Guitar tablature. Why? Why not?


A popular way to play guitar is to play existing songs from TAB. These TABs can be found on a lot of websites like 911tabs or ultimate-guitar. They're made by other guitar players who listen to a certain song, create the TAB and upload them to these websites. But why use tablature at all? Or why not?


What is guitar tablature?

Tablature or TAB is a notation of guitar parts. The notes to be played are written from left to right as numbers on 6 lines, representing the six strings of the guitar. All the notes and chords of a certain part or song are indicated, but there is almost no information on the rhythm of the parts.


That's the main difference with traditional musical notation (on the so-called G-clef), which indicates both notes and rhythm.

Check here if you want to know how to read tablature.






Why to play from guitar tablature/TAB

The main reason for playing guitar from TAB is that it will allow you to play songs that you know, using the right notes. The other reason is that it's very easy to read tablature.


Why NOT to play from guitar tablature
There are a few reasons why you could decide to not play from tablature:


- TABs do not have the rhythm written in, so you can only play songs you really know in order to play the notes in the right rhythm


- TABs are made by other, mostly amateur guitar players, and most of them contain mistakes. The tablature you'll find on internet will often not accurately represent how the original guitar part was played.

guitar tablature - these famous guys didn't use TABs
These famous guitar players have never used TABs.


- playing from TABs will keep you from really learning the nuts and bolts of the music. That can only be done by developing your ability to listen, this is called ear training. Playing from TAB requires no ear training at all.


- playing from TABs will keep you from learning how to play rhythms. This is because TABs only focus on the right notes, while in music, rhythm is just as important.


- playing from TABs will make you dependent upon them, as you will not learn how to improvise, you will not learn how to play guitar parts by ear and you will not learn how to play rhythmically by yourself.


How is guitar tablature made?

TABs are made like this. A guitar player carefully listens to a certain piece of music, and figures out by ear how to play the guitar parts in that piece of music. When the guitarist thinks he/she has found the accurate way of playing the parts on guitar, they're written into a TAB.


So how can someone know what is played by just hearing it?

Well, that comes down to two things: ear training and playing experience. Ear training and experience enable a guitar player to hear ANY piece of music, and directly play the right notes, in the right rhythm, in the correct position on the guitar!

You can do this too, it does NOT require any special talents, only a bit of ear training.


This has been for a long time THE ONLY WAY TO LEARN GUITAR.

Before TABs, most guitar players only had access to their records and their guitar. People like Jimi Hendrix, Slash, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen, Carlos Santana, Wes Montgomery and many others have learned just by listening intently to their records, playing along with them, and trying to play what they heard. Most didn't even have a guitar teacher, maybe only a friend or relative to show them some basic guitar chords. They also did not learn how to read musical notation as they could play everything by ear!


By approaching guitar playing in this way, by ear, they also learned how to improvise because they learned which scales and techniques to use, just by listening to a lot of music.


Ok, so i have to do ear training?

Yes. If you do not want to have to play TABs for years to come, while not really improving on your playing, do some ear training. This can be done consciously by doing ear training exercises, or unconsciously by just listening to a song over and over and trying to play along with it.


If this is true, then why are so many people playing guitar TABs?

Because the basic advantage of TAB is that it instantly gives you the right notes to play, without having to really know your instrument or really listening to the music. TABs are ideal for beginners. If you do not have a bigger ambition to learn music and become a better guitar player, stick with TABs, as it's the easiest way.


So what should i do when learning guitar?

I'd say listen to songs and try to play along with them. In addition, watch instructional videos on the internet and check out lesson websites such as this one. Get a teacher if possible. Forget about tablature.


If on the other hand, you do not have enough time to spend on learning guitar, and just want to play a few of your favourite songs easily, playing from TAB can be the way to go.


I hope this clarifies things, good luck!


guitar tab