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  SuperTAB, the Harmonica Tablature system used for NHL publications  

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The NHL magazine, Harmonica World, is distributed free to members, six times a year at the beginning of February, April, June, August, October and December. The music transcriptions and tuition in the magazine are expanded through the use of TAB for those who cannot read music and are not familiar with the location of the musical notes on the many different diatonic, chromatic and tremolo harmonicas.

TAB systems are available for most instruments, particulaly important for fretted instrumens, such as guitars, where the same note can be played on different strings. They are a visual system which translates the musical note into a diagram of how to produce that note. In the case of a harmonica that will include the hole, the direction of the air (blow/draw), any other details such as the amount of bending or over blowing of the note described, or the use of a slide. Here is a simple example. The number with a circle around it is a draw note, and a number without a circle is a blow note. If you play this on a standard diatonic you will get the familiar major scale (doh, ray, me ..) as sung by Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music.

There are many versions of TAB but we have always used the SuperTAB system developed by Steve Jennings, a former editor of the magazine, which he used in his tuition books for Music Sales and Mel May. With the advent of simple computer programmes which allow anyone to produce sheet music as easily as using a word processor, Pat Missin, a committee member of the NHL and harmonica guru, took the basic SuperTAB, extended it, and turned it into a True Type Font which can be installed on any computer and used to add TAB to music or any document you are typing. All you need to do is select the SuperTAB font, and then know which key on the keyboard produces which symbol. You can download the SuperTAB font, free of charge, from the bottom of this page.

Here is a list of the basic conventions we use to describe the playing of the music.

  • A number means blow into that hole
  • A number within a circle means draw air through that hole
  • Chords and doublestops are indicated by numbers above one another
  • Bends are shown by arrow heads, one per (semitone) bend, under the hole number. Up arrows are bow bends and down arrows are draw bends
  • Overblows are shown in the same way but are placed above the hole number
  • The action of the slide on a chromatic is shown by adding a left pointing arrow head to the hole number symbol when the slide is pushed in.

A fuller description of the use of the SuperTAB is available on Pat Missin's web page which is devoted to this topic. He will be pleased to receive your comments and feedback on the use of the font, and where necessary further examples may be added as a result. The latest font will always be available here.

To download the font click on the SuperTAB icon and save the file to a convenient location (folder) on your computer. Open up the zip file, and read the readme.txt file inside for instructions on how to install and use the font. It contains fonts for use with diatonic/blues, chromatic, and XB-40 harmonicas. Send all feedback and observations to Pat Missin

Please remember that TAB is not a substitute for learning to read music. It is a simple system which has to be supplemented by a good ear as only limited information on the timing, rhythm and intensity of the notes can be given. When you have learned to read music you will be able to play written music which you have never heard. For this reason we will always provide both written music and TAB.

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