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The Wide World of Anglo tablature


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Another thread has revealed unexpectedly (to me, anyway) strong feelings about the many different extant tablature systems for the Anglo concertina. There's clearly some space here for an interesting conversation. I'm branching off this thread as a place for folks to talk about what tablature system(s) they like, and perhaps more importantly, why. Perhaps we can come together and share the positives of the different tools available for learning this goofy little instrument, and maybe we'll all learn something new!

 

I'll start, with a perennial offbeat favorite of mine: Merrill's Harmonic Method for the German Concertina (1846), which is a very early example of a tablature system designed for an instrument which had only been invented a decade or so before. In this system, the keys are numbered 1 - 5 for the upper row (the C row) and and 6 - 10 for the lower row (the G row) for each hand, with lower numbers corresponding to the lower notes in each row. A downward-pointing > indicates notes played on the press.

 

50119385_Merrillsgamut.png.ab5708fd0b6188f27832a73b3fd8d72b.png

 

So far, nothing too exotic, but what I genuinely like about the tablature in this book is that it is the only system I am aware of that presents harmonic arrangements in which all of the notes are shown. Sometimes on the same staff, as in this simple arrangement of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (where it gets pretty cluttered):

 

Twinkle.png.8ad9f8a7a522f0255467fab5e0829adc.png

 

But for most of the tunes in the book, on upper and lower staves indicating the left and right hands, respectively. Note that the numbers are only put next to notes that have changed from the previous note or measure:

 

Kleine.png.a0a456e9671161791f05f80c0d9322a0.png

 

I find this remarkably clear, it makes an easy-to-see connection between the notes in standard notation and their fingerings, and it's the only tablature system I've run across that I can come close to "sight-reading", although it's not that close. (I'm not that good a musician, really. I have fun, though!)

 

The downsides, of course, are that no one else has used this system in the last 175 years, it takes up a lot of space on the page, and it would have to be modified to represent arrangements for a  30- (or more!)-key Anglo. It also can't be represented easily in digital / pure text format, which I know is important for many people.

 

If you use tablature, what system do you use, and what do you like most about it?

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I've never been one for tablature (concertina or bass guitar).To me it always seems easier just to learn where the notes are in your head/fingers. Learn the basic scale pattern then some chord shapes, and then, when ready, alternative position and directions. Start with simple tunes and then slowly push the boundaries.

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I use Gary Coover's tabs, at this point mostly to remind myself of how I played a particular piece in the past, as well as to share that information with others. I hardly think it's a perfect system, but one thing I like about it (and that is common to many other systems) is that it indicates which hand plays a particular button with position rather than another symbol. I think it would be interesting to further explore the idea of expressing tabs with fewer symbols and to introduce more spatially mappable representations as well.

 

The other thing I really like about Coover's system is that a decent collection of tunes in various styles are available in it. This means it's attractive for beginners to learn, and its popularity/familiarity makes it a good tool for communicating.

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1 hour ago, Steve Schulteis said:

I use Gary Coover's tabs, at this point mostly to remind myself of how I played a particular piece in the past, as well as to share that information with others. I hardly think it's a perfect system, but one thing I like about it (and that is common to many other systems) is that it indicates which hand plays a particular button with position rather than another symbol. I think it would be interesting to further explore the idea of expressing tabs with fewer symbols and to introduce more spatially mappable representations as well.

 

The other thing I really like about Coover's system is that a decent collection of tunes in various styles are available in it. This means it's attractive for beginners to learn, and its popularity/familiarity makes it a good tool for communicating.

Agreed! I think your second point is particularly important, and is probably leading the community towards it as a kind of standard.

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First,although it's not directly relevant to this discussion, I agree in principle with those who say that the

way forward is to learn to sight-read.

 

Realistically though, numpties like me are (probably) never going to be competent 'on-the-fly' sight readers,

so I have to compromise by using a tablature (tab) system.

 

I think a tab system should be:

 

correct
complete
compact (or concise)
comprehensible

 

If I had to describe the above using a single word, I would use the word 'minimalist'.

 

Taking all the above into account, the practical (or 'do-able') bottom line for me is that a tab system should

be capable of being represented as a single line which can be kept separate from accompaniment chords,

and which can be written into an existing score without too much trouble.

