If you think that tabbing, especially tabbing solos are for people with perfect pitch like Mozart, well, tabbing is not that difficult, it is if you try to figure out every single note without a proper guideline. But, tabbing songs out yourself brings about great benefits, not only if you have a song which you can't find any tabs for, but it also helps you grow as a musician. By tabbing solos out yourself, you get a better knowledge of scales and how solos are constructed, and it helps in developing pitch recognitionwho knows? Mozart might be transcribing what his sister played in their living room way before he was discovered at 5.
Well, here is a step-by-step guide to tabbing solos.
01. Break It Down
Breaking it down helps you to identify the different musical and beat patterns in the solo. It is really the simplest thing you can do, but also the most important.
02. Sing It Out
Before the solos gets to your fingers, it has to get to your mouth. Sing out the solo and make sure it is in perfect pitch. Sing a B when the note playing is a B. Try singing the solo out, it works wonders.
03. Identify The Key
If you have a fairly musical ear, this should not be a problem for you. But if not, there are a few ways which you can do it. Firstly, identify the first note in the solo. If this cannot be done, then look at the intro of the song. What is the first note/chord being played?
Try using 5th chords on your guitar because 5ths possesses neither minor nor major characteristics. Try an E powerchord, followed by an F etc. until you find the chord with suits the pitch of the first note/chord. Never mind if the song has a d minor but you played a D5, you have just found out that the song is in the key of D, and that's what we need to knowfor now.
04. Identify The Scale
Before you can identify the scale, you have to take the root note, and do a hit-and-run (i.e. transcribe by ear) at the first 3 to 4 different notes in the solo.
The second step to identify the scale is to make a logical guess. If you have a fairly good knowledge of scales, such a logical guess would not be too big a problem. If possible, identify it just be hearing the solo. But if not, here is how to take the first step to make a logical guess. Firstly, identify the genre, if it is hard rock, mixolydian or the minor pentatonic would be your usual suspects etc.
One tip: Pentatonic scales do not have any semitones unless chromatic passing tones are added to them. So, if there are no semitones in the first 4-5 notes you have figured out, you're most probably in pentatonic territory, but don't be too sure at this point.
Secondly, write down the first 3-4 different notes which you have figured out by ear. If you do not have a solid knowledge of scales, get to a website or a programme with a comprehensive list of scales which you can view from. See which scale contains the first 3-4 notes which you have found. If you have a few different scales which share the same 3-4 notes you have found, figure out by ear again 1 or 2 more different notes to narrow it down to only 1 possibility.
This can be the most easiest or the most difficult part depending on the solo and the scale/s used.
05. Write Down The Individual Notes
I generally would not recommend the notes be written in tab, but rather in their names. Like B flat as Bb, instead of the 6th fret on the first string. Use the scale as a guide as to which notes you are allowed to use. Start with the root note and sing the pitch of the next note. Navigate till you find the next note. It should not pose too much of a problem if you have identified the scale and are able to sing the next note out.
Never mind, if the actual solo plays the B flat at the 3rd fret on the 3rd string and you started at the first string 6th fret, it is immaterial for now, what matters is that you get the different notes right.
This process could take you a bit of patience; the key is not to lose the pitch as you sing the note which you want to figure out next. Never mind the hammer-ons, pull-offs or bends for now.
06. Use A Keyboard/Piano
It is amazing how a keyboard or piano can make tabbing out your solos easier. Here are a few advantages.
There are no repeat notes, all notes are distinct.
The fact that a keyboard has no repeat notes keep you in focus and won't make the whole musical landscape seem so vast and complex, you only have to worry about 7 notes (depending on the scale) right now, ignoring the octaves, for now.
All accidentals are laid out nicely.
Scales are much easier to see and learn, and the lesser possibility of you hitting a note outside of the scale you found out. Hitting a wrong note could very well disorientate your musical senses for a while.
Try using the piano, it works wonders. Figuring out a portion of that Dream Theater solo is no different from figuring out twinkle twinkle little star by ear if done on a piano.
07. Identify Octaves
When you have figured out all the individual notes, never mind that it sounds like three blind mice now, its time to figure out which octaves the notes belong to. Remember I said not to worry if the note you figured out is not of the correct octave? Now its time to take that into consideration, you can put aside the piano for a while, every string on the guitar has different timbral qualities when being hit at different frets, so the guitar is now much more suited for this job.
Play all the root notes of the scale in your guitar at all different positions, just the root note. Then, play the first 5-6 notes starting from each different root notes and tweak your ears to find out which octave the root note belongs to.
A process of substitution can take place here. Because say, an E can be played on the 12th fret first string but the same E on the same octave can be done on the 17th fret on the 2nd string. What's most important here, after figuring out which octave it belongs, is simply to find the position which is most comfortable to you.
Remember that as you do this, write down the raw tab as I call it, of the different notes in tab, without adding the hammer-ons , pull-offs, the slides etc.
08. Identify Techniques
Now it is time to add the harmonics, the slides etc. into the song. Anyone who has some experience on guitar would be able to tell the difference between a slide and hammer-on and know when there is a bend or vibrato. This process is fairly simple. Just add the techniques into the raw tab which you just wrote. Say you wrote a C then it goes up to an Eb, and there is a bend to get from the C to Eb in the solo, just simply notate a 3 fret bend on the tab.
When the techniques are all added into the raw tab, you can re-write it and voila! You have just successfully tabbed your first solo.
I hope that this guide would be a great help to you. Even though it takes a great deal of patience even with this guide in hand, but I hope that it won't make tabbing such an impossible task. If you're thinking what for? well, tabbing, like I said, helps develop your musical ear and gives you a greater understanding of scales and how solos are constructed.