I kinda thought about this question, after watching a guy teaching how to play little Walter's Juke intro Riff.

He said that scholars have analyzed the lick to death. So do musicians share the tabs/chords of their music?

If Snickers shared the recipe, then everyone could make Snickers chocolate. Same applies here, especially to musicians like Slash, where you have no lyrics, pure music, his chords is all he has.

People might have get their hands on the music of the dead musicians like Mozart, but what about people like Slash, Joe Satriani etc. Do they share the chords?

And if not, how do people play their music? Just by making assumptions and trying to guess the notes? Just like we did with Juke?

I am not talking about solo singers who just sing the song, those people have to share everything so that the bands could play in concert with them, I am talking about individuals/bands who create and play their own music.

  • With Classical music or larger bands the music has to be written down to accommodate the players. All Classical composers have to write their parts out (unless they are the only performer). Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 0:17
  • The story, which I've been unable to confirm, is that during Van Halen's early years Eddie solo'ed with his back to the audience to keep people from watching his technique.
    – Dave
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 20:31

4 Answers 4


Great question!

The answer is that there are multiple layers to any given musician's music, and while some are easy to duplicate, others are impossible. Also, some layers can be easily duplicated by a listener, and while other layers might not be, it still could be in the artist's interest to provide that information.

As an example, after just a single listen (and another to check), I can come up with this transcription of "le riff":
le riff
This is nothing more than the notes and rhythms, which in this case are fairly easy for a trained listener to transcribe. (I don't know harmonica tablature, but it would be isomorphic to this notation).

The notes and rhythms are usually seen as the top level. They can be easily "figured out" and duplicated by others, but this is only one piece of the puzzle. As the instructor mentioned in the video you referenced, there are subtleties in playing the riff that are below the surface: producing the same pitch in a different way for ease of technique, or a different tone, and exact length of bends that aren't as obvious because they go by very fast.

Another level down might get us to the original artist's hardware and microphone/recording setup, i.e. the how of replicating the artist's unique tone. Eventually you get to the artist themselves -- their unique physiology that can never be replicated exactly, but still has an effect on the overall music that they are creating.

Whether an artist decided to share any of this information that is known to them is highly dependent on their personal feelings about copyright law, how they make money to begin with, and art in general:

  • An artist who owns the copyright on a song might license it to a publisher so they both make a ton of money on royalties for sheet music, karaoke, etc.
  • A classical composer (dead or living), makes an income off of sales of the sheet music, and royalties from the performance of that music by other people.
  • A guitarist might reveal some of their individual playing technique and practice tricks to make an instructional video to be sold.
  • Any instrumentalist might partner with an instrument manufacturer to create a "signature line" of instruments that they use exclusively, in order to benefit both parties.

At the same time:

  • Early jazz masters (at the dawn of the recording industry) didn't want to be recorded for fear of other musicians learning to play their music and taking away their business (of live concerts). The way you learned to play jazz was by going to live concerts and then trying to imitate the masters in your practice room.

So, to recap and answer your individual questions:

People might have get their hands on the music of the dead musicians like Mozart, but what about people like Slash, Joe Satriani etc. Do they share the chords?

Mozart's not just dead, his music is also in the public domain! He and present-day classical composers depend on their music being played by other musicians, so they copyright a published product containing the notes and chords, and then sell that. Slash and Joe Satriani are recording artists who make the majority of their income from record sales and live concerts. Most of what they play is very easy (relative to all of music, that is) to figure out on the surface levels, but if you got on stage and played all of Slash's notes and rhythms, you wouldn't sound like Slash. Joe Satriani is largely the same way, although I believe a larger percentage of his music is stuff that can't be easily figured out just from the recorded sound alone -- you might need to see him perform live to get a clue!

You'll probably find that people are more likely to publish their notation when the music they are playing is idiomatic to styles that people are already familiar with. When you are composing AND performing new music that sounds like nothing anyone has ever heard before, then understandably you might not want to reveal all of your secrets!

And lastly, I don't think you need to separate out vocalists from the thought process here. The only thing they are really sharing with the band is an arrangement -- something they may or may not have written themselves, or may only be a structure and key. It is impossible for a vocalist to share their actual voice, which is usually what distinguishes them from all of the other singers out there.


Bunch of questions there! Regarding 'How do people play their music [if they don't share the chords]', usually you can figure out what's going on by listening to the recording. You need to know 2 things:

  1. What note/chord/sound could this be?
  2. How do I play it on my instrument?

If you have a little music theory background, and familiarity with your instrument (which means: know how to play a C chord, G scale, and other things without needing to look it up), then you can learn a lot without needing a recipe.

Sites like http://www.soundslice.com can help you discover tabs and make your own.


Well, I think it depends on the artist in question.

Certain famous albums you can buy books that have both the score and tabs of the songs. I'm currently working through a bass one of Californication by RHCP. For a famous song everyone wants to play that isn't available like that I think it's just a refinement process. Someone has a listen, makes an educated guess, posts it online, people edit it to fix any errors.

For most, sitting down and working out the exact notes is an exercise in training yourself to translate what you hear onto your instrument.

With classical music obviously the ipod hadn't been invented, so to hear music an orchestra would learn one of Mozart's pieces, and it was in his interest to spread it around so that his music was heard and he could sell more. If you had to find a local rock band to hear Sweet Child Of Mine each time you fancied a listen I assume that the old method of distribution would still be the case. Plagurism definitely occured if that's what you're asking about, but I guess it would be a case of Mozart's word against yours at that point.

On a personal level none of my parts for my band are written down. Mostly because only I play them and it's all stored in my head. If we got to a point where people actually wanted to play my parts (unlikely :P ) I'd probably write them down properly for everyone.


Mentioning Mozart, there's the story of him listening to monks in a monastery concert,performing music that was not allowed to be seen by anyone except the performers, and going home and transcribing it from memory after one hearing.O.k., he was rather exceptional, but some musicians can do this , maybe after several hearings.When passing the info. on to others, it's very difficult to explain exactly what tone to use, how exactly to play certain phrases,etc.As stated in other answers,sounding just like the artist concerned is virtually impossible.

As far as guitar music is concerned, tab theoretically helps the player. I'm sceptical, though, as unless it's produced by the actual artist who performed the piece, it's just someone's interpretation of the way it's played, and where the notes are pressed down.I think in a lot of cases, tab on the internet is produced by people who find the tune in a particular place on the guitar, and post that as gospel.Often, there's a better way to play it, but if one is totally reliant on tab, one rarely gets to play the piece successfully.Am I being sceptical or realistic?

To me, having the 'bare bones' of a song is good, as I can put my own slant on it, but some players need or want to reproduce all of the nuances. This can come from a long time of playing, or just go and buy the transcription and practise.

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