 

It should also contain enough information to allow one to play the tune. It should also not contain too much

information - which (hopefully) means that the player is 'forced' to extract some further information from
the conventional staff - note duration for example; or whether a note is played 'stacatto', etc.

 

This serves to encourage the player to become at least a little more familiar with conventional staff notation

(see my opening remark) - it is a step along the road to achieving the nirvana of being able to sight-read...

 

Harking back to the opening post of the thread which started these discussions, I had already arrived

independently at the same conclusion as the OP, namely that Mick Bramich's system (MB) is pretty good
(augmented by the ABT system, which is functionally equivalent). 

 

I could say a lot more about the fine detail - why I prefer a 'symmetric' button numbering system, for example.

I won't - I want to keep this relatively short, and I don't want to bore folks to death...

 

So, I use the ABT system, which allows me to add tabs to an existing score. You can do it by pencilling
them in by hand, or (if you are an ABC user) you can edit them in using either the 'text annotation' facility,
or (my preferred method) using a modified 'w:' line. 

 

The attachments show (1) the PDF I generated for a more or less random tune from my collection;

(2) the ABC code used to create the PDF. If you are so inclined, you can play with the ABC

to ring the changes on the PDF. For example, to reverse the position of the tabs and the accompaniment

chords, simply delete the two 'pos' lines in the code at the start of the file (which is 'self-documenting').

 

The ABC code is designed to produce tabs using a simple 'along-the-row' mapping for a G/D concertina.

The tabs are 'correct', but not necessarily 'optimal' - a smart player will be able to modify the tabs to

produce a more easily playable sequence...

 

sssm-gdatabs.pdf sssm-gdatabs.abc

Edited by lachenal74693
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Posted (edited)

Interesting! By ABT, I presume you mean Australian Bush Traditions? I like that site a lot, and can definitely see the advantages of the system, although the symmetrical button numbering throws me off every time. Lower numbers = lower notes makes more sense in my head.

 

Thank you for including the ABC code, too. Being able to encode tabs that way is huge!

 

EDIT: Do you have any way to include harmonic accompaniment, or is that just something you don't worry about?

Edited by MJGray
had another thought
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5 hours ago, MJGray said:

[1a] Interesting! By ABT, I presume you mean Australian Bush Traditions? I like that site a lot, and can definitely see the advantages of the system, [1b] although the symmetrical button numbering throws me off every time. Lower numbers = lower notes makes more sense in my head.

 

[2a] Thank you for including the ABC code, too. [2b] Being able to encode tabs that way is huge!

 

[3] EDIT: Do you have any way to include harmonic accompaniment, or is that just something you don't worry about?

[1a] Yes. I flagged the ABT system explicitly in one of the posts I made in the thread from which this one is

a spin-off, so I didn't bother to repeat myself. Perhaps I should have done...

 

[1b] The non-symmetrical numbering system used by other tutors throws me off in the same way. My

rationale for going with symmetry is to do with the fact that the hooman body is symmetrical (externally

at least). There are precedents. The medical profession numbers the thumb and fingers symmetrically,

and (some) novice piano lessons use the same numbering. There isn't an exact correspondence between

the symmetric button numbering used by MB/ABT and the numbering of digits by the medical profession

and by pianner teachers, but it's good enough for me...😎

 

[D'ye know, the lower numbers=lower pitch argument never occurred to me...]

 

[2a] If you try it, you should see that using even that short block of ABC code (which is included by

the software I use), it is possible to radically change the appearance of the final PDF - which may (or may

not) be wished for. For example, I added the box around accompaniment chords because someone said

"It would be great if tabs and accompaniment chords looked a little different from one another."

 

[2b] Yes it is pretty sneaky, isn't it? If I may be permitted to revert to 'smug bastard' mode for a moment,

I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with the approach - I can add tabs like that to a file containing

10,000+ tunes in about 90 seconds, and I have tested the software on a 'joke' ABC file containing

45,000 tunes (though I don't imagine anyone would seriously use files that size)..

(Correction: 40 seconds - I was thinking of another file...)

