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Hindrances to learning in anglo tutors


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I have nine hard-copy anglo tutors, seven additional older tutors in electronic form, and am familiar with several online tutor sites for anglo concertina. 

 

Although I have generally survived the communications quirks found in these tutors, I wish to identify hindrances to learning in these tutors and to “translate” some of these quirks in ways that will make sense to a beginner with no prior experience with concertinas. The following is generally addressed to those beginners, but relevant to all interested in maximizing outcomes in teaching and learning.

 

Veterans of the concertina will have become accustomed to a number of traditional conventions of communication involving figurative rather than literal representations of concertinas which are quite confusing and misleading to beginners. For example:

 

You will first notice that the outside row of buttons is not called the “outside row” but rather, the “top row”. Likewise the inside row is not called the inside row but rather the “bottom row”.

 

Vertical rows of buttons are always depicted as if they were horizontal, with the outside vertical row (furthest from your body) pictured as if were located at the top of the keyboard, while the inside vertical row (closest to your body) is depicted as if it were located at the bottom of the keyboard.

 

The top of the left side keyboard is always pictured on the right side of the diagram rather than on top, but the top of the right side of the keyboard is always shown to be on the left side of the diagram.

 

The button BELOW a certain note is called instead the button to the LEFT of that note.

 

The button ABOVE a certain note is always called instead the button to the RIGHT of that note.

 

The top button center row on the left side is always labeled “5”.  Except when it is labeled “10". BUT the top button center row on the right side is labeled “1".  Except when it is labeled “6".

 

BUT to compound the confusion, the top button in the left side inside row is not labeled “5" or “1" or “6"  but rather is labeled “10". Except when it is labeled “15".

 

To make sure you are thoroughly confused, the top button in the right inside row is called, not “5", not “1", not “10", not “15", but rather, “6". Except when it is labeled “11".

 

The outer row top button can be known as “5", “1", “6", “1a” or “5a” depending on what makes compelling sense to the author.

 

So far I have not been able to discern why all the top buttons, being located at the top, in the first ordinal position (i.e. they are all the FIRST button), are assigned many different numerical identities seemingly at random (I am aware of the stated or implied internal logic, but to a beginner they appear utterly arbitrary and random). Each author presents their numbering system as compelling and self-evident, yet the numbering systems are all different.  Tutorials generally label the forefinger or index finger as “finger number one”, whose home position is the first button at the top of the center or C row. Yet finger number one, whose home is the first button, rests on a button whose identity is either “5", “10", “6", or “1". Why is the first button, played by finger number one, not button number one?

 

To recap: The top button of a row may be called either “5", “10", “1", “6", “15", “11", “1a” or “5a”.

 

Depending which tutor you happen to acquire, you will encounter numerous different “tablature” systems in which buttons are assigned arbitrary names which must be memorized to follow the text BUT WHICH PROVIDE NO ACTUAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE LOCATION OF THE BUTTON.

 

To illustrate, let’s take as an example the button which houses the notes B and c (B4 and C5) on the left side inside (G) row. Depending on the tablature, this button is identified as either “9", “14", “4", or “2". There is no consistent identity assigned to this button, and none of these identities tell you where the button is located!

 

The key initial task of a beginner is to remember spatial locations of notes on the keyboard.

 

The great mystery, then, is why nobody uses spatial coordinates similar to latitude and longitude to specify the location of the notes.

 

If I asked ten random passersby to “Show me button number 9", nobody would be able to do it. If I asked them to “identify button 14" or “button 4" or “button 2" likewise the task would be impossible.

 

But if instead, I asked them to “Show me the button on the left side on the inside row second from the top”, 100% of random passersby would successfully identify the button.

 

If we want to identify a button located on the Left Side (L),  G Row, second (2) from the top, we could simply call it L-G-2 – IF we wanted EVERY beginner to know EXACTLY where it is without having to memorize ANYTHING.

