Shut Up And Tab The Hits!

On the wild world of music tabs.

Where is the real history of music? Endless Dylan biographies and Pitchfork reviews? Are we really supposed to believe overpaid critics and strong fives to light sixes are the gatekeepers of Stevie’s so-called language we all understand? Hell no, these jokers have nothing on the real patrons of the art: Tabbers. 

Picture this: normal times, little-to-no-lockdown, a mid house party, shitty beer, a completely hammered guitar ‘player’ of indeterminate skill surrounded by a few more-than-reluctant friends. Who has your back? Triple J? Anthony Fantano? What about right now, periods of long isolation, a lonely untouched acoustic, brief bursts of inspiration, something along the lines of ‘Wow, this actually sounds kind of nice when I’m not thrashing Oasis wasted out of my mind!’ Who’s there for you? Rolling Stones Magazine? I think not. Rather, I’d say that it’s the likes of ‘tomo999,’ ‘ilikecorn500,’ ‘dawnedupon1,’ and the several other contributors to Wonderwall Chords Version 3.

Tabs are the shit, the saviour of many dead-ended cover attempts, the working-man’s sheet music. It doesn’t use secret codes like notation does, and it doesn’t waffle on like Youtube tutorials do. It gives you exactly what you want when what you want is to play a song. I hit tabs like crazy when I was just starting out at guitar, and good six-or-seven years down the line I’ll still find myself rampantly typing into Google when I forget how to play something mid- completely-trashed-unwanted-house-party-performance (you never stop falling into that vice).

Tablature unites the professionals and the casuals, the cafe performance artists and your roommate ‘Dave,’ it’s something that brings Eric Clapton and your Dad together (well, something besides SkyNews).

As opposed to the endless torrent of unwanted prologue found in online recipes, online tabs leave the personal stories ample and cut right to the chase most of the time. But where this silent dedication to the art falters is the best part of tablature; where the voice of these unsung heroes of society shines through and we find an abundance of conversation, argument, and sheer fanboy giddiness surrounding the music’s history, background, and most importantly: the actual tabbing.

Of course, the first and most important part of your tab is acknowledging contributors — “I lifted this from Greg Staggs who did a fine job on tabbing this song. I did the solo as best I could” — writes an anonymous contributor of Mister Richard Smoker. This stuff is mostly formality. Naturally, the next step of the process is to unnecessarily shower the tune’s artist in glory —

“This is a Bad Ass song … if you haven’t Heard it Download it or Something!!!”

—writes ‘correct_error’ characteristically of Black Sabbath’s Electric Funeral. 

Others spend more time contextualising songs with fun trivia, personal anecdotes, and quotes from the artist themself, as ‘Todder’ adds on I Hate The Smiths — “The Pine Sheep consisted of Mickey, myself and a bunch of friends way back in the day. I have a beat-up old cassette of these recordings somewhere but somehow this tune got out.”

Even the nordic brevity typical of Dylan tabber ‘Eyolf Østrem’ begins to falter at the Tombstone Blues, as the tab breaks into a historical prelude about the song’s acoustic debut dated to “Newport, the evening before Dylan went electric.”

Others make less eloquent delves into the life history of tracks; “They played it for the first time at Bonnaroo, and I was there, so eat my period,” writes a nameless tabber of Zoloft.

Those sad, sad days of the LCD Soundsystem breakup are archived in the comments section of I Can Change by ‘jr1984’—“cheers bro i like this a lot, what a band so sad there gone, they will be back i’m sure ( i hope ).”

The tabber most idiosyncratic of its artist’s audience I encountered was ‘GWARfunkel’ who ends his Enter Sandman tab with this epic of boomer-esque rock and roll fantasy which left me smiling from ear to ear at its sheer immodesty — “Now let loose an evil laugh. Children will cry, mommies will glare at you, young ladies will fan themselves … Your work here is done.”

One of my personal favourites includes a preamble for Springtheme which recounts a time the tabber — “​​played this one for a girl once and got slapped!” — and probably very rightfully so, given the artist, Ween’s tendency for less-than-romantic lyricism (see Flies on my Dick or The H.I.V. Song).

There are ones that make you laugh with their childlike naivety regarding strangers on the internet, attaching such things as phone numbers, email addresses, and even Xbox live account names to their tablature. There are ones that draw sympathy even, such as ‘Holly’ who broods about her romantic life while tabbing largely underappreciated grunge album American Sweetheart — “well it’s all high pitched … and at 1 am on Valentine’s day I’m tabbing Courtney Love … could it be worse?” — answered only by ‘guitar21@we’ who thoughtfully and succinctly commented, “word up.”

But that was 2005 after all. Years later, maybe ‘Holly’ got married, or started a Hole tribute band, or maybe just made some new friends to help pass the time. I don’t really care too much though because she messed up the lead for Mono (2004) and I had to work it out for myself.

In reality, these lot are a bunch of misfits and degenerates who have nothing better to do than waste their time on the internet; like anyone else does. Hell, most of these so-called tabbers can’t even get it right and I need to trawl through a million and one different variations until I can get a decent version of a four-chord song. But funnily enough, these losers have managed to build an astounding archive of music ranging from Sublime to Bach, and even if you’re one of those people who think tab is just for the idiots who can’t read music, (asshole!) you have to admit that this gigantic base of tablature has at the very least made learning music more accessible to anyone with the internet. 

Though they do their best to piss me off with half-baked solos and plain wrong chord charts, I’d be happy to say the average tabber often provides more to the general good of our society than most.

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