TAB And Rhythm
One of the biggest drawbacks to using Graphic
TAB flute symbols, is the inability to express
rhythms. However there is a way to show rhythms in
Numbers TAB. But before we jump right into that
let's talk a little about rhythm in general.
Long and Short of Rhythm
One of the basic building blocks of writing, or
improvising, a melody is rhythm. Rhythms are the
notes of different lengths (durations) that float
above the steady underlying beat (the pulse) of a
song. As you have most likely experienced when
listening to music, you tap your foot to the steady
beat (the pulse), while the melody and its rhythms
float above it with notes of varying
you don't know anything at all about rhythms you
can start playing simple melodies just by using
long notes and short notes. Combining long and
short notes is at the heart of constructing
amount of time you play a note is also
called "holding" the note. Therefore you
could say, "Hold the last note the same
amount of time it takes to play the first
four", or "Hold the last note
tend to come in groups that repeat a few times.
When combined with notes, or pitches, they can be
very powerful forces that make a melody
recognizable. Many famous melodies are
unrecognizable when the notes are separated from
their rhythm, but can still be identified by from
their rhythm even without the notes present.
comes to music, simpler is better. With that in
mind let's create a rhythm made up of just three
notes: two short notes and one long note. As a
shorthand we will use an S to indicate a
Short notes and and L to indicate a Long note. The
long note will be followed by dash, L - ,
indicating that its duration is twice as long as
one short note.
S L -
duration of the two Short notes combined is equal
to the duration of one Long note. We can display
+ S = L -
combination of two Short notes and one Long note is
a good, easy rhythm to use for a simple melody. We
will use the rhythm S S L - as the basic building
block of our melody by repeating this rhythmic
pattern four times. As stated earlier, it is very
common for a rhythmic pattern to be repeated in a
melody. (Not a rule, just common.) Here is how this
S L - ' S S L - ' S S L - ' S S L -
example above there are four groups, or cells, of
Short-Short-Long notes. The first three cells end
with a breath, indicated by an apostrophe '. Notice
how the Long note ( L - ) is followed by a dash
indicating that you play a Long note twice as long
as a Short ( S ) note. When we start to assign
rhythms to Number TAB numbers a number without a
dash will be equal to a Short note, while a number
followed by a dash will mean a Long
should play the rhythms above. For now, don't worry
about which notes you pick, just try to get
familiar with playing Short and Long note notes. If
it makes it easier you can play just one note
throughout. Then repeat it several different times,
each time playing different notes (fingerings) for
each Short and Long note. Pay attention to how the
repeated rhythmic pattern gives your tune a sense
of unity regardless of which notes you play. Try to
make the very last note the root note. (The last
Long note.) This will help make your tune feel as
if it has resolved. That it has "gone home." Even
better, except for the very first note, see if you
can avoid playing the root at all until the very
last note. Avoiding the root can help keep your
music moving as the root note is perceived by the
listener as a note of repose. An ending.
you play different notes in different
places in the exercise above you'll start
to discover that some notes sound better
to your ears than others. The combination
of notes you can play is infinite and this
type of experimentation can sometimes lead
to wonderful music. Playing the same notes
leads to being in a "rut". The only way to
get out of a rut is to try new things. If
you play something you like, write it down
in Number TAB for later.
the same exercise but with Number TAB numbers
assigned to each note.
As we saw
in figure 26c, this tune is comprised of four
groups or cells. The top row shows the note
durations, the bottom row shows the Numbers TAB for
each note and their durations as well. Remember: a
number by itself equals a Short note while a number
followed by a dash equals a Long note.
will change the order of the long and short notes,
and the Number TAB notes. Notice that this little
tune has an arch shape and, like Fig 26c, consists
of four groups.
In Number TAB
We have seen that the length of a note in
Number TAB is based on the concept of Short and
Long durations. The previous examples have shown
them as a combination of a Number TAB number by
itself for short notes and a dash for long notes.