 

So why doesn’t anybody call this button “L-G-2" instead of “9" or “14" or “4" or “2"?  Apparently we don’t want it to be too obvious which button it is from what we call it. So we must all memorize an arbitrarily constructed diagram to find notes on the keyboard, and then have to relearn a different diagram when switching to a different author.

 

All of the various inconsistent tablatures are based on some internal logic, often related to progression of notes from low to high or some other basis in musical theory (but oddly never about location). Since each tutor is based on a logic that its author found compelling and self-evident, yet every tutor is different from the others, we must conclude that the logic is neither compelling nor self-evident.

 

Yet another concerning issue: Very quickly beginners come to realize that it is critical to initially practice songs/tunes whose melody you already know very well to begin with. This is enormously helpful to getting the timing and rhythm correct, which leads to early success and a feeling of accomplishment. However, I couldn’t help but notice that virtually all anglo tutors contain mostly songs/tunes never heard of in North America (unless you are not really a beginner and have an ITM background already). This approach enormously increases learning difficulty, as timing and rhythm information is the most difficult for a beginner to incorporate correctly without the help of knowing the melody already. Therefore, I strongly recommend you acquire sheet music for melodies you already know and like as your tools for initial learning. This approach, of course, renders 90% of the content of anglo tutors irrelevant.

 

One other matter might be puzzling to you. In tutors that include chords, the actual notes contained in the chords do not appear anywhere on the staff/stave or on the page in the musical notation. Instead, beneath the musical notation one finds the tablature’s notation for which button to press in what direction. This obtuse tablature notation must be decoded by referring to a diagram in the book to see which button to press. To determine what musical note is played by pressing that button, one must find yet another diagram in another location in the book which shows which notes go with which buttons. For many of us who can read musical notation to begin with, several extraneous steps could be avoided if all the actual musical notes that need to be played (by both hands) are included on the staff (or stave) as is the convention universally in the musical world.

 

The quicker you can memorize which notes are played by which buttons in which direction, and the quicker you can teach yourself musical notation, the more quickly you can toss your anglo tutors and concentrate on learning from sheet music of tunes whose melodies you already know. 

 

The only “tablature” that makes sense to me is the provision of spatial/positional “coordinates”: 

 

Side (L or R) - Row (C or G or X/A/T/O) - Ordinal Position From Top (Top = 1)     e.g. L-G-2

 

R=Right side   L=Left side   C=C Row    G = G Row   Number = Ordinal Position from top of row

 

However, the only real tablature that matters after a few weeks is the notes themselves using standard notation:

 

C, (C3)   C (C4)  c (C5) c’ (C6)

 

Sadly, tutors tend to focus on their made-up language for talking about buttons to press (their tablature) and relatively infrequently even mention the actual notes being played. One well-known tutor with 2 CDs virtually never mentions actual notes, preferring to talk only about button numbers throughout the 2 CDs (though none of his arbitrarily assigned button numbers match those of any of the other tablature systems). Since there is no intrinsic relationship of the made-up button number to the actual button, this becomes nearly impossible to follow.

 

In closing, I wish to single out one tutor author for commendation. Mick Bramich is the only tutor author I am aware of that actually labels the top button of every row “button number one”. Since the top button is the first button and is always played by finger number one, this is the only schema that deserves to be called “self-evident”.

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Thank you!  I have played many musical instruments over my 6 decades on the planet, and while I can read treble clef music ok, I usually opt for tablature, as it's been easier for guitar, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, etc.   Except for concertina, for the reasons you state.  Despite there being multiple button options for a good number of notes, I find it much easier to figure out a tune from standard notation than those cryptic, inconsistent tabs.  Maybe they work for some learners, but for me, I tried and failed.  And in hindsight, I'm glad I've had to figure out the specific fingering--which d, g, b, c, or a option I was going to choose--when learning a tune from a page.  It's a lot easier for me than on, say, guitar, or especially banjo when I've got different tunings to consider.  Iit's made me pay attention to how to get the best phrasing for a particular passage.

