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Name that Riff! No Rhythm = No Music!

Have You Been the Victim of a Bad Tab? You May be Entitled to Information!

The big problem with basic tabs, like the one shown above (screen-grabbed from, is that there's all too often no indication as to what rhythm the notes are played in and where the beat (in particular the first beat of the bar) falls. For those of you with well-developed "rhythm muscles" that's not usually a big hurdle to overcome, but for most, then at some point there's going to be a struggle, especially when things get a bit more complicated than 4 simple eighth notes! If you've managed to name the riff from just the tab above then I'm impressed!

The Mystery Solved?

Below is the same riff drawn out with its correct timing in Taplature (just once, rather than the 3 repetitions shown above).

Now we can see exactly where each note falls in relation to the beat, along with their differing lengths i.e. all the main information a piece of sheet music contains plus of course the Taplature foot tap (if you find that you can't keep the foot tap going perfectly as shown above while playing the riff then you have something new to investigate)!

Assuming you know how Taplature works then everything should suddenly become a whole lot clearer and you should soon be able to read and play it correctly without too much difficulty. If you're new to Taplature then you can get a quick overview of how it all works by trying out the bite-sized example I talk through here which is fully explained down to the tiniest detail.

Where's the "One" beat?

Maybe the biggest problem with the basic tab above is that it can fool us into thinking that the first note written should fall on the first beat of the bar. This can lead us wildly astray. Hopefully seeing the two different versions of the same riff makes the point. As an aside, there's a fantastic series on some famous instances of songs whose "one" beats are commonly heard wrongly. Here's a famous TV theme that had me fooled for 50+ years. How about you?:

Here's the full series from those same guys: Where's The F-ing Beat? I liked it so much that I ended up making Taplature videos for 2 of the puzzles covered. These (and the same issue of finding the "one" beat in other songs) come up fairly regularly in lessons as it's all too easy to hear them "upside-down":

Keep it Small at First!

Above we saw what I call a representative loop, a small section covering all the skills required to get a section of music working or at least into view.

A big clue as to today's challenge ... if you haven't got it yet!

I expect a student to be able to play the whole of a section or piece of music only as fast and as well as they can play the representative loop and so, until that's up to record speed and sounding good, there's more merit (imo) in keeping your focus there than in attacking the whole. Keeping track of the top speed at which you can loop it perfectly in time with a metronome or similar (see here for a great free Windows backing track generator) lets you see your progress (or otherwise) clearly.

Monitoring Progress

The representative loop above isn't too demanding and I'd expect you can quickly bring it up to the 136bpm the original record runs at. If not then join me here in the Taplature forum for a free push in the right direction.

Now For The Full Picture!

Here I've drawn up the full 8 bar intro sequence. For ease of notation, the first 3 notes heard (the "lead-in" or "pickup" ... see here for more on that topic) occur at the end of the sheet, making for a tidy loop.

There's not that much different than we've already seen above in this take on the full thing and there's certainly nothing tougher.

The main point of note is that when "leading in" to the D chord on the bottom line we switch the B note on fret 2 of the A string for the open D string.

The only other real change is that on the D and B7 chords at the end we're hitting the root notes D and B on the "one" beat of each.

Blondie - Atomic

Polishing Things Off

There are (at least) a few extra notes being played on the original recording and adding those in would be the icing on the cake. That's beyond the remit of this article but may be a topic to raise in the comments below.

Getting this slightly simplified version rock-solid will however, always be a necessary prerequisite for getting any more complex versions to sound the way you want!

Enjoy! Old Swanner.


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