I am a beginner in music, and I like both piano and electric bass guitar. I can spend 2,3 hours per week on music (Online Learning and playing). I am not a musician, but I am playing for joy. I’ve started practice in the bass, and I like the tab notation. Is there anything similar for piano (except the standard music notes notation)? Is it preferable to stick and learn the bass currently and later start playing the piano using the standard note notation?

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    There are always fakebooks, which don't capture everything, but make learning new songs very easy and fun. Typically you read a chord symbol plus as much of the melody/accompaniment as you have brainspace for. When you know your chord symbols on piano, you can get away with a lot this way. Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 14:03
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    A fret board being a two dimensional "grid" of note positions, it's well suited to shorthand like tab. The most obvious equivalent for a piano would be numbering the keys from 0 to whatever! ; ) Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 8:30

7 Answers 7


In the modern world, the most popular alternative piano notation is probably the vertical scrolling layouts that you see in videos like this one:


You can't guarantee that you'll find a tutorial video like that for every piece you want to play, but then you could say the same for sheet music!

Standard notation can be awkward to learn, but it's possibly less awkward to learn it for a keyboard instrument like the piano where the layout of the instrument (with black keys and white keys) actually reflects more of the concepts that standard notation is based on (in particular, sharps and flats).

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    Note that as far as I know, layouts like that don't provide dynamics or other additional information that sheet music can contain. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 1:29
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    @ArcanistLupus the graphical layout itself may not, but it's usually presented as part of a video with accompanying audio. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 1:37
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    I wouldn't call anything that requires a video playing to be "notation", plus this style of delivery has some serious drawbacks. Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 16:04
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    @whatsisname that's a fair point, but you can make similar observations about standard notation - very often, a stylistically-plausible performance relies on the performer making small timing and dynamic adjustments that generally aren't (and could not practically be) marked on a score. And for many styles of music, standard notation can't hope to usefully convey the timbral characteristics that a piece may rely on. IOW if a format of presentation needs to stand alone to be considered 'notation', standard notation doesn't make the cut either. Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 17:14

There's nothing that seriously challenges standard notation for piano. For bass guitar you need to understand both tab and notation. For piano you need notation. There's little point in searching for something 'easier'. Notation already IS the 'easiest' part of piano playing, a minor skill that unlocks all the other, greater ones. Treat it that way, rather than as an obstacle!

  • The way I see it, the notation is difficult for complete beginners when all they want is learn a very simple and tiny piece. But when it comes to learning something advanced, nothing can describe it as precisely.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 15:50
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    Who learns the piano just to be able to play one piece? No, if you want to learn it, youd want to stick with it enough that you have the skill to learn any piece that's within your ability. Even for a beginner, there are many books of easy pieces. And all written in standard notation. Learning standard notation is worth the study, even for a beginner.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 15:20
  • @RosieF I tend to agree with your viewpoint. Thing is, there's always people who just want to... "brag" among their friends without the willingness to actually learn.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 13:30

There is klavarskribo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klavarskribo), invented in 1931 to simplify music notation for keyboard instruments, to enable more people to enjoy music. It has obviously not become the new standard, but it has lasted a long time (compared to other alternative notations), and many classical songs have been transcribed in it.

It looks like tablature for key instruments:

example of klavarskribo

I would not advise you to use it, but it's an interesting concept.

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    Interesting re-invention of the wheel, what happens when the music goes higher or lower than that span, though..?
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 14:07
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    @Tim just add as many lines as you need. The lines of cis and dis closest to Central c are always dotted.
    – user132647
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 14:24
  • Interesting! This notation seems to be the parent of vertical scrolling layouts (synthesia), but in paper. It looks simple and convenient. I will try to play some songs along with synthesia, before learning with notes notation. Thanks for sharing!
    – ssavva05
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 9:07
  • There's an article mentioning klavarscribo that I just looked up in one of my old Electronics and Music Maker magazines, from September 1981: muzines.co.uk/articles/organ-talk/3561 That's the only time I've seen it mentioned anywhere in any context. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 16:42

Most piano players start with r.h., and learn through the standard dots. That's good, but when l.h. comes out to play, there's often a hurdle in the way - the bass clef is similar, but not the same as the treble.

You could do yourself a favour, and learn bass guitar first, using bass clef. Then on to piano, where that will be familiar.

Also the bonus of being a bass guitar reader will pay dividends later in life - most of us aren't brilliant readers, and lose playing opportunities because of that.

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    Reading notation allows you to work on any instrument. While tab is useful on bass, notation will get you a further & is well worth learning. It'll allow you to easily read melody lines in fake books, or play written lines in pieces that have a line written out. And to easily share that knowledge with others in any language. Or to play music written for other instruments on your bass and/or piano. I started on piano in 2nd grade. Moved to trumpet in 4th grade. Played that through college & then picked up bass. I still use a treble "Real Book" on bass & can noodle on piano reading sheet music.
    – chadbag
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 6:03

While not a practical tablature system for contemporary music, which what the OP probably wants, some mention should be made about historic keyboard tablature. My understanding is keyboard tablature was common a long time ago, Renaissance time period, and I imagine it was popular as a less expensive notation option than engraved staff notation.


An example of what it looked like:

enter image description here


EZ Play Today song books offer a stepping stone into reading notation. They are available in a wide variety of musical genres. They feature melodies in single notes with the note name within the note accompanied by the lyrics and the appropriate harmonizing chord. You gradually begin reading simple standard notation without reference to the printed name.

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    EZ Play is a good recommendation, but could you say a bit more about them?
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 19:17

I recently came up with a notation that is inspired by the vertical scrolling layouts. In fact, my first pass was a direct transcription of one. I don't know how viable it is, and I can think of many limitations, but here is an example for two hands (top line is treble, bottom is base, but of course it doesn't matter because the octave-qualified notation is absolute):

absolute note-based music notation

The gist of it using note name, modifier and octave to quickly pinpoint the note. The duration is represented with undescores over the note, with the default being quarter of a beat (so __ would be half and ____ would be a full beat).

It works for simple cases and I was able to trascribe an easy arrangement of Bach's Badinerie (I'm happy to share the full transcription if anyone cares). I also wrote a Python script that converts my notation to MIDI, from where it can be imported into MuseScore or just played immediately to help validate the transcription accuracy. Here is an example of score generated automatically from the example above:

enter image description here

I don't know if it provides significant advantages over regular notation, but as someone who has struggled reading music my entire life, I am willing to take it for a spin and see if it helps me learning new pieces.

P.S. I couldn't paste my notation as text because it was recognized as a chord :)

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    Welcome to the site. Interesting piece of work. But I am not sure how this would cope with anything even remotely complicated, for example a fugue. And all it is showing, in your example anyway, are the pitches. Where did the staccato dots, bar lines and the key signature come from?
    – JimM
    Commented Feb 26 at 10:43
  • Great questions! I think my notation is very mechanical, since it represents a capture of a performance (aka "the vertical scrolling layout"). In this, it is closely related to the midi format (although I only have pitch and duration while midi has velocity). Sheet music is more of a guide/blueprint on how to play a piece and is more fuzzy by definition, with a rich language of articulations and annotations I cannot hope to capture without making my format overly complex. For your quesrtions: MuseScore infers the key signature from midi and it got the measure wrong - it should have been 2/4 :) Commented Feb 26 at 14:48

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