Guitar tablature, or tabs, sometimes get a bad rap, possibly because many of them found on the internet may be inaccurate. While tablature isn’t always note-for-note perfect, it can be a helpful learning tool, especially when combined with your ear.
Some benefits of guitar tabs and reasons why you should give them a shot include:
- Being able to learn songs faster
- Learning about notation, especially rhythm
- Improved fretboard visualization
- Understanding transcription
- Having a way to write out your own music
In this article, you’ll read more about these particular reasons why you should get familiar with this form of musical notation, which may give you a newfound outlook on tabs and what they can offer.
Table of Contents
1. You’ll Learn Songs Faster
If you’re trying to learn a song from scratch, using guitar tabs can help you pick up the tune much more quickly than relying on your ear alone; therefore, they can help save you some time. It’s definitely suitable for guitar beginners who don’t have a trained ear yet and want to start learning something as soon as possible.
With the tab’s intuitive design, you can quickly see what notes are being played on which string, which is much easier than reading sheet music and standard notation for most guitarists.
This doesn’t mean that you should rely on tabs 100% of the time you’re learning a new song; when combined with your ears, you can pick up on the little nuances that a piece has and possibly make corrections if a tab doesn’t sound quite right to your ears.
Overall, it can be an excellent starting point when learning a new song. It’s also possible that you might not need to do additional work either if you’re fortunate enough to find a great tab, which will naturally speed up the process.
2. You’ll Learn A Bit About Music Notation
Gone are the days of the old-school tabs that consist of only lines and numbers; modern tabs like the ones that you can read on software or applications like Guitar Pro and Songsterr include rhythmic notation!
Those old tabs from way back in the day that didn’t have any rhythm on them were too ambiguous looking, and it didn’t tell the reader anything about how it was supposed to sound. Adding the rhythmic notation to tabs was truly a game changer in that it made it much more organized and easier to read.
Suppose you depend exclusively on your ear to learn music. In that case, there’s a chance that you won’t understand the terminology related to rhythm, like time signatures and rhythmic values (i.e., 8th and 16th notes), which is an important skill to become familiar with if you’re playing with other musicians. It’s a crucial part of the language of music!
Therefore, I believe that reading modern tabs is an excellent way to get exposed to rhythmic notation for the first time if you haven’t already. Of course, tabs themselves are a type of musical notation in their own right, so learning how it works is a skill in itself too, but the rhythm is universal, which is why I place so much emphasis on studying and practicing it.
3. It’s Another Way To Visualize The Fretboard
The guitar is full of shapes and patterns that repeat themselves across the fingerboard, and learning how to read tablature can give you another opportunity to learn how to visualize and make sense of them.
Being able to visualize the fretboard is an essential skill for guitarists because it allows you to quickly find chords, melodies, and lead patterns without having to think too much about where your fingers need to go.
The point of tabs is to show you the fingers you need to use on the strings you’re playing, so by seeing the numbers, which correspond to frets, you can act quickly by seeing the following numbers coming up. For many people, it can be significantly easier to interpret a sequence of numbers and apply it to their fretboard rather than looking at a line and trying to figure out what the note is, which is what sight-reading sheet music entails.
However, like sight-reading sheet music, reading tabs can be a skill that takes time to develop, but I promise it’ll be worth it! Most people catch onto it quicker because it is intuitive and beginner-friendly.
4. You’ll Have An Easier Time Transcribing Songs
If you think about it, tablatures are just another person’s transcription – someone else attempted to learn a song by ear, tabbed it out, and shared it with the world.
But, of course, whether or not it’s accurate is a different story. With that said, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with tablature itself; people’s poor experiences with it are usually the result of someone else’s inaccurate listening and poor transcribing skills.
If you already have experience learning songs by ear, understanding how tabs work can help improve your transcription skills by writing down what you hear. At first glance, you might not find transcribing music important for personal use, but it is just another way to train your ear and reinforce what you’re learning.
Who knows, if you get good at transcribing, you can pay it forward by providing accurate guitar tabs to the world. Everyone who uses tabs appreciates them! Also, transcription jobs are a thing – if you have the skills to accurately transcribe music, whether it’s through standard notation or tablature, you could get paid for your work some day.
5. It’s An Easy Method of Notating Your Own Music
It’s also worth noting that while tabbing is most often used to write out and learn other people’s music, it can be advantageous to tab out your songs or other musical ideas. The primary reason is that you can easily pass that information to other musicians, like your bandmates.
If you have the ability to reference the material you tabbed out, it can save you and your members a lot of time trying to convey how a guitar riff or bassline is supposed to go so they can learn it themselves or add their own parts to yours.
Not only that, but popular tools like Guitar Pro also make it easy to write out your ideas and play them back to you, so you don’t have to record them or commit them to memory. You can quickly find out what does and doesn’t work and make edits on the fly.
It’s possible you might get writer’s block at the moment too, and having your song’s progress tabbed out so far will make it easier to return to it without skipping a beat.
All in all, guitar tabs are just another type of written music, just like standard notation and chord diagrams, and I think guitar tablature is a great way to learn songs faster and work on some very specific skills like your understanding of rhythm and transcribing.
Therefore, I wouldn’t discredit its benefits based on other people’s opinions and experiences with tablature, and I suggest you give it a chance. As I mentioned before, when combined with a good ear, you can get the most out of guitar tabs and make them work for you. A ton of professional guitarists use them, so they definitely have their merits, and hopefully, this article has helped you realize that too.
Also, if you’re new to guitar and just learning about tabs, I also highly recommend starting learning some music theory too! It can help you learn the guitar faster by teaching you about topics such as chords and scales and how to use them. It can even assist you with writing your own music. I have another guide where I recommend some excellent books on music theory for guitarists and also explain further why having this musical knowledge can only benefit you.