 

Don't get me wrong--I'm glad those tutors are out there, and I'm hopeful that many new players have benefited from them.  I respect the time and effort the authors have put into them. But so far, none has done much for me.  Beyond the tablature issues, the lack of consistency in naming and describing ITM ornamentation is another factor, though I think that's probably true for all instruments, and not just the concertina.

 

I've got a different perspective on one issue though:  I've never cared for tutors that start me off with "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Hot Cross Buns."  I get your point.  But if I want to learn ITM, I want all the tunes to be in that repertoire.  Many can be simplified, and if I'm not familiar with them and the tutor doesn't include recordings, I can always find versions on the various streaming services that let me know what I'm aiming for.  But maybe your preference is best for someone with little to no previous music experience.  Me, I'd be happy to play "Britches Full of Stitches" a thousand times to try to get it right.  But after three times through "Hot Cross Buns" I'm questioning whether I even want to learn another instrument.

 

For me, the best tutor for any instrument among the hundreds (yes, I've got scads of them) is Grey Larsen's Essential Guide to Irish Flute and Tin Whistle.   It's a superb example of technical writing, with careful, clear analysis, and very helpful descriptions.  The included audio tracks are also extremely well done, as are the transcriptions of the works of other master players.  Of course Grey also plays concertina, but he's said he will not be writing a concertina tutor, probably in large part because he plays a D/A instrument and not the C/G favored by most.  Too bad for us.

 

On the flipside, we have the wonderful online offerings from OAIM and irishconcertinalessons.com, which emphasize the all important aural learning.  If you can't take personal lessons from someone who's an accomplished ITM player and an excellent teacher, these are the next best thing, imo.   Rather than trying to figure out what 3A^ means, I can watch the fingers and see the bellows movement, with Edel or Caitlin also telling me which finger goes where.  Great stuff, and worth the price.

 

 

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I agree with you completely about tunes like "Hot Cross Buns" or "Three Blind Mice" - simple but boring, and intolerable for endless practice repetitions. I was thinking more along the lines of tunes that I can clearly hear in my head, are not overly complex, but are quite pleasant when repeated. Examples might include "Edelweiss", Scarborough Fair", "A satisfied mind", "Climb every mountain", "Scarlet ribbons", "You are my sunshine",  "Can't help falling in love".  Even as I get to more advanced tunes, I need initially to hear them in my head. Examples might be "Greensleeves", "Cockles and mussels", "The Ash Grove", "The South wind" and "The Valley of Strathmore". I am at a beginning stage where if I can't hear the tune in my head I am lost.

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Just a thought, but have you considered trying to play by ear rather than by the dots?  Forget the tutor books.

 

Mally Productions in the UK publishes lots of tune books along with accompanying CDs.  Not the greatest performances but they are aimed at learners.  Find something with tunes in it that you like. 

 

Rip the CD(s) to MP3 files and get yourself one of those slow-downer programs like Transcribe! or the Amazing Slow-Downer and use that to play back the tune at slow speed while you play along working it out as you go.  Take it phrase-by-phase, or even just a few notes at a time until you get it right, gradually speeding it up over time.

 

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Have you ever played the harmonica?  The 20 button anglo is like two harmonicas, pitched in C and G.  Then in the 30 button box, the "farthest from your body" row (or top row) is the sharps and flats  (black keys) and some white keys in the other direction.

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Don: I think that even learning to play by ear requires acquiring some initial familiarity with the sounds generated by the notes/buttons first. This initial familiarity I believe is accelerated by trying to play tunes whose melody is well known to you. The option you present is an attractive one but probably not as a first step.

 

arkwright: Of course I have figured out what is referred to by the "top row". Its just that this choice of descriptor implies something that simply isn't true: "top" can refer to position (but this row is outside, not on top) or to relative frequency (but the notes in this row are not higher frequency than the others). Of course the origin of the descriptor appears to be the natural consequence of rotating the rows from vertical (literal representation) to horizontal (figurative representation) and the resultant distortion of reality places the outer row "on the top" of the rotated diagram. None of this is helpful to a beginner in orienting them to their instrument, however.

