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I'm not a guitarist, I'm learning piano and I'm trying to translate some guitar tab for piano.

With this section of tab (for I Don't Want It by Ween, from the Ultimate Guitar site):

e--8-8-8---3-3----3-3-3-3-3-3---4-4--|
B--9-9-9---4-4----4-4-4-1-1-1---4-4--|
G--8-8-8---3-3----3-3-3-1-1-1---x-x--|
D-------------------------------3-3--|
A-------------------------------4-4--|
E------------------------------------|

At the start, the D A & E strings just have a "-". Does that mean you don't play those strings, or does it mean you play them open?

Sometimes I've seen tab where the open strings are represented by having a "0", but I'm guessing that the convention may be to omit these as it makes the tab too cluttered and hard to read. Later on in that tab section there's an x on the G string, which I'm guessing means to mute the string.

That kind of suggests that we are supposed to play the E, A and D strings at the start, otherwise they would have x's too? But I think this is one of those things that is ruled by convention rather than logic necessarily.

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It means "don't play".

0 is open.

In your case, the 8-9-8 at the beginning is a Ab major triad, that would clash a lot with the open E and A strings ^^

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  • Strictly speaking, not so! 'Let ring', maybe. But that doesn't account for the dashes before the numbers... – Tim Apr 17 at 10:27
  • Thanks. That makes my life easier :) I guess I could have worked this out by trying to play all of the notes (including the unmarked strings) on piano and seeing if it sounded awful . So, i guess the difference between "-" and "x" is that when the string you don't want to play is in the middle of some strings you do want to play, you have to mute that string since you can't simply avoid hitting it on a strum, which you can do if you only need to play the top three strings? – Max Williams Apr 17 at 12:25
  • @Tim i think the dashes before the numbers are just spacing, as you suggest in your answer. – Max Williams Apr 17 at 12:26
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x means don't play that string at all. o means play that string open.

The dashes are just spacers, presumably some kind of timing device (there are 36 'zones' in a 'bar'). And although this would be a good idea, I don't think it's employed here, as the guitar starts at the very beginning of the bar - the chords shown don't!

The dashes actually do not mean don't play. If we go by the track, the chord played before the dashes actually rings on, until the next chord. This is one (of many for me!) problem with this sort of tab - it doesn't give as much detail as 'proper' music, in that unless there are notes or their stems shown as well, unless one knows how the song goes, one cannot know how the timing goes. And if one knows the song, then one is at least half-way to playing it anyway. Rave over!

So, basically, it means very little! Presumably, you've listened to the song. That will most likely give far more clues than blindly following what someone has tabbed. Seriously!

That apart, if you're learning piano, it's somewhat counter-productive to try to translate guitar tab (especially as you don't play guitar!). You will be better off finding proper piano music, and learning to translate that. Honest!

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  • I take your point about proper piano music, but if I like a particular song, and want to play along on piano with the aim of ultimately singing it too, and it's not a massively well known song, then generally the piano part isn't available anywhere. I can work it out by ear, slowly, but it's often very useful to see what notes the guitar is playing. I'm actually writing a little computer script to process the tab and output which notes it should be on piano and this will help with that. – Max Williams Apr 17 at 12:27
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    @MaxWilliams - that pretty well sums it up. Persevere with the ear, it'll pay off in the end (or well before that!) and chances are you'll understand my scepticism concerning a lot of tabs. Never understood why tab writers don't use, say, 16 or 32 'zones', which would pretty well cover most songs, albeit occasionally in a primitive way - but better than it is now. – Tim Apr 17 at 12:45
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    @MaxWilliams - back in the 60s, I used to buy the sheet music - still have a load - and it really wasn't that helpful. Over time, I found it was easiest to listen to a track, and figure out first key, then sort of scale used,then chords, then voila! It put me in good stead for when students come and say they want to learn 'this piece' in this lesson. So it had to be done 'on the fly'. And also is invaluable when I'm in a house band at open mics, etc. Often the dots/chords are approximations - as are tabs... – Tim Apr 19 at 13:36
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    @Tim I agree, I think it's best to go by ear generally, but sheet music and tab can save you some time. I just meant that sheet music tends to be more in-depth than tab, really. – Max Williams Apr 19 at 19:10
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    @MaxWilliams Standard notation (shape notes) is essential, absolutely. But there are some details which are much easier for guitarists to glean from Tab, which is why most serious books include both staves. I started reading on piano and get a lot of theatre work as one of the few guitarists in Atlanta who is a fluent reader. I definitely appreciate and prefer shape notes. But I learned most of the 1,000+ pop/rock/blues songs I know by ear, and having taught for about 20 years I appreciate how Tab and aural skills benefit the student. All my kids learn how to read and appreciate both systems. – NickGrooves May 5 at 17:13

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