In all music rhythm is the combination of longer
and shorter notes and how they lie on, or off, the
pulse. The beat.
notes of other durations in addition to Short and
Long notes. As shown in the reference chart below
there are five basic durations. Starting with the
longest they are: Extra Long, Long, Short, Extra
Short, Super Short. (The duration of a note is also
called its value.)
Here is a
chart showing these durations, their names and how
they are displayed in Number TAB. If you read music
you can also cross reference their relative names
If you don't understand some of the references to
specific Note Names, like quarter, half,
whole, etc,. don't worry about it. We will look at
this again later in more
Here is a
brief description of each length show
number all by itself represents a Short note.
Most of the time a short note will represent the
underlying pulse or beat. (What you tap your
foot to.) A Short note is the equivalent of a
number follow by a dash, ( 1 - ) means
play the note twice as long as a number by it
self. This is called a Long note and is the
equivalent of a half note.
- is three times as long as a short note and
is similar to a dotted half note. We will look
at dotted notes later.
- - means hold the note four times as long
as a short note. This is an Extra Long note and
most of the time will be the longest note you'll
encounter. It is like a Whole note.
number with a line beneath ( 1 )
it is an Extra Short note and is half the length
of a Short note. (A Short note divided in half
becomes two Extra Short notes. S = S
S) It is comparable to an eighth note.
Up to four Extra short notes can be joined to
make groups of them easier to see: 1
3 or 1 3 1 or 1 3 4
is a super short note, comparable to a sixteenth
note. Two super short notes are equal to one
extra short note, or 1
1 = 1
Up to four Extra short notes can also be joined:
1 3 5 4 making
groups of them easier to see.
are shown as a zero, 0, with any added
dashes, dots, underlines or cross outs to
indicate the duration.
indicators are a apostrophe:
notes occur when a note plus half its value are
added together. We will look at dotted notes in
the next section.
Except for the dotted notes, which will be
discussed later, each of the five main note
durations is half the value of the note above it,
or twice the value of the note below it. Here is a
chart (Figure 29a) showing the relative durations.
For now we will only use the number for the root,
1, to show each type of note's duration.
from the top down we see that one Extra Long note
is equal to two Long notes; four Short notes; eight
Extra Short notes; and sixteen Super Short notes.
Likewise, four Short notes are the same as one
Extra Long note or sixteen Super Short notes. The
relationship between the durations works both up or
down the chart.
relative value stays the same regardless of the
tempo, i.e., the speed of the pulse.
illustrate how this works here are several groups
of notes that are equal in total duration. See if
you can figure out how many Short notes or their
equivalent, are in each line.
determine how many short notes are in each line you
need to figure out the relationship that other
types of note lengths have to a Short note. Let's
go through each line and see the
two long notes. Each Long note is equal to two
exactly four Short notes.
two instances of two Extra short notes plus one
long note. Two extra short notes are equal to one
short note. Line #3 has a total of four Short
one short, two extra short, four super short and
two more extra short. Four super short notes equal
one short, as do two extra short notes. Line #4 has
a total of four Short notes.
one extra long note, which is equal to four short
see that each line has the equivalent of 4 short
Why does this matter? As was pointed out
earlier, the vast majority of music has an
underlying, steady beat. A pulse. Since the beat is
a constant we can, and need to, assign one type of
note duration to be equal to the beat. This helps
us keep track of where we are in the music and
keeps all the different durations working together.
This is especially important if two or more people
are playing together.
any note duration can be assigned to represent the
beat, for the vast majority of music the beat is
assigned to what is called a quarter note. In
Number TAB the equivalent of a quarter note is a
is the beat normally equal to a Short note, but as
we will see, beats are typically lumped together in
groups of four. Just like figure 33a
able to see the beat underneath the rhythm is
essential to reading, writing and playing
easy to spot the number of short notes in a small
group, but what if we were looking at a long string
of notes, or even a melody? Take a look at this
basic scale shown with all short notes:
3 4 5 7 8 8 7 5 4 3 1
twelve total notes in the line above. But does that
mean that this is one group of 12 notes, or two
groups of 6 notes, or three groups of 4 notes, or
even four groups of 3 notes? We have no way of
knowing because nothing tells us how to look at
happens when different note lengths are shown? Here
is the scale with every other note twice as long,
starting with the first note:
- 3 4 - 5 7 - 8 8 -
8 - 7 5 - 4 3 - 1 1 - -
though we can see the length of each individual
note we can not see how they should be grouped or
any patterns that might exist between them. Almost
all music has some repeating patterns and, more
important, notes that naturally get more emphasis.
