Bass Tab Questions / Issues? - Put 'em here!

Hail to thee, my fellow Forumites.

I saw the post from @V-Bass about tab really lacking in the rhythm department (and yes, yes it absolutely does) and the one from @chris_van_hoven about how to choose the tab fingering you want to go with (such a good and overlooked aspect of so many internet tabs!), and wanted to open a bass tab question thread.

Any other questions tab related? (Full disclaimer, this will totally help me with a thing I’m working on!)

(If you post a question you’ve already answered, you can add a “NANT” to your post… that will totally be ignored and answered… but still, maybe it will help.)

I’d love to know what hangups you all remember, or are currently experiencing, with the weird world of tab - the things that you found that made you scratch your head, the hurdles you encountered, any of that.
Anything that I/we could collect and impart to a fellow bassist - particularly a beginner - that would help better navigate the world of tab.

Again, this isn’t necessarily to answer those questions, just to collect them.
Unless you want an answer.
If you want an answer, lemme know.
Shoot - you’ll probably get about 7 answers whether you want one or not.


Prepare to be tortured :slight_smile:


OK, I start simple. It’s about all kind of weird symbols and abbreviations in tabs:

Example: the fantastic and otherwise easy to play “Release” by Pearl Jam.
As always, I made a little video to play along:

Question 1: what does N.H mean. Not heared?

Question 2: what is the meaning of the dot?
Question 3: what is the meaning of a number in brackets? Sustain?

Question 4: if that’s sustain, how can a slide work … FROM a sustained note? Assuming that’s a slide?

Screenshot 2024-01-23 195428

Question 5: I assume that the bend line is also a slide. What’s the difference to a straight line?

Screenshot 2024-01-23 195548

Question 6: What does the X mean? Mutes open string?

Ok, let’s have a look at Ava Adore by Smashing Pumpkins.

This is the track:

They have two kinds of slides, but one has again those strange dots:

Question: what do the dots mean here?

Yeah, it is definitely not heard… but I think it is, in fact a Natural Harmonic?
It’s a harmonic on the 5th fret.
Very, very hard to pick out of the super quiet fade-in intro.
I’ve not seen N.H as a notation before. The world of tab is always weird.

The dot is from standard rhythm notation.
It changes the rhythm from a standard quarter note to a dotted quarter note (which takes up 1 and a half beats).

Sustained, and it’s only there because the rhythm below it is showing you how long to hold it for. Most tabs - and the ones we do for Bass Buzz - don’t notate the sustain in tab as it just looks confusing.

So you gotta have massive sustain on the instrument and good control of your fretting hand. I’m pretty sure Jeff Ament is on a fretless here, so that helps him a lot.
You hold the note for the duration, and then - after it’s parenthetical sustain, you slide it down to the 2nd fret.

The straight line is a slide.
The bent line is a hammer on or pull off - depending on what direction you’re going on the fretboard.

It’s not really necessary that’s it’s the open string, or at least I don’t consider it the open string, really. You just release the fretting pressure, but keep your fingers on the string to get a muted sound. It can be executed anywhere on the fretboard. For this one, you’d just release the fretting pressure on the 3rd fret, leave your hand and fingers on the strings, and play the note to get that nice, no-pitch thuddy mute.


I like this thread already! Thanks!!!

Could you clarify “hammer on or pull off”?

A dot will always add half of the original notes duration to the length of the note.

So, a dotted quarter note = 1.5 beats. (1 + 1/2)

A dotted eighth note = 3/4 of a beat. (1/2 + 1/4)

Those rhythms there are intense. 32nd notes and then dotted 16ths?
I never want to see that on my music stand.

Also… following along with the dotted stems in Release, there’s no way to tell if it’s a dotted half note or a dotted quarter note.

tab rhythm / notation is such a down and dirty DIY half-borrowed-from-notation thing…
It’s amazing and wonderful and always weird.
I could be wrong about all of it!

I hope I’m not.


A hammer-on is when you pluck the first note but then only use your fretting hand to tap onto the next note, when the 2nd note is higher up the fretboard.
You don’t pluck the 2nd note - your fretting hand does the work for you.

A pull-off does the exact same technique, but for a note lower on the fretboard.
So you pluck the first note, then have to pull that finger off to get the 2nd note to sound without plucking again with your plucking hand.


Ok, Angry Chair by Alice in Chains


Question: I know that you need to “pull the string” here (for lack of better wording). But what does the 1/2 mean?

It’s a string bend. Bend is the official music term to use.

The 1/2 means it pull it one half step higher in pitch.

