My StudyBass

One of my biggest issues with bass tab has always been that notes are represented by fret numbers. Nothing could have less musical value to a developing musician than giving him or her arbitrary fret numbers to play. It would be like a painter trying to learn about using color and being instructed to use the 3rd paint can from the left. Other musicians all speak in the language of notes. If you say, "Did you want me to play a C# under that chord?", musicians will know what you're talking about. But if you say, "Did you want me to play the 4th fret?" only another bassist or guitarist will understand.

I still think reading standard notation is the way to go, but I don't think bass tab is useless.

Alpha Tab for Bass

My solution, which I have used for some time, is to use the note name instead of the fret number. I call it Alpha Tab. (Actually someone named it for me years ago on The Bottom Line mailing list.) This way the student is forced to think about the note names. Knowing the note names on the fretboard, and those that make up chords and scales, is extremely useful in your development as a bassist. You might notice I rarely describe things with fret numbers. It's for this very reason.

Alpha Tab works the same way as regular bass tab. All that is changed is the fret number becomes the note name. To distinguish between the same note name above the 12th fret, you simply use lower case.

Here is regular bass tab:

G ----------------------------------------------------
D --------------------5--------------------------17--
A --------2----5-----------------14-----17----------
E ---3----------------------15-----------------------

Translated into Alpha Tab:

G --------------------------------------------------
D --------------------G-------------------------g--
A --------B----D-----------------b-----d----------
E ---G----------------------g----------------------

Alpha Tab Summary

Alpha Tab is pretty painless. As you can see it's going to make you think a little more about the notes on the fretboard — and that's a good thing! Once it starts coming together for you, you'll be happy you learned the note names and not just fret numbers.