beats are arranged in groups, like the groups of
four Short notes shown in figure 33a, the first
note of the group gets the most natural stress.
This is true no matter how many beats are in a
example, if fig 34b is broken up into groups of
three Short notes by vertical lines the first beat
of each group gets the most stress. (Fig
1 - 3 | 4 - 5 | 7 - 8 | 8 - -' | 8 - 7 | 5 - 4 | 3
- 1 | 1 - - |
can clearly see that most of this tune consists of
the rhythm Long + Short, L - S. The first notes in
each group, as indicated by the vertical lines,
called Bar Lines, get the most stress of the three
notes in each group. Dividing up the notes in a
melody this way is a way of "measuring" the music
and helps clarify the music, both during the
creating and playing stages.
look at another example. Here is a short
4 3 1 3 - 4 - 5 4 3 1 3 - - - 5 4 3 1 3 - 5 - 4 3 4
3 1 - - -
just play the notes as they are written, but
dividing them into smaller groups will help us see
the structure better.
5 4 3 1 | 3 - 4 - | 5 4 3 1 | 3 - - - | 5 4 3 1 | 3
- 5 - | 4 3 4 3 | 1 - - - |
much easier to display this melody arranged in
eight groups. Each groups being four Short notes in
length. So how does one begin to divide music into
Notes: Measured Time
Music tends to be broken down into smaller
groups that are put together to make a song. In
written music these groups are called measures.
Each measure had a fixed number of beats, or
pulses, that is represented by a specific note
value. Remember, the pulse is what you tap your
foot to when listening to music. In most songs the
number of pulses per measure is usually the same as
the other measures in the song. For example each
measure in a song might have the equivalent of four
pulses per measure, with each pulse is represented
by a Short note. As, we saw in figure 33a this
doesn't mean that each measure is only made up of
four short note but that the different note lengths
in each measure will add up to the equivalent of
four Short notes.
TAB a measure will be displayed as Number TAB notes
placed between two vertical lines. One at the front
of the measure, the other at the back.
-Number TAB notes- |
four measures. The first measures has four Short
notes, the second measures has two Long notes, the
third measures has one Long note and two Short
notes, while the last measure has only one extra
Long note. If you compare all of these notes using
the chart above you will find that each measure has
the equivalent of four Short notes in
1 3 4 5 | 4 - 7 - | 5 - 4 3 | 1 - - -
these groups equal each other in that they take the
same amount of time to play. (Four Short notes.) It
is extremely common for songs to be made up of
smaller groups that are the same length through
back to the tune from above, Fig 35a. It shows how
a the rhythms of a tune can be split up into
measures, each consisting of four short notes.
Rather than making the performer figure this out by
counting the notes in each measure we can put a
symbol at the front of the TAB line to tell them
how the measures are divided. In real music this is
called a "time signature" and usually consists of
two numbers. One above the other, like
TAB also has its own version of a time signature.
It consists of a number, a slash and a letter:
number tells the performer how many pulses, or
beats are in each measure, while the letter tells
them what note length is equal to the beat. In the
example above the number 4 tells us there are four
beats in each measure, while the S, stand for
Short, as in Short note. This means there are the
equivalent of 4 beats, or pulses in each measure
and that a Short note is equal to the
| 5 4 3 1 | 3 - 4 -' | 5 4 3 1 | 3 - - -' | 5 4 3 1
| 3 - 5 -' | 4 3 4 3 | 1 - - -
the scale from Fig 34b with longer and
shorter notes. It now has a time signature of 3/S.
