I often get asked the question as to whether or not a guitar student should learn to read guitar tablature or bass tablature. Many people have the notion that tablature is a new thing that guitarists use to short-cut their way to learning to read music. After studying both standard notation and tablature for a number of years it is my opinion that both systems are very useful but clearly have different functions. I was going to use Wikipedia today to do a bit of research before writing this blog but today they are protesting the online privacy act that apparently congress is trying to pass. I don’t know much about the bill but now that it is affecting my productivity I think I will be contacting my representative! Anyhow, tablature has been around for hundreds of years. As long as there has been stringed and fretted instrument there has been tablature. Tablature is a graphic illustration of positions on a guitar, bass, banjo, lute or other fretted instruments. The lines represent the strings and the numbers represent the frets. It is very logical and easy to understand completely and quickly for beginners. I do not believe however that it should be a replacement for reading standard notation. If you ever wish to play an instrument that is not fretted then standard notation will be essential. If you only intend to play a stringed instrument then it is still very useful and necessary for advanced musicians to learn to read standard notation. Many musicians will avoid reading standard notation and have gone on to successful careers. There have been many blind musicians who play beautifully with obviously no ability to read standard notation. If you are fortunate enough to have vision, as serious about learning music, then don’t avoid standard notation or tablature. If tablature has received a bad reputation it is most likely due to the fact that there are lot’s of websites offering free tablature to popular songs. Not only is this a copyright infringement but so many of the songs are tabbed inaccurately. These websites allow any user to create and post their tabs regardless of their experience in transcribing music. I don’t believe in stealing intellectual property so I avoid these sites but a new website called: www.unitedwetab.com offers affordable song tabs legally. They are accurately produced by professional musicians. I know that there are many other legal tab sites now available. I will do a future post about other sites offering tablature and standard notation. Please let us know about your favorite sites or just leave us your general feedback.
Grosse Pointe Music Academy Staff
Grosse Pointe Music Academy has 2 locations serving southeastern Michigan
5880 Canton Center Rd. Ste. 425
Grosse Pointe Park
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Grosse Pointe Park, MI
Tablature has been around as long as fretted musical instruments, and certainly does have it’s applications, but by no means is it equal to standard notation! Thanks for this post. And for investigating the SOPA situation! I wondered why facebook wasn’t blacked out and then realized… How else would people find out about the Act if facebook wasn’t around?!
Wow you’re right! Does this mean that facebook is in danger? Are we really going to be forced into getting only what the big corporations online want us to get? Sounds kind of scary. I vote to keep internet free!
Katelynn Kiesgen says
From what I understand, you get a better and deeper understanding of music by learning to read standard notation. But I say, what’s so wrong with a short-cut? Sometimes short-cuts or a different way of learning a (stringed) instrument is just what some people need.
P.S. I’m not digging this SOPA act!!! Always picking on the little people!
You’re right. Sometimes people who may not have a lot of time to dedicate to an instrument may need a short-cut in order to learn what they want.
I think that it depends on what people want to get out of the instrument. Some people just want to learn how to roughly play a song by a campfire. For those people, tablature works well. Standard notation, though, is very necessary if one wants to master the instrument, and be able to communicate properly with musicians on other instruments.