This Tab is Wrong

This Tab is Wrong

Harmonica tabs serve a minor role well.

As we communicate with each other, they help us to describe which particular holes to draw or blow, and in which order, when playing a particular riff, scale, song, or technique.

But, contrary to the popular belief of many beginner harmonica students, HARMONICA TABS ARE NOT THE SUPER-HIGHWAY TO HARMONICA MASTERY .

What’s Wrong with Tabs?

:one: They convey no sense of rhythm , arguably the most impactful component of music!

:two: They convey none of the subtle nuances that make music come to life (and differentiate the pros from the hacks) - vital elements like dynamics, vibrato, or how quickly or slowly a bend is reached or released.

:three: And then there’s the most egregious problem of all - the fact that MOST harmonica tabs are WRONG !!! :angry:

But even if you DO have the CORRECT tab, using tabs to learn a song robs you of the rich benefits to be reaped from learning a song or solo by ear :

:white_check_mark: A deeper connection with the music , having learned it one note at a time - also making it easier to memorize.

:white_check_mark: A deeper connection with the harmonica through the process of trial and error.

:white_check_mark: Accelerated growth in playing with the subtle details of the pro’s (dynamics, vibrato, phrasing, etc.)

:white_check_mark: All of this is summed up by saying: it improves your EARS .

The #1 most important thing in music is LISTENING.

And as with everything in life, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Improving your ears is the best thing you can do for your musicianship because:

:arrow_right: The next time you learn a song by ear, it will be a little easier

:arrow_right: Improvising or composing, you’re better able to translate sounds and emotions from within, and express them through your harmonica

:arrow_right: You can have more meaningful “musical conversations” with other musicians in the tradition of call and response.

But I can’t learn by ear, Luke…

Trust me, I hear you! :wink: And, YES YOU CAN ! You’d be hard pressed to find a musician who had worse ears than I did at the beginning. So if I can do it, anyone can do it!

The trick, for those of us who weren’t born with golden ears, is simply:

:one: THE BIG SECRET: Slow down the audio as much as needed.

:two: Learn the first note - hear it, sing it, play it*

:three: Back it up, learn the 2nd note - hear, sing, play the first 2 notes.

:four: Back it up, learn the 3rd note - hear, sing, play the first 3 notes.

:five: Rinse and repeat until you can slowly play the entire excerpt.

:six: Once you can play along with the entire portion of the recording you decide to work on, then SLOWLY start increasing the tempo. (A good rule of thumb for this is to increase tempo a max of 5% at a time.)

*You might have to play it MANY times to be able to hear it, and then it might take you many tries to find the note that you sing on the harmonica. BUT, you CAN do it!


Wondering how to slow down audio? Here are the best 2 tools:

The Amazing Slow Downer ($0 Lite Version - $39.99)

For PC/Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, or Android that allows you to:

:small_blue_diamond: Import mp3’s OR play songs from Apple Music using the iPhone app

:small_blue_diamond: Loop sections - you can get very precise with markers

:small_blue_diamond: Save and name loops to refer back to later

:small_blue_diamond: Slow down the audio all the way to 20% speed

:small_blue_diamond: Change key - don’t have the right key harmonica? Just change the key of the recording!

Transcribe! ($0 Trial - $39)

This robust software for any Windows or Mac computer allows you to:

:small_blue_diamond: Import mp3’s OR videos (download YouTube videos and import)

:small_blue_diamond: A visual timeline with a waveform

:small_blue_diamond: Add markers and text notes on the timeline, loop sections

:small_blue_diamond: A piano keyboard and tool to help discern pitch

:small_blue_diamond: Slow down the audio all the way to 20% speed

:small_blue_diamond: Change key - don’t have the right key harmonica? Just change the key of the recording! Ability to share files between Transcribe! owners.

If you purchase the Transcribe! software, Carlos del Junco has 5 free videos to help you get up and running with the software.

P.S. That’s not to say tabs don’t have their place. We have a ton right here!


Hi Luke @Luke

For Android devices the full version of the Amazing Slow Downer costs only U$ 9.95 and can slow down music to 25% of its original tempo.

NOTE: for users of Spotify the app no longer works!

– Slim :sunglasses:


I’ll admit it, I used to make my own tab and I would make them as detailed as possible to help me understand the phrasing better. I’d learn the song by ear and then write out the notes with the subtleties added in. The reason why I don’t make tabs anymore is because I didn’t have the motivation to keep on doing them and I absolutely refuse to look at my older work. Thankfully I got back into reading tabs due to my lessons. Also during the tabbing process, my teacher would go into detail about the subtleties that make up a certain harmonica player’s sound. So having that is an absolute benefit for learning songs with tab.
What I do for practicing with tabs is that I don’t do it with them alone. I have the music with me on my iPad and I would play along with it as well as recording myself playing with my phone. If I screw up at a certain part or if the section I’m learning is too short, I would repeat it until I get it right or do three different takes of that part. If I screw it up multiple times, I’ll listen to that part and try again. It’s a very simple process.

1 Like

When learning a new tune that will involve the guitar player in the ensemble or the guitarists in the band, the guitarists tend to use the guitar chord charts to start with.

I’ve found if I use the same charts, it’s like being half way to harp tabs. You get the chords and the chord changes aligned with the lyrics - so if you know the notes in each of the chords, you can build the harmonica part that aligns with the lyrics and the guitarists.

We try a couple of YouTube variations to see which version we like the best (or use bits of multiple versions) and that gives a basis for tempo and phrasing - and helps the ‘ear’ to build the harp component of the tune.

And we’re currently using this method to work up Sweet Virginia (discussed in a separate thread) and its hard to go past Jagger’s ‘Exile on Main St’ version. Some good first position blues in A.


This is exactly what I did when first playing the harp with other musicians. Being a guitarist myself, I would watch what the guitarists we’re doing and be able to do a fairly good job at pieces that I’d never heard before. Unless of course it turned out I was in the wrong key, but it’s funnier than it is embarrassing. Cheers brother


@Slim - yeah that’s Spotify’s bad, not the app developer. Of course the app still works with good old fashioned mp3’s, as well as with Apple Music.

Hopefully the stupid exec at Spotify who pulled the plug on this compatibility will realize that he made a terrible mistake.

One thing I love about Transcribe is that I can import vids. I have a YT vid downloader software called Airy that I paid like $20 for, so I just search the song on YT, download the vid, and drag it into Transcribe!.

I had a great lessons with Carlos Del Junco on Monday, and he got me up to ninja status with Transcribe efficiency, which I’ll share about soon in a separate post.

For right now, I use ADR in the car, and Transcribe! at home.