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ActionTab Interview
by: dave

As many of you noticed, one of NuTang's sponsor in January 2004 was ActionTab.com. As all of you who visited this sponsor realized, ActionTab presented an unique, revolutionary learning experience for guitar players. Unlike traditional tablatures, ActionTab's are interactive. You can see how the riffs are to be played, hear them, and when things get tricky, even pause, rewind, and fast forward them!

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview ActionTab's founders, Steven Cummings and Tor Dennison. Read what they have to say.

What inspired you to create ActionTab.com?

The idea originally came from Tor who is a guitarist with over 16 years experience. While working for a dot com startup in London he became interested in the Internet as a powerful teaching media.

He discovered that many people had been put off learning an instrument just because music itself had been taught poorly, or in a way that wasn't fun. This wasn't helped by the fact that music notation systems are actually quite abstract, the weird dots and squiggles on lined paper is like a foreign language to most people. Plus, many people don't have the time or money to get professional guitar lessons from a teacher.

ActionTab was the solution to these problems (and a few others besides). The best way to learn guitar is to have someone literally sit down and show you how it's done. That is what ActionTab is. Having somebody 'virtually' sit in front of you and show you how to play a piece of music note-for-note is easier and more fun than staring at squiggles on a piece of paper, and wondering what finger goes where.

You can hear when you're right or when you're wrong because the finger movements for both hands are in synch with the music. You can play along, and even start playing your own melodies along with them.

We very much believe in the power of the internet as an interactive teaching tool, and not just as a rather large library or directory. Our passion for music and also the interesting IT development prospects led us to produce ActionTab.com.

What sets your site apart from other guitar tablature sites?

ActionTab was designed with ease of use in mind from the start. Many new guitarists are initially confused by tablature and have to spend quite a bit of time learning how to read it. Often there is the added bonus of the Tab being wrong. We wanted a system that a complete novice could look at and say, "Hey, I can play that. It's easy". However, we just didn't just want to make an easier version of tablature, we wanted to also make a better version.

Tablature notoriously neglects to show right hand movements, and even on left hand fingering - doesn't show you which fingers play which notes. These things are actually important for technique and comfort. Standard Tab also doesn't have the obvious luxury of letting you hear each note as it is being played - and rarely shows any right hand techniques. Also, ActionTabs contain two real guitar recordings. The slower version allows people to learn at a comfortable pace. The full speed version can be looped and played along with, which is not only practical for learning - but just good fun! It's like jamming with someone. You just can't do that on standard tab sites.

Can you provide some insight to the technology behind ActionTabs?

ActionTab currently is based on Macromedia Flash player. We used Flash as most people already have it installed on their computer and it is supported across many different web browsers and operating systems (including Apple Macs and Linux). We considered developing ActionTab as a separate Windows application however we wanted a system that would work instantly from the users web browser eliminating the need for any downloads.

For the sound, there is a lot of process involved in recording and studio editing. All recordings are played on real guitars (not midi). Midi just fails to really do guitar justice because it doesn't sound like guitar, and you can't get a natural feel for the piece. It takes effort to play guitar...anyone can program midi - but any guitarist can tell the difference. You still have to program finger patterns, so why try and cut corners with sound quality? If you can do it - THEN you can teach it.

What plans do you have in store for ActionTabs?

Quite a bit! What you see on the website is only the tip of the iceberg. Many of our future developments are top secret so you'll just have wait and see... However, I can assure if you think ActionTab is good now you'll be blown away by some of things we have in store. Here are some of the things I can tell you about that will be happening soon:
  • We'll be releasing a CD version of ActionTab which includes a number of exclusive ActionTabs not available on the website.
  • The ActionTab website is being redesigned which means lots of extra features will be added soon.
  • The website will soon be available in multiple languages.
  • Lots more new ActionTabs

How often is your site updated?

At the moment the site is being updated on a weekly basis - a great deal of our efforts are currently being spent on other non-visible aspects of the site however we'll be taking on board more guitarists and developers soon to help out. Our aim is to have daily updates occurring as soon as possible.

How much time and effort is needed in maintaining such an endeavor?

Lots! I could give you a daily breakdown, but there is no such thing as a normal day with ActionTab!

Any parting words?

Did we mention it's free? ;) Just get on the website on start playing. Be sure to send us your feedback as well. We respond to every message sent to us and your comments really do influence the direction of the website
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