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11 hours ago, tunelover said:

I have nine hard-copy anglo tutors, seven additional older tutors in electronic form, and am familiar with several online tutor sites for anglo concertina. 

...

In closing, I wish to single out one tutor author for commendation. Mick Bramich is the only tutor author I am aware of that actually labels the top button of every row “button number one”. Since the top button is the first button and is always played by finger number one, this is the only schema that deserves to be called “self-evident”.

Thank you for your post.

 

I have been playing Anglo for coming up to seven years, and have been thinking about the
problems you outline in your post since about Day 2! I have been thinking about posting
something similar for at least two years, but laziness (amongst other things) has dissuaded
me from doing so. Thank you for taking the plunge! Cut to the chase:

 

I have seven printed tutors; photocopies of the relevant parts of an eighth; and PDF copies
of a few earlier tutors, so we are starting about even.

 

Your post has no diagrams, so is very confusing - but that's the whole point, isn't it?
The situation is very confusing!

 

I have spent many, many hours considering the problems you outline, and basically, I am in 
agreement with everything you say, although I use different terminology:

 

For example, I think in terms of 'symmetric' (Bramich) and 'asymmetric' (all the others) button

numbering systems. To me, the 'symmetric' system is intuitive, the 'asymmetric' systems are

counter-intuitive.

 

I think in terms of the 'Home row', the 'Accidentals row' and the 'D-row' (on a G/D) or the 'G-row'

(on a C/G), and so on. The details are different; the results/conclusions are the same.

 

I could go on and on, picking up all your points and giving my take on them, but I won't. Instead,

I will jump straight to your conclusion:

 

Yes! Mick Bramich's tutors are first rate - I used them when I started (after an unsuccessful
attempt to use another very popular tutor). However, MB's tutors are not the only ones with a
schema that deserves to be called “self-evident”. There is a free online tutor on the Australian
Bush Traditions web site[1] which uses a similar symmetric button numbering layout. It can be
found here. In fact, when you look at it closely, the two systems are more or less functionally
equivalent, they just use different symbols for 'push' and 'pull', and position the tabs 
differently. I 'graduated' from MB's system to the ABT system with no problems whatsoever.

 

There is a fairly detailed comparison of the bewilderingly different button numbering systems 

here.

 

There is a list of printed tutors here.

 

________________

[1] In your opening paragraph, you mention several online tutor sites for anglo concertina. It's

not clear if you have discovered this one, so I mention it specifically, just in case...

 

Edited by lachenal74693
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I find the usual way of showing the notes in horizontal rows, with lower notes to the left and higher notes to the right, easy to understand, because that's roughly how they look when you look at one end. Granted the rows are roughly vertical when you're playing the concertina, but you can't see them very well then. However I acknowledge that what's simple and intuitive for one person can be confusing for another. One mark of a good teacher is to find alternative ways of describing something, to suit different learners' ways of understanding.

 

For my MIDI concertina project (still making slow progress) I needed a table mapping the buttons to the PCB terminals for the connections to the contacts-to-MIDI interface. The first three columns in mt table are "End" (left or right), "Row" (top, middle, inner, or innermost) and "button" (push or pull). So I only now realise that I have mixed the terminology, with  "top" and "inner".

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3 hours ago, Richard Mellish said:

I find the usual way of showing the notes in horizontal rows, with lower notes to the left and higher notes to the right, easy to understand, because that's roughly how they look when you look at one end. Granted the rows are roughly vertical when you're playing the concertina, but you can't see them very well then. However I acknowledge that what's simple and intuitive for one person can be confusing for another. One mark of a good teacher is to find alternative ways of describing something, to suit different learners' ways of understanding.

 

For my MIDI concertina project (still making slow progress) I needed a table mapping the buttons to the PCB terminals for the connections to the contacts-to-MIDI interface. The first three columns in mt table are "End" (left or right), "Row" (top, middle, inner, or innermost) and "button" (push or pull). So I only now realise that I have mixed the terminology, with  "top" and "inner".

