Tablature, often abbreviated to tab, is a notation system that instead of representing the notes themselves, represents where these notes are to be found on the instrument in question. Tablature has a long history, being very popular during the Renaissance for such instruments as lute and vihuela. Tab became very popular in the 20th century with "folk instruments" such as guitar, banjo, harmonica, etc, for the simple reason that it enables someone to work out how to play a tune without having to learn to read standard notation. However, I believe that by itself, tab is very limited and for that reason, all musical examples I give on this website have both standard notation and tab - the standard notation tells you what notes are to be played and what rhythmic values they should be given, the tab shows how these notes are to be played on the particular harmonica in question.
There have been many forms of harmonica tablature devised over the years. The system I use on this site is SuperTab, created by Steve Jennings. The essentials of the system are quite straightforward.
A plain number indicates to blow into the hole that bears that number. A circled number indicates to draw into that hole. For example, this shows a C major scale played on a standard C diatonic harmonica:
Chords and doublestops are indicated by numbers above one another. This example shows a G major chord played in holes 2, 3 and 4 draw of a C harp, followed by a C major chord played in holes 3, 4 and 5 blow:
An arrowhead underneath a number indicates a bent note, the number of arrowheads indicates the numbers of semitones the note should be bent. Additionally, the direction of the arrowhead corresponds to the breath direction, pointing upwards for blow notes and pointing downwards for draw notes. This example shows 2 draw bent by two semitones, 2 draw played unbent, 3 draw bent by one semitone, two draw played unbent, 1 draw played unbent, then 1 draw bent by a semitone:
This example shows 9 blow bent by a semitone, 9 draw played unbent, 10 blow played unbent, then 10 blow bent by two semitones:
An upwards pointing arrowhead above a number indicates an overblow and a downwards pointing arrowhead above a number indicates an overdraw. Here is a chromatic scale between 6 blow and 9 blow on a C harp:
An left-pointing arrowhead to the right of a number indicates to push in the button of a chromatic harmonica whilst playing the hole indicated by the number. Here is something that might be familiar:
The circles above the numbers in this example indicate that it is to be played in the lowest octave of a Hohner 64 Chromonica. The lowest four holes of these instruments are indicated this way on the covers of the current instruments, with the fifth hole (middle C) being labeled with the number 1 (I believe Suzuki also use the same system). Older Hohner 64s and 16-hole chromatics made by some other manufacturers (such as Hering) are simply numbered from 1 to 16.
This tablature system is available free of charge for personal use as a collection of True Type Fonts which can be inserted into any program that supports the format. The fonts can be downloaded from here.
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