Pros and Cons of Guitar Tablature

Guitar Tablature Is Everywhere

guitar-tablature-pros-consTablature or tab is a type of musical notation commonly used by guitarists and bassists. If you’re learning to play the guitar, you’re probably familiar with guitar tablature, as it’s widely available online.

How Guitar Tab Works

Just in case you’re not familiar with guitar tablature, here are the basics:

  • The six horizontal lines represent the strings of the guitar
  • The lowest line represents the low E string
  • The numbers on those lines represent frets
  • Tab is read from left to right
  • Numbers to the left are played before those to the right
  • Numbers which are vertically aligned are played at the same time.

So for example, if we played an E major chord, it would look like this:
[jtab phrase=”E 022100|” ]

If we ascend through the minor pentatonic scale in A, our tab would look like this:
[jtab phrase=”$6 5 8 $5 5 7 $4 5 7 $3 5 7 $2 5 8 $1 5 8″]

There’s a bit more to it than that, but you get the basic idea.

Guitar Tab Advantages

You may have heard some musicians bad-mouthing tablature as standard (sheet music) notation’s dumbed-down cousin. But actually, tab does have certain advantages:

  • It’s easy to learn
  • It’s widely available
  • Many tabs are free
  • It shows how a chord is actually fingered, which is useful because one note can occur at several different places on the guitar.
  • ┬áIt’s easy to create, edit, and distribute

Guitar Tab Disadvantages

So, tablature does have its pros. On the other hand, it has some pretty serious drawbacks.

For one thing, much of the free tab you’ll find online is inaccurate. Remember, much of it is created not by professional musical transcribers, but by some person sitting in their basement, trying to learn a song by ear, and then sharing what they’ve figured out. It’s nice of them to do that for us, but what if they don’t really know what they’re doing?

Another disadvantage of tablature is that it can’t really express rhythm or dynamics like sheet music can. Also, standard notation is universal, whereas tab only works for guitar. So, if you use standard notation to write out a part you’ve composed for guitar, you can give that sheet music to a keyboardist, cellist, or accordion player, and they’ll be able to read it, too. If it’s written in tab, they’ll have no idea how to play it.

Also, tablature may tell you where on the fretboard to put your fingers, but it doesn’t help you learn anything about music theory.

Why Limit Yourself?

My opinion on tablature is that it’s a useful learning tool, especially for beginning musicians. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of learning to play one of your favorite tunes for the first time, and tablature can help you get there relatively quickly.

But, as mentioned, tab has its limits. If you’re serious about becoming the best guitarist you can be, I’d recommend learning both tablature and standard notation. That way, you’ll have the best of both worlds.

Oh, and if you’re looking for guitar lessons in Portland, I’d love the opportunity to be your guitar teacher. I offer custom lesson plans that will help you reach your musical goals and become a better guitarist. Get in touch with me today for a free intro lesson.