 

I'm with Richard. For me, from the perspective of a maker, it's more intuitive and obvious to think of the row furthest from the handrail as being the top because that's how it looks when I refer to the diagram in my memory, and I have to do some mental contortions to work out that when you say 'top' you are thinking of the right hand side of the left hand keyboard and the left hand side of the right hand keyboard. I'm not sure a random non-player would correctly guess what 'inner' and 'outer' refers to, and those words perhaps risk confusion with the bellows 'in' and 'out' directions? How about 'further' and 'nearer'?

 

Purely for my own convenience and I'm not suggesting anyone copy me, but when I'm tuning an Anglo and I write down the error value for each reed, I number the rows A (bottom/inner), B (middle), and C (top/outer). The two sides are numbered separately and I use + for push and - for pull. So a particular reed might be called LB4- (left hand, middle row, fourth column from the left, pull).

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I agree the proliferation of tablature systems is confusing.  I make very little use of any of them - I learned to play by ear and have never learned to play either from dots or tab.  It's a pity that the concertina community hasn't whittled it down to just one or two, but I guess people tend to favour the system they learned from their first tutor.  They all have their own logic, but they each have to be memorised. 

 

The CADB system used by diatonic accordion players has a simple logic which combines button number with bellows direction can be easily expanded to any number of rows or buttons, and I've often wondered why that hasn't been been adapted for concertina.  Possibly because it is French, where there are few concertina players, and was only discovered by British players fairly recently.

 

I think the horizontal keyboard diagram format makes more sense if you think of it as relative to your hands - if you put your hands out in front of you and look at your fingers they will naturally align with the horizontal keyboard diagram.  A vertical alignment would require an additional mental transformation.  For some that will be automatic, others might find it difficult.

 

The virtue of tab for beginners is that it tells you which button to press, which musical notation cannot, since most notes are duplicated on the instrument.  It is probably for this reason that tab is popular with players of stringed instruments, which have a similar multitude of options for each note.

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I agree with much of what people have said above, although I can't say that the top/bottom row confusion ever occurred to me as an issue. Maybe because, as Howard says above, if you set your fingers on the table as though the concertina was unfolded in front of you, they sit neatly on the diagram. The problem is that inventing a new tab system only makes the problem worse, of course...

 

I like the button numbering that Gary Coover uses, if only because it's consistent with that found in the historical tutors, but encoding 3 variables (hand, button, direction) in a single value is always going to be kind of a tricky problem, especially if you're limited in your typesetting technology. The historical tutors wouldn't have been able to get special type cast, most likely, and many of us would like to have ASCII / text-only representations. Gary's line above to indicate a pull, for example, is difficult to reproduce digitally with common software.

Edited by MJGray
clumsy wording, bad spelling, oy
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16 hours ago, MJGray said:

...

[1] The problem is that inventing a new tab system only makes the problem worse, of course...

...

[2] I like the button numbering that Gary Coover uses, if only because it's consistent with that found in the historical tutors

...

[3] encoding 3 variables (hand, button, direction) in a single value is always going to be kind of a tricky problem, especially if you're limited in your typesetting technology.

...

[4] many of us would like to have ASCII / text-only representations. Gary's line above to indicate a pull, for example, is difficult to reproduce digitally with common software.

[1] Unless the new tab system is better, of course...😎

[2] Ah, there ya go - I don't like it - partly because it's 'consistent with that found in the historical tutors',

(which I find really counter-intuitive). This just goes to emphasise what some-one already said - this

business is largely a matter of 'different strokes  for different folks'...

[3] I think of it as 4 variables - hand, row, button, direction.  Using ABT, it can be done with 2-4 characters

(4 is the max.). Even 4 is a bit tricky, because the tab then becomes 'wider' than the note, and takes

up too much space in the music. Edit: The fix is to use slightly smaller text - dead easy in ABC files.

[4] There was a discussion here recently about using ABC to represent Gary Coover's tablature. If I

remember correctly the idea foundered precisely because it wasn't really possible to use the 'line above to

indicate a pull'. I think that attempts to do it within MuseScore barfed for exactly the same reason. I guess

it might be possible using lilypond?

