From time to time, readers ask me how they can tab-out a hymn themselves. Here's the answer.
How to Tab-out a Hymn Yourself
If a hymn you want to play is not on this blog, or you don’t like the way I’ve done it, and you can’t find it on another site, you can tab it out yourself. Here’s how, in ten easy steps:
1. Find the song in a hymn book or sheet music. If it’s an LDS hymn from Hymns, or from The Children’s Songbook, you can print the sheet music for free from lds.org / menu / study / music / music / hymns. Type the name or number of the desired hymn in the Search field. Click on the hymn name. If the hymn is not on the Church website, you’ll have to find it in another hymnal, or purchase sheet music. If it’s a popular hymn, the sheet music may be available for free online, but if it’s that popular, it has probably already been tabbed by someone else. Keep looking.
2. Play the melody from the sheet music or book. The melody is usually in the soprano line. (That’s the top line.) If you cannot read sheet music, take a course in Classical Guitar. If you live in the greater Salt Lake City metro area, you can take lessons from me, if I have a slot open. I charge $25 per half-hour lesson for Classical Guitar lessons, which is about average for Classical lessons. Be prepared to devote at least a year.
3. Transpose the melody if needed. If the melody is not easy to play on the guitar, you may need to transpose the song into another key. LDS.org will do this for you. Use the key selector from the menu bar at the left of the sheet music. There are twelve keys. Try them all, and select the one that sounds the best to you. If the song is not on the Church’s website, you will have to transpose the song yourself. If you do not know how to do this, take a course in music theory from the music department of a nearby college or university. College and university tuition ranges from $300 to $500 per course. You can sometimes audit the course (take the course for no academic credit) for a lower fee, especially if you are a senior citizen.
4. Play the music, using the music player at the top of the menu bar. It may sound lousy in the new key. That’s because the Church’s music is designed to be sung, and most singers’ voices do not have as great a range as the guitar (with a few, notable exceptions). About half the time, the interactive transposer will transpose down, when you want it to go up. Don’t worry too much about this; you can always raise the pitch of the guitar by clamping a capo around the neck. (Clamping a capo around the neck of a singer does not usually work. In fact, merely trying it could get you in a lot of trouble.)
5. Try playing the chords. LDS.org does not show the chord names, so you will have to read the music. (See step 2). You may have to select a different key if the chords are not easy to play. (See step 3). You can probably eliminate the keys of B and F, and any key that has a # (sharp) or b (flat) in it, as they all require the use of barre chords. If you want to learn barre chords, so you can play in more than five of the twelve keys, you will need to take lessons. Normally, Beginning and Intermediate guitar lessons cost $15 per half-hour. And up. I have a few slots open. Guitar classes are usually cheaper than individual lessons, where available, but may not offer what you want to learn, and are usually charged by the month. In advance.
6. Play the hymn as written in your transposed sheet music. (See steps 2, 3, and 5.) Add pinches, strums, arpeggios, and pattern picks of various sorts. Use ligados (hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides) to bring out the melody. Use tremolos to hold a note, and harmonics to emphasize special notes. Mix and match. If you do not know how to do all of these things, take guitar lessons. (See step 5.)
7. Practice the hymn until you can play it fluently. This can take somewhere between a few hours to a few months, depending on the song. The simplest-sounding songs may not be the easiest to play. For example, I Am a Child of God is one of the hardest songs I know. Often, the most beautiful songs are extremely hard, such as Til There Was You, the love song from The Music Man, which took me a year to learn, practicing five times every day. Once you can play the hymn fluently, you are ready to actually begin writing the tab.
8. Prepare a blank tab by typing six lines of hyphens. Use an equal-spaced font like Courier, where all letters and numbers are the same size, or nothing will line up correctly. I use Courier New, 10 point, bold face, which looks like this. If you are going to include lyrics, type them beneath the tab, so you will know where to place the notes.
If the lyrics are copyrighted, YOU MUST SECURE PERMISSION TO PUBLISH THEM from the copyright owner. Internet publishing counts as "publishing" under the law. You can request permission to use lyrics owned by the Church by contacting the Church music department. Expect a reply in six to eight weeks. Other copyright owners may be harder to reach, and may demand large fees. Permission is essential to avoid HUGE COURT JUDGEMENTS for copyright violation. Appellate courts have sustained judgements against ordinary folks for as much as ten million dollars. (No joke!!! It happened to a college student blogger.) [FLASH: Last week a U.S. court ruled they do NOT have to warn you before suing you, and it doesn't matter whether you are taking money, or even if you didn't know it was copyrighted.] Court judgements cannot be released in bankruptcy. TEN MILLION DOLLARS. Think about that.
9. Fill in the tab. Type each note above the correct syllable of the appropriate word. Leave at least one hyphen between notes. Open notes on a string are shown with a zero, others by the number of the fret where they are fretted. Show hammer-ons and pull-offs by typing an h or p in front of the note, or by connecting the notes with an underscore. Show slides with an s or a slash, harmonics with an exclamation point at the left of the note. (In front of the note, if you don’t know your left from your right.) Place the notes of a chord in a vertical line. For a pinched chord, leave it at that. For a strummed chord, place a wiggly line at the left of the notes. A wiggly line can be approximated by typing a stack of alternating forward and backward slashes. Type the names of chords above the tab, where each chord change occurs. Use a vertical stack of vertical line symbols (SHIFT + \) for measure bars. Many tab writers leave out the measure bars altogether. Add counting numbers, time signatures, and instructions as desired. It’s a good idea to leave some space between lines of music, by hitting the ENTER key a couple of times, for visual separation.
10. Play the tab, reading from the computer screen. Correct any errors. Print the tab out and play it again from the printed sheet. Errors are often easier to spot on a printed sheet, for some reason. Correct the errors again and reprint, repeating this step again and again, as needed. When you can play the tab through two or three times from the printed sheet, without spotting any new errors, save the file, and forget it for a while. Don't play the hymn. Work on other projects. After a couple of months, when you can no longer remember exactly how it goes, dig out the tab and check it again for errors. If there are none, congratulations-- you’re ready to start your own tablature blog!