Free Piano Tabs?
What In The World Is A Piano Tab?

You’ve probably come across free piano tabs when searching the internet for sheet music or piano midi files, or other piano-related resources. At first, I thought piano tab was something from the mind of a confused guitar player, but I soon found out I was wrong. So what is “piano tab”?

“Tab” is short for “tablature,” which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an instrumental notation indicating the string, fret, key, or finger to be used instead of the tone to be sounded.” If you’ve ever looked at sheet music before, you may have seen what’s known as guitar tab, which are displayed as the chord name and guitar fretboard – with dots for the strings/frets to be played – just above each line of music.

Piano tab is similar, since it is simply a text representation of the piano notes to be played. It’s a way of displaying piano music without formal sheet music. I must admit, as a somewhat traditional piano student, the whole concept of piano tab sounds kind of crazy to me, and it looks pretty goofy (to me) also. However, it seems that a lot of people out there in cyberspace are interested in it, so I thought we should include some information about it on this site.

For those of you that have never seen it, here’s an example of piano tab. It’s the first phrase of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” written using piano tab:

4|-e---D---||-e---D---e-------d---c---|-------------------------|
3|---------||-------------b-----------|-a-----------c---e---a---|
2|---------||-------------------------|-----e---a---------------|
1|---------||-------------------------|-a-----------------------|

How Do You Actually Read And Play That?!

OK, don’t let the notation overwhelm you. Let’s just break it down and it may click right in for you, as it has for me. Here are the basics:

  • The 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the left hand column correspond to octave numbers on the piano keyboard. For reference, octave 4 is the octave that starts with middle C, so all notes within that octave are written on the line with the 4 on the left.
  • Natural notes (white keys) are written as lowercase letters (a, b, c, etc.). Sharps are written as capital letters (e.g., D# is written as D), and flats are all written as the sharps (e.g., Bb is written as A#, which is A in “tab.”
  • Measures are separated by vertical bars (|).
  • Dashes are used to separate notes.

Are Piano Tabs Copyrighted?

There is some controversy over both guitar and piano tabs and websites that offer them for free. The song above is in the public domain, which is why we chose it for this website. However, piano tabs for copyright music – recordings or sheet music - may be subject to copyright enforcement. I am not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on television, so I’ll leave the piano tab copyright issue up to you and your attorney.

Where Can I Find Free Piano Tabs?

Now that the copyright disclaimer is out of the way, here are some links to sites with free piano tabs:

  • TabNabber - Piano / Flute Chords, Sheet Music, Transcriptions, Tabs
  • Pianotabs.net - This all free site is an archive on how to play pop/rock piano music. The archive piano notes are either in tab format, or (free) real piano scores through links to other sites. Tab submittions [sic], links, etc. are needed. (Description from the website)
  • 911Tabs.com - A huge number of tabs for piano and guitar. Watch out for popup ads on this site.

Well, that should give you a pretty good start on piano tabs. I'm slowly changing my opinion on piano tabs, since, after all, they're a way for people who can't read piano music to play and enjoy the instrument. Tabs might even help them play a lot faster than learning regular sheet music, and who can argue with that?


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