The Pro's and Con's of Reading Guitar Tabs (Not Classical Notation)

It's undecided which form of written music is superior: the traditional “grand staff” (used for hundreds of years) or tablature (which is often used when playing the guitar).

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As a guitarist, once I started learning tabs I couldn't go back. But some guitar players still choose the old school grand staff when playing. Why is that? Why wouldn't they choose the obviously superior tab? 

An example of tablature.

Turns out that there are some really legit reasons for keeping the old, but only in some cases. Take a look below.

Why Is Tablature Better?

  • Quick to learn.
  • Easy to sight-read.
  • Has support for bending notes (many musical notation programs do not support the “bending” of notes on the grand staff, but will support it in the tablature).
  • More accessible for stringed Instruments, especially the guitar.
  • Specifies which string to play each note on, not just what note to play.
  • Very easy and common to find on the internet (often just one or two clicks away).

An Example Of Classical Notation

The Disadvantages To Tab

  • Rhythms often not included (It is recommended that you have a recording of the song you are playing).
  • Because they are so common, and are written by almost everyone, you may find that the writer has put notation that you do not recognize in (Because of the improvisational nature of tablature).
  • Serious musicians need to be fluent in classical notation.

What About Something In-Between?

In order to find a balance between the two, I suggest using a combination of both. Place  the guitar tab below the classical notation running in parallel. 

Here's an example of such notation:

Hybrid sheet music.

The most common digital notation program that uses this hybrid of notation is the “Guitar Pro” software. If I'm going to write the sheet music at all, I generally will use Guitar Pro.

It's not for everyone, but for anyone composing with instruments such as guitar, bass, drums, or violins, I highly recommend it.

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