it "natural".
the full extended scale with Number TAB.
you who read NAF TAB. (Remember, NAF TAB has four
the extended scale intervals for the music geeks
out there, like me.
these extended notes might seem really
intimidating, keep in mind that most songs use only
the basic scale. The few that wander out of the
territory of the basic scale only use one or two of
the extended notes per song. So learn and memorize
the basic NAF scale first, then add the most common
extended notes to your repertoire . These would be
3♯, 6, and
TERRITORY: ABOVE THE OCTAVE
should be mentioned that the notes above
the octave can vary greatly from NAF to
NAF. Some will play the pitches shown
using the fingering above. Others might
play one or two of the notes, but not all,
while some might need completely different
fingerings than shown.
are interested in learning more about using Number
TAB to help you create songs and remember your
ideas contact Scott August about private
TO NUMBER TAB QUIZZES #9 - #18
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