My Favorite Tool For Learning Difficult Songs

It’s called Power Tab Editor, and it’s free. Designed primarily for transcribing music in tablature (with standard music notation above), Power Tab Editor is also very useful for figuring out songs with fast, complicated parts.

Here’s how it works: Download and install the Editor. Then go to Power Tab Archive and search for a song you want to learn. All songs are submitted by everyday guitar fanatics like you and me, but because it takes a certain amount of musical knowledge to write anything resembling music on the Editor, the quality of the submissions tends to be much higher than the kind of stuff you find from a “Blink 182 Guitar Tabs” Google search.

The Editor has controls similar to a music player. Hit the Play button and your computer will play the song using MIDI, illuminating each note or chord as it’s played. Some (OK, all) the charm of the song is lost in the translation to MIDI, but at least you can hear how it’s supposed to be played. For those of us who learn best by ear, Power Tab Editor is invaluable.

Here’s a trick: If the song’s too fast, click the first part of the tablature, go up to “Music Symbols,” and choose “Tempo Marker”. Play with the BPM (beats per minute) until you’ve slowed things down enough.

Also, for those of you who teach or compose guitar music, Power Tab produces a lovely manuscript that you can print or save as a .pdf file. For example, here’s my transcription the guitar solo in The Postal Service’s song “Such Great Heights”:

Such Great Heights Tab

Whether you’re transcribing your latest masterpiece, or just trying to learn Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me,” you’ll be happy with Power Tab. Ohmygod, I think I’m going to, like, go work on that one now!

Have fun!

Comments 9

  1. Hi,

    thanks for writing in my blog on MSN. I was learning guitar for a while…few months, then i quit. Learnt basic chords and a few songs. Now and then i download chords from the net and keep trying out new songs. I like Floyd and Beatles.
    I went for the Roger Waters show here in Bangalore, and it was amazing!
    I dont know how to read guitar tab yet…it looks quite complicated:)

    So is teaching your full time job?
    I wanna be a travel writer someday:)


  2. Hello Rob, thanks for checking out my Psychedelic Sex Funk From Heaven MSN Space. I bought my Squier Jagmaster for myself as a Christmas present. I haven’t gone very far in my skill as I seem to lose interest when I can’t play through a song correctly and the back of my finger tips seem to catch on the string behind it when when my hand is completely stretched over top. Thanks for dropping by my blog. I’ll be sure to keep up on yours.

    Cheers, Stephen.

  3. Hey Rob,
    I think your site is a big plus…I am all for anything which promotes a better understanding of music. If you are in the Chicago area let me know, I hope to hear you play live sometime.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, everyone. Yeah, Puja, teaching’s my full-time gig. It’s such a great job. I big improvement of high school English. I’m so glad I’m not grading research papers right now.

    I considered a career in freelance writing before I started this business. You should check out, the website of my teacher and friend, Nick O’Connell. He offers online help with writing, and will be taking a group of ten travel/food writers to France this summer. He’s a great resource and a really nice guy.

    Stephen, it sounds like you’re having trouble arching your fingers enough to keep from muting other strings. Make sure your thumb’s in back of the neck if you’re having trouble with this–it’ll help you to arch your fingers more. You can read how in my post on Thumb Placement.

  5. I’ve been using Power Tab Editor for a few months now and I love it. Especially when the songs are complicated I can take the tempo down and work on specific parts till I get them right. It’s like a guitar teacher with the patience of a rock.

  6. Have you tried Line 6’s GuitarPort online? I find that the tabulature and lessons, coupled with recorded audio examples (which can be played at half speed) and backing tracks allow me to pick up some great licks. Also, they include presets for the amp simulator and effects, which give you similar tone to the recorded song — neat trick, that, and nearly essential for players like The Edge or Andy Summers.

    Not that one thing it does not do is light up or otherwise indicate which note on the tabulature corresponds to the current note. This would be a cool feature, and they may have added it since I last used the service some time ago.

    Note that I am not affiliated with Line 6 in any way — just a very satisfied customer!

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