The Skinny On Guitar Tab
Guitar Tab Or Standard Music Notation?
In spite of different opinions I find it useful to understand both guitar tablature and standard notation. They both have their pluses and minuses, but put together they can really help the guitarist. Guitar tablature is fairly easy to understand and really helps to find your fingering on the guitar neck. Unfortunately there’s a lot of information missing that makes it almost unusable unless you already know the song. Standard notation has a lot more information but takes longer to learn.
Why Guitar Tablature (Tab For Short)
Guitar tablature is basically six lines which represent the six strings on the guitar along with numbers to indicate where to put your finger on the guitar neck. The numbers are to indicate which threat to put your finger on. Because it’s such a close representation of the guitar neck it makes it easy to quickly find where to put your fingers.
Unfortunately it doesn’t actually tell you which finger to use or how long to hold the note. There are two ways that you can use this to learn the song in spite of these limitations.
The first is to listen to the song and learn the rhythm, or how long to hold the notes, by ear. This is actually fairly common. I learned many songs and guitar riffs by listening to the album and copying what I heard. A little guitar TAB would have helped me tremendously. In this case I think of it as giving me some hints instead of the complete picture of what the play.
Pretty much the fingering is by trial and error. If you practice guitar scales and exercises regularly it’s not too difficult to decide which is the best fingering to use for any particular set of notes.
Of course another solution would be to include standard notation right along with the guitar.
Learning Standard Notation (Notes)
Standard notation is a fairly complete system for documenting what notes the composer want you to play. It includes what note to play, the rhythm of the note and a lot of subtleties using accents and other symbols.
Because it is a complex system it takes a bit of learning. One way to deal with this is to just undertake a systematic practice starting with simple musical passages. If you’re fairly self-motivated you can use a book with progressive songs and exercises. One good book for beginners that I found is the Progressive Guitar Method – Book 1. For more advanced players I recommend the book Reading Studies for the Guitar by William Levitt. Though it may seem daunting it actually is a very rewarding experience and well worth the undertaking.
Putting It All Together
Both of these systems complement each other. In addition it’s helpful to have some indication of the fingering. This can be indicated with small numbers above the note. In most cases the only time this is done is when it’s not clear which is the best fingering to use.
Here is an example using the B minor scale on the guitar. This example includes guitar tablature, standard notation and the fingering above the notation.
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