Legalizing Guitar Tablature Online

Ever since the early days of the web, aspiring Hendrix-philes could download guitar tablature–a popular form of musical notation. This material was created by amateurs and uploaded to sites like OLGA, the Online Guitar Archive which started in 1994. OLGA has been taken down at the, uh, request of music industry lawyers, but there a million other resources for tablature out there like it. Just google, say, “tablature shine on you crazy diamond” and sift through the 385,000 results.

I hack away at my acoustic guitar when no one’s within earshot. My favourite tablature site du jour is Chordie, which seems to be a cut above the rest and even has some Web 2.0 bits. There’s an RSS feed for the top 100 songs (currently inexplicably at #1, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” as sung by Rod Stewart), you can (obviously) contribute your own tab, you can assemble a songbook of favourites, and so forth.

One great feature of the site is that you can you transpose on the fly. Check out the sidebar on, say, Neil Young’s “Borrowed Tune”. Is the song too high for you? Just change the key with a click of the mouse. Fancy.

I got on to this subject because Bob Tedeschi has written a really poorly-researched piece about a tablature site that’s going legit:

Last year popular sites like, and others — where users post tablature, usually called “guitar tabs,” for rock songs — suspended operations after the music publishing industry threatened them with copyright infringement lawsuits. Under the new initiative, MxTabs, which is owned by MusicNotes, will share an undisclosed portion of advertising revenue with music publishers, who in turn will give a portion to artists.

Tedeschi makes it sound like music publishers sued every such site out of existence, and that MusicNotes has arrived to deliver us to a chord-filled Nirvana. Later in the article he uses the past tense again, writing “guitar tablature sites were typically small operations”. At best, MusicNotes will be the iTunes of tablature–a one-stop shop for folks who want to be legal. Tedeschi doesn’t display any scepticism about their approach, revenue model or the existing clout of other sites. All told, the piece reads a little too close to the MusicNotes media release.

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