[Yes, I go for the ASCII representation too (I just spent several hours re-coding a program to replace accented characters with their ASCII equivalents.)]

 

Ultimately, I'm very largely in agreement with those who say that the ideal situation is one in which we

can all sight-read, or play by ear...

Unfortunately, I'm not blessed in this way, so I have to use a tab system. I want one which is concise,

correct, unambiguous, and which can be added easily and unobtrusively onto an existing score. Ideally,

it should add no more than one line of text to the existing score. I'm very lucky - I found a solution

(Bramich/ABT) which works for me. It's not completely ideal, but it's a good step along the way...

 

 

Edited by lachenal74693
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2 hours ago, MJGray said:

 

 

I like the button numbering that Gary Coover uses, if only because it's consistent with that found in the historical tutors, but encoding 3 variables (hand, button, direction) in a single value is always going to be kind of a tricky problem, especially if you're limited in your typesetting technology. The historical tutors wouldn't have been able to get special type cast, most likely, and many of us would like to have ASCII / text-only representations. Gary's line above to indicate a pull, for example, is difficult to reproduce digitally with common software.

Not an anglo player or a dots reader but just a thought...... would using a color (ala Nick Robertshaw's Jeff duet diagrams) with the texts for say bellows direction help?

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I very much like the idea of a color system for indicating bellows direction. In my own hand-made notations, I use green to signify "Push" or "In" and use maroon to indicate "Pull" or "Out". I like to mark off bellows changes on my sheet music and find that colors are more intuitive and involve less mental processing than symbols. I am not familiar with the duet diagrams referenced, but I will try to look them up.

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36 minutes ago, tunelover said:

I very much like the idea of a color system for indicating bellows direction. In my own hand-made notations, I use green to signify "Push" or "In" and use maroon to indicate "Pull" or "Out". I like to mark off bellows changes on my sheet music and find that colors are more intuitive and involve less mental processing than symbols. I am not familiar with the duet diagrams referenced, but I will try to look them up.

 

There's a guideline in software interface design that you never indicate anything with color alone. That's because various types of colorblindness are quite common. It is possible to pick colors that pretty much everyone can distinguish, but it will be dependent upon everyone that uses the tab system using specifically chosen colors (e.g. RGB or CMYK values) and not just something that looks maroon or green to them. Using color alone would also mean that your tabs could not be fully reproduced with a black-and-white printer or copier. That said, color is often a great secondary indicator of information that is already shown by other means, and I think it would fit in even with existing tab systems quite nicely.

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@tuneloverI think your problem is having 9 tutors and 7 more in electronic form.  There is no one single way to teach or to play, but if you "listen to" (read) too many experts, you will drown in confusion.

 

In your position, I would choose one tutor to work through, put the others away, and not worry about them.

 

Later, I might chose one of the others and work through that to see if it gave me any new insights.

 

The best way to learn is a combination of 1:1 lessons if you can get them, listening to other players, hands on experimentation, and practice.

 

If you can learn where to find the 5 most important chords for each of the 2 main keys, then you can pick out a melody from resources like the session dot org, or by ear, and develop the arrangement as you play it more.

 

When you can play 10 melodies with some sort of accompaniment, the 11th will come more quickly.

 

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23 hours ago, lachenal74693 said:

[2] Ah, there ya go - I don't like it - partly because it's 'consistent with that found in the historical tutors',

(which I find really counter-intuitive). This just goes to emphasise what some-one already said - this

business is largely a matter of 'different strokes  for different folks'...

Indeed. I'm the kind of weirdo who thinks it's fun to try to replicate what was going on with the instrument when it was invented, so that's useful to me.

 

I guess the end goal for all of us is to be able to turn music on a page into music in your ears, so the system that is the shortest path to that is what we should use. Is the best way to do that the same for everyone? Clearly not, based on this thread. Honestly, "translating" tab from one system to another is not a bad exercise, and has helped me figure out tunes now and then.

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