Guitar Tabs

Guitar Tab

Guitar tabs (short for "tablature") are a mixed blessing for guitarists. The visual representation of the fretboard makes tablature relatively easy to learn, assuming one is already familiar with the tune one wishes to learn. Since guitarists tend to think in terms of strings and fret numbers, learning tab is usually pretty easy for most players.

Limitations of Guitar Tabs

Some players can be kind of snobs about tab compared to standard notation. Believe it or not, though, tablature is actually older than musical notation. However, even though tablature actually predates standard notation, it still has far more inherent limitations. Traditionally, tab lacks rhythmic notation (although some publishers do incorporate rhythmic notation with tablature). Also, with standard notation, you are free to choose the fingering that best works for you. Guitar tablature in that sense can be too limiting.

The Best of Both Worlds

Perhaps the best strategy for notating the guitar is what many professional transcriptions offer, which places standard notation on top of tablature so one can easily see both the rhythmic values as well as the proper positioning that tablature offers. Since both traditional notation and tablature have their own strengths and weaknesses, this approach is considered by many teachers and students to be the best strategy. However, it is worth noting that tablature accompanied by rhythmic notation can be a bit messy too. It also requires that someone know how to read standard notation rhythmic values, which means they can probably already read standard notation completely.


Another mixed blessing regarding guitar tab is its ease of availability. Despite the copyright implications, tabs are widely available and distributed online. While this availability might seem like a good thing, there are problems. For starters, many tabs are simply inaccurate, having been transcribed by players with limited experience in notation or playing their instrument.  Just because a piece of tablature is widely available does not mean that it is accurate.

Professional Transcriptions

Although free tabs distributed online are "priced right," if someone wishes to have an accurate transcription of a tune or album, the best course of action is to purchase professional transcriptions. Today, such transcriptions are widely available in either print or digital format. Complete, accurate transcribing is challenging work and if someone wants the most accurate transcriptions available, then paying for a professional product is worth it in the end. There are even professional guitarists and educators who will transcribe on demand for a fee.

Don't Steal!

While it's true that even many professionally transcribed works can be illegally downloaded online, it's important to keep in mind that such "borrowing" is really nothing more than theft, since it robs both the original artist and the transcriptionist of payment for their services.

The Downside

Finally, while tabs can be very helpful, especially for difficult tunes, it's always good to try to learn songs on your own as much as you can. Tabs should only be used as a shortcut or as an aid when a tune proves too difficult.

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