 

There are other approaches: When I first developed the software to do this stuff(*), I 'attached' the tabs

intimately to the note concerned using ABC 'text annotation' strings. That was OK, but there were some

problems. One was that tabs for some things (such as staccato notes) were difficult to code. Another was

that it didn't look quite right - the tabs appeared in a wavy line below (or above) the staff - I much prefer

the straight line of tabs produced by  entering them into ABC 'w:' fields. An unexpected consequence of

rewriting code to use the 'w:' approach as opposed to the 'text annotation' approach was that the problems

involved with staccato notes (and all other notes preceded by 'single-character decorations') simply

went away - which was very nice...😎

 

It's worth saying that this is 'just a program'. It could be re-coded to accommodate the solid and hollow

squares used by the Bramich system, or even other button numbering systems, though I stress that I

have no plans to do so.


[3] No, it doesn't work like that, it's 'melody-only' if you care to think about in that way - this mirrors pretty

closely the 'melody-only' approach adopted by MB and ABT in the printed and on-line tutors (and in most

other printed tutors?).

 

The real beauty of this approach is that I am completely independent of any and all printed tutors or

tune books. I can trawl the internet looking for 'good tunes', and can (and do) find absolute 'gems' which

are simply not available anywhere else. I only wish I had the time to learn to play the buggers...☹️

 

________________________________

[(*) Although I had made a desultory start on this programming project before Coronavirus arrived, the enforced isolation arising because of the

epidemic gave me plenty of time to spend on the project - so that's one more thing for which Coronavirus can be blamed! I've also been working

on a program to convert 'legacy' ABC files with a more-or-less 'random' ABC coding style into something in a more-or-less 'standard format'.

This is much slower than the tabbing program, but it makes a reasonable stab at 'enforcing' a standard ABC coding style.

 

Edited by lachenal74693
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On 8/10/2021 at 3:58 PM, lachenal74693 said:

...It's worth saying that this is 'just a program'. It could be re-coded to accommodate the solid and hollow

squares used by the Bramich system, or even other button numbering systems, though I stress that I

have no plans to do so...

A very brief follow-up. I lied - I had a think about it!

 

It's possible to edit the Bramich characters for push and pull () into an existing tabbed file like the

one I posted earlier. It's also possible to do it in a program. The game's a bogey though, because

though the characters appear in the (Easy)ABC 'score' window, they mysteriously disappear when

converted from ABC->PostScript->PDF. I've no idea why...

 

I may have a look at producing the same sort of thing using a different button numbering system.

 

Edited by lachenal74693
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I do a lot of harmonic stuff where there can be a variety of different accompaniment styles going on within a piece. As a result it’s important for me to show exactly what’s going on in both hands.  So I do something very like the first examples - both hands shown on the stave (on the same stave so far, although I can agree it can occasionally look busy or overwhelming).  The difference is I use the same way of indicating bellows direction (and any fingering necessary - I don’t indicate everything) as Gary Coover 

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41 minutes ago, Kathryn Wheeler said:

I do a lot of harmonic stuff where there can be a variety of different accompaniment styles going on within a piece. As a result it’s important for me to show exactly what’s going on in both hands.  So I do something very like the first examples - both hands shown on the stave (on the same stave so far, although I can agree it can occasionally look busy or overwhelming).  The difference is I use the same way of indicating bellows direction (and any fingering necessary - I don’t indicate everything) as Gary Coover 

Interesting! Would you be willing to share an example so we can see how it looks?

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11 hours ago, MJGray said:

Interesting! Would you be willing to share an example so we can see how it looks?

 

Yes, of course :)  

 

Here's an example

 

https://ko-fi.com/post/Sheet-music-available-for-anglo-concertina-N4N63CUNU

 

I have to allow more space for the staves when there's a lot going on in right and left hand, I noticed.  In this example everything has fingerings in, I think, so as you can imagine when there's a lot happening, it can get busy.  

 

Also, this music is for 20 button.  With a 30 more notes go lower, and I can't be having with lots of leger lines!  So, I do like the idea of having bass and treble clef/two staves for that.  

 

I'm still really new to notating this music (neatly) - most of what I have done is written out in pencil on manuscript and probably in no kind of sensible order!  So, I need more excuses to write out my tunes and arrangements neatly like this - or just get on with it as it'd be handy and nice to have them all neatly done (I use Musescore which is freely available.  Took a while to get used to how to add fingering numbers and lines to indicate "on the pull".