Back to the Smashing Pumpkins song (and for all tab in the world, really) -
That notation for the slide up and down is terrible, and you’d never see it written that way.
I’d write it with a much simpler rhythm, as would any experienced transcriber -
Because it’s something that has to be heard and copied to be executed correctly.
The ear.
Music is all about the ears.
In all tab, and all notation, everything is an approximation to get a sound to be represented in the abstract system of notation. It’s clunky and doesn’t always work.

It’s a recurring theme, particularly with your ear being the only safeguard against all the inaccurate tabs out there.


Cool, next (we’re almost done for today :-))

Track - Come on Over by Royal Blood:

Mike Kerr always does crazy stuff, so let’s use him!

Question: P.M. is palm mute? I assume that this cannot be done when not using a pick? Or can it? How?

Last question for today, promise! Sorry for the overload - but I use the opportunity!

Track - Christine by the wonderful Siouxsie and the Banshees:

Question: so these are obviously chords, and they need to be played with a pick. Or do they? Can you “finger” that? And if you cannot play the chords without a pick, which note do I play?

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Yes, PM is Palm Mute.
There are ways to do this without a pick, but if you want to play Royal Blood, you should use a pick. Palm muting with a pick cannot be approximated with another technique in any satisfying way.

They can be strummed with fingernails as a downstroke (swiping away from your palm) or with your fingers by gently pulling across both strings with a similar technique to regular plucking, by using more of a fingerstyle away-from-the-bass pluck technique, or with thumb and index.
But they won’t sound right, because they’re played with a pick.

Gotta get them ears in there.
If you want to sound legit and get the attitude and the tone and the feeling that the recording has, you have to try and learn and adopt their styles and techniques.

If you can’t play the chords with a pick, or can’t find a way that works for you with fingers, this song doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to play.


As I’m a beginner, it will take a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time before I will tackle Royal Blood.

But I like to listen to tracks with complicated bass lines and see what’s going on.

In fact, that’s Josh’ fault, as I was totally fascinated by the video about how to play Hysteria on bass. That was the first time that I thought there is more to playing bass than just plucking along.

“If you can’t play the chords with a pick, or can’t find a way that works for you with fingers, this song doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to play.”

So, I don’t agree here! I cannot!

Imagine: it is the beginning of the 80s. You are in an illegal squatted new wave club, somewhere in London: concrete, steel, glass. The artificial fog is more dense than the infamous English fog. The stroboscope makes you dizzy, you see some vague dark shapes wobbling on the dance floor.

You know that the ghostly blobs on stage are Siouxsie and the Banshees. The reason you are there.

They are drunk & broke, they always are - but Steven Severin, the bassist is the “brokest” and “drunkest”. Like all bassist since the dawn of men…

He has only one pick, his lucky pick, which is incidentally one of Glen Matlock front teeth (the english have big theeth!). Or so he says. He got it fair and square at a fight at the first Sex Pistols convert in Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall.

This would be their breakout performance. Nothing can go wrong!

Siouxsie gets to the Mic: “We are Siouxsie and the Banshees, we are here to rock your world”. The drummer starts drumming, you can feel that history is going to be made, but just then Steven stumbles, loses his pick/tooth, it roles on the dance floor, some skinhead crushes it with his black leather boot (later some will say it was a moody Henry Rollins who hated that new wave stuff anyway)…

… what now? Does Steven decide to cancel the event? Or does he finger his bass like there is no tomorrow?

Bottom line: I expect to play every bass line, even without a pick, possibly by simplifying. But then I need to identify the “right” notes in the chord, right?

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Fair enough. Thanks for the lovely prose.
I hope you read the part up there that said “or can’t find a way that works for you with fingers…”
Because chord playing with fingers is great and lovely.

To me the bass line is the chords.
Some chords are easier to break up.

If the chords don’t work for you with either pick or fingers -
…you can always simplify it by taking just one part.
As a bassist, it makes sense to play the lowest part.
If you don’t like it, go for the highest part.
Whichever sounds best to you.


A note on the tab for Christine -

I had a hard time believing this fingering and tuning was accurate, so I went on the 'ol YouTube to check it out.

There are some other covers of this song that use this tuning and fingering.
However, the live videos, the player is in standard tuning - possibly dropped D.

So the fingering for this riff (and all the others in this tab vid) would be down 2 frets.
It makes it much easier to fret this part.
Doesn’t help with how to get the strums / plucking for the chords - but a really helpful example of trying to find a good live video reference if you come up against something that seems suspicious or weird in the tab.

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My video is in Drop D. You think I should go lower? Will test!

Yeah, sorry for the story - it may or may not have happened almost like that :slight_smile:

My issue with palm mute while plucking (without pick) is: how to do it? Maybe something for a future BassBuzz video=

I also can’t get my head around this one. So do you play the 5th fret in my example … or something else? And if you play it - why is it marked with NH?

wanna follow the thread

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