As a beginner acoustic guitarist, you’re probably wondering whether learning your songs from guitar tablature is as good as getting them from “real” sheet music. Learning to play acoustic guitar is a great adventure which is sometimes spoilt a bit by the prospect of having to learn to read music. But for most acoustic guitar players, learning all the symbols and theory connected with musical notation is not really necessary.
Tablature for acoustic guitar has certain points giving it an edge over standard music notation. Actually, historians tell us that tablature was used to record musical compositions long before conventional notation. They don’t seem to have much idea how musicians attributed note values to compositions they have never heard played. Maybe it wasn’t an issue in the sixteenth century.
So what do you learn from tabs? Tablature shows diagrammatically where finger positions are indicated using numbers representing the guitar’s frets along horizontal lines representing the strings. The note G played on the first (thinnest) string is shown by the number 3 written on the top line of the tablature. Sometimes the person writing the tablature will group the notes together to show that they are all the same value but this is not a hard and fast rule.
Hammer-ons, string bends, pull-offs and other techniques are shown by symbols. Each tablature writer has his own idea of the best way to show how to play the music, and he usually includes a legend showing his symbols on each tab. With the aid of guitar tabs, you can learn new music quickly without going to the additional trouble of learning conventional music notation.
Despite the fact that tempo and time signatures are not included, sometimes it’s easier for the guitarist to pick up music from tablature. The ease with which you can learn to read tablature means that your progress on the guitar is not slowed by the need to cope with such things as the use of alternate tunings.
Another bonus is in the ease in sharing acoustic guitar music on the internet. Guitar tab is easily written on a computer by way of ASCII code, which makes it easier to email or post on the web. Maybe when you get some guitar playing experience under your belt you could try writing some music down for yourself. A great chance to see the difficulties facing composers for the guitar. Unfortunately, a debate over copyright issues has made posting guitar tab a little bit contentious, but you can still share tab privately by email.
A lot of guitar teachers proclaim the virtues of learning to read sheet music. Some even think you are not a “real” musician unless you can read “real” music. If you have a burning desire to follow a career in music then the versatility given you by the ability to read music will be a definite advantage. But if you look at playing music as a way of each individual expressing themselves in their own unique way, then how you write your music down is not one of the biggest issues in your life!