Help me translate guitar tabs into piano sheet music
February 29, 2004 4:23 PM   Subscribe

As I begin to learn the piano again, there are some songs I'd love to try to play but for which I cannot find sheet music (I definitely want to learn to play by ear at some point, but I don't think that point would best be now). I can however obtain guitar tabs for the songs, and so I'm hoping to try to translate those into rough sheet music for the piano. Can I just translate it note by note (and chord by chord), or are there some specifics about guitar tabs I should be aware about and take into account (it seems that way, a quick direct translation didn't seem to turn out quite right)?

I should mention that I can't read guitar tabs at all. So for example, I don't really know what FM7 refers to, or which E E7 is specifying. I see a couple Am, Bm, and Em references... I suppose that's A, B, and E, but what does the m mean? (Flat? Sharp? Something else?)

(Sorry for so many questions.)
posted by thebabelfish to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Great question. You may want to take the root note of the guitar chords, and typically an easy method is to go from E to C.
posted by the fire you left me at 4:34 PM on February 29, 2004

I can't imagine any songs written for piano for which you can't find sheet music. Or, are you looking to play guitar songs on piano?

Guitars tend to use open chords, because the vagaries of tuning make closed chords sound somewhat off. For instance, a cowboy E spans 2 octaves with the intervals: R-5-R-3-5-R. If you play that R-3-5 triad alone on a guitar, some part of it will sound a bit out of tune, but that 'diminishes' as you pile more roots and fifths onto it.

On preview: you are not as advanced as I thought. Learn some theory, and guitar tab will become a snap.
posted by mischief at 4:35 PM on February 29, 2004

Response by poster: Hmm, ok. Thanks for the responses; I guess I'll have to devote more energy to this than I was hoping I'd have to. Oh well, it'll give me something to do that hopefully should be rewarding.

The songs had a piano score written for them mischief, but they haven't been released; the guitar tabs aren't "official" either.
posted by thebabelfish at 4:43 PM on February 29, 2004

Guitar Pro is a non-free program that can transcribe from tab to standard notation. I agree with mischief, though, you need some chord theory basics if the distinction between Major, minor, and seventh chords is a mystery. There are thousands of sites that can explain basic chord theory and it isn't very complicated.
posted by TimeFactor at 4:52 PM on February 29, 2004

I never had piano lessons (well, I had a few weeks, but that didn't really count), but I can muddle along pretty darn well by just knowing how to make chords. Learn the chord theory, as TimeFactor says, and then you can bluff your way through anything if you have the chords. (You don't need the tablature, even -- just the chords can get you by.) Of course, if you want to really play, that's a different story, and it takes time -- but you can enjoy yourself quite a bit with the chord method. I can play enough to accompany myself singing, and I've done this in front of audiences before -- supposedly I didn't make too much of a fool of myself...
posted by litlnemo at 5:24 PM on February 29, 2004

Response by poster: Yeah, I used to know major, minor, and seventh chords back when I actually played maybe 5 or so years ago, but it's all atrophied into oblivion. Really all I want to do is enjoy myself by playing the piano a little bit again, and hopefully at some point I can play with my girlfriend.

Thanks for the tips; I'll go find myself some chord theory information.
posted by thebabelfish at 5:37 PM on February 29, 2004

Oh, man, you gotta go through all those damn keyboard scales again! What a pita! Hang in there; it's worth it!
posted by mischief at 6:00 PM on February 29, 2004

Oh, and the "m" in Am, Em, etc. means "minor."

Am is the first chord in "House of the Rising Sun," which is probably the first song I played on my first electric guitar. ;)
posted by litlnemo at 6:03 PM on February 29, 2004

What do you want to learn to play?

Go to the music store. They should have a small booklet of some sort there with chords listed for piano, with the notes of each chord printed out. Chords are chords, no matter what the instrument.

Babelfish, if you have specific questions, email me. I do read chords on piano, so if you get stuck I most likely will be able to give you a hand. Chord theory isn't that hard once you get the hang of it-it's worth learning and a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, for example, cm7 is an c minor chord with the seventh note added (the 1-3-5 notes for cm are C, E flat, and G respectively. The seventh note would be B flat.

Chords generally have three positions. First position for a c chord would be C-E-G. Second position would be E-G-C and third would be G-C-E. When going from, for example, a C chord to an F chord, these different fingerings make it easier to get to the next chord more quickly.

I'll shut up now.
posted by konolia at 7:07 PM on February 29, 2004

Using guitar tab to generate keyboard music will be a complete waste of time and intellectual effort. Also, it sounds like you are conflating chord symbols (e.g. C, Bbm, D7) with guitar tab (a grid system that indicates where to press guitar strings).

I recommend paying for a couple of lessons with a good teacher who does both music theory and piano. They can set you straight about this kind of question, and give you a practice program. Sure, it will cost money - but can save you hundreds of wasted hours.
posted by crunchburger at 10:09 PM on February 29, 2004

Then the question is 'how do I find a piano teacher who can present playing by ear etc., instead of just drilling the notes and flashcards?'
posted by crunchburger at 10:13 PM on February 29, 2004

Better idea:

1) find a MIDI file of your song online
2) "rip" out the piano tracks from the song using a notation program, such as Cakewalk (usually used to create a MIDI file from piano/keyboard inputs, but can be used in reverse, too)
3) print it
posted by Asparagirl at 11:53 PM on February 29, 2004

Or move to where I live and I'll teach you.
posted by konolia at 6:01 AM on March 1, 2004

For clarification, I think guitar tab often has chords written on top of the actual tablature. This means (as far as I understood it) that you basically position your left hand as if you were going to strum that chord and the fingerpicking will mostly take care of itself, since that group of notes (in the tab) comes from that chord (written above.)

You can also get books for guitar if interested which list all possible chords and show you how to play them. I think they might be called chord finders.
posted by callmejay at 7:46 AM on March 1, 2004

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