Can you figure out what the time signature means?
Do you know which notes get more stress?
| 1 - 3 | 4 - 5 | 7 - 8 | 8 - -' | 8 - 7 | 5 - 4 |
3 - 1 | 1 - - |
grouped for several reasons. To help the player not
get lost. To keep performers together. One of the
most important reasons to group notes in measure is
to create a pattern of strong and weak beats. As
will be shown later, the most common grouping for
this purpose is groups of four, with the strongest
notes being the first and third of the group. We
will learn more about strong and weak beats
try another simple tune. Play the tune below and
try to make the relative note durations
| 1 3 4 5 4 3 | 1 3 4 5 7 - | 1 3 4 5 4 5 | 4 5 4 3
1 - |
help you to tap your foot once for each short note.
When you do that you can "count" the relative
length of each note relative to your foot taps.
Each tap equals one Short note. Short notes will
get one foot tap, Long notes will get two foot taps
while there are two Extra Short notes per foot
The best way to stay with the beat and not
speed up or slow down is to count the beats as you
play. This is especially true when you are first
learning to play a tune or, as we will look at
later, trying to figure out a tune that you have
come up with.
if there are four beats in a measure the beats are
labeled 1, 2, 3, 4. Showing a note on the root we
can look at this without too much confusion. When
playing or clapping this rhythm we would say, or
think, "One, Two, Three, Four". This is shown below
as 1 2 3 4. Each beat gets its own number. If you
clap your hands for each note and count at the same
time you should count a number each time you clap.
Each clap should be the same length.
works well if the song only has Short notes or Long
notes, but what about tunes that have Extra Short
notes? Theses have two notes per beat and each has
to last the same amount of time. No speeding up or
musicians do to count Extra Short notes is to
assign the word "and" to the back half of the beat.
Just like some people add the word "Mississippi"
when trying to count seconds, musicians use the
word "and" to help space out the notes
example below we will use the symbol "&"
instead of the word "and" to keep everything
are wondering, "Do musicians really count '1 and 2
and 3 and 4 and' while they are playing?'", the
answer is yes! Especially if they are just learning
a tune or a tricky rhythm. This is true even if the
rhythm is not all Extra Short notes. They will
still count the "and" of each beat to keep them
from speeding up or slowing down and to be ready to
subdivide a beat when it a subdivision
measure below while you count each beat and the
"and" of each beat. It will help you be ready for,
and play, the Extra Short notes on beats #3 and
It is not
uncommon to say, or think, the smallest division of
the beat that is found in a tune. If the smallest
division of the beat is Extra Short notes we say
"One-and, Two-and, etc,. If the smallest division
is a Super Short note (a sixteenth note in NAF TAB)
then we say, "One-ee-and-ah, Two-ee-and-ah, etc..."
which can also be shown as "1-e-&-a,
2-e-&-a, etc. If you use this counting
technique for the example below you will already be
thinking in Extra Short notes before they happen
and will be ready for them.
there are examples that show notes and rhythms it
is always a good idea to count each beat as shown
above. Your command of rhythm and ability to play
it will improve exponentially.
this all into the real world here is an easy, short
song notated in Number TAB. Note the time signature
of four Short notes per measure. (4/S) All
of the rhythms are straight forward, being even
divisions or multiple of the basic Short note beat
(pulse, or foot tap). To make this even easier look
for rhythms that repeat later in the song so that
you don't have to re-learn them.
Number TAB is a great way to jot down your ideas
quickly, understand the intervals of the NAF basic
scale and not have to deal with clumsy finger
charts. It's clean, fast and precise.
TAB is also good as a learning aid when placed
below NAF TAB, instead of finger charts. To see
this in action I've made available a PDF score of
Native Trails using both NAF TAB and Number TAB.
The score contains two different versions of Native
Trails. A simple version, like the one above, and
one with suggested ornamentations, including chirps
and turns, demonstrating how to spice up a simple