 

There are probably all sorts of advantages and disadvantages to different notation methods.  However, I must say as a player that loves harmonic stuff, that just having numbers underneath a stave and only the "melody" notated is insufficient - I like way more information about note duration/articulation really!

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I forgot to mention (and this might be obvious) - when I notate harmonic stuff on one stave, left hand has stems facing downwards, right hand upwards.  And of course the left hand fingerings go underneath.

 

I can imagine a few downsides of this approach.  Whilst it has all the information there (I think!), it could look daunting to some.  I am used to reading music (not for concertina I might add - I've learnt that myself through mostly coming up with new tunes and playing by ear.  But I come from a background of both playing sheet music on other instruments and playing by ear/improv/coming up with tunes)

Edited by Kathryn Wheeler
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Me too! The "notated clearly" is definitely a key part. There have been some real historical failures on that front. I've been digging through more old books, and Carlo Minasi (https://archive.org/details/imslp-book-for-the-use-of-learners-of-the-german-concertina-minasi-carlo/page/n19/mode/2up), while I'm sure he was an upstanding musician, used a truly baffling system of notation:

 

image.png.602553d83bacd4f65cc1bfe5e8ec0d24.png

 

Here you can see not only the cluttering problem and the utter failure of "p" and "d" as useful bellows direction indicators, but a weird sort of cross-hair to indicate when he thinks you should use the air valve and (worst of all, in my mind) using the numbers 1 - 5 for the buttons on each row, with an open circle (the same size as a note!) to indicate notes played on the G row. Oof.

 

I guess the other thread has made clear that what's "intuitive" for different people is very different, but I like that this conversation is maybe helping to establish some kind of "best practices" in the community as it exists now.

 

I'm starting to realize that clarifying what, exactly, people want out of tablature is also important. It seems like Roger is most interested in translating dots / ABC into tablature to more quickly be able to play new melodies, and has built an amazing tool to do that, while your goal seems to be documenting the details of a specific arrangement.  Both excellent goals, but ones that require different approaches!

 

- Mike

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15 minutes ago, MJGray said:

...using the numbers 1 - 5 for the buttons on each row, with an open circle (the same size as a note!) to indicate notes played on the G row. Oof.

 

I agree that this tablature looks like a mess, but I wonder if there isn't some cleverness hiding here. On a 20-button Anglo there's generally not a lot of notes that are duplicated within a row - typically only the very low G in the C row IIRC, and that is distinguished by bellows direction. Simply putting a row indicator right next to the notes might actually be a decent and simple way to enable/encourage reading primarily from the standard notation without giving up the specificity of which button to choose. Most of the time this notation alone would unambiguously indicate both button and bellows direction. You could potentially even extend this idea to a 30 button, although the Wheatstone layout would probably work a smidge better than the Jeffries with this approach.

 

It might be interesting to try this (perhaps with symbols that look less like noteheads - or maybe just use differently shaped noteheads) together with Gary Coover's bellows indications. You could also add multiple staves to the mix or Kathryn Wheeler's use of stem direction to prompt which hand a note is played on. I feel like that would produce a pleasing minimalist system, but I wonder if it would be usable in practice.

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Ok, this totally nerd-sniped me. Here's the Ma Normandie arrangement from above rendered in my proposed minimalist system (I probably made some mistakes, let me know if you find them). For noteheads, I left the C row standard, and the G row uses a down-arrow, since I think about the G row as being below the C row. For a 30-button, the accidental/bonus row could use an up-arrow notehead. I didn't do anything extra to indicate which hand a note is on - I found that in this case doing so was more confusing.

 

I'm not sure my choice of noteheads is necessarily the best - the G and bonus rows could instead use slashed notes (again, down for G, up for bonus), which I find harder to read quickly, but which would be easier to notate by hand, especially on an existing score. Or it might be better to pick noteheads that look as much different from each other as possible.

 

I haven't spent much time playing from this yet, but my initial impression is that it might be workable.

Ma_Normandie.pdf

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2 hours ago, MJGray said:

I'm starting to realize that clarifying what, exactly, people want out of tablature is also important….  your goal seems to be documenting the details of a specific arrangement.  Both excellent goals, but ones that require different approaches!

 

- Mike

My goal is mainly to put down what my final arrangements for a tune were so if I forget I can remember what I did 😛

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