Comparing Guitar Tablature and Music Notation

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Comparing Guitar Tablature and Music Notation

Guitar tablature (or tab) is very easy to learn. Tab uses a coordinate system where each fret and string combination mark a position on the neck. The easiness of learning tab allows for quicker learning of guitar.

The first problem with guitar tab is it does not have any way to indicate the length of time a note is to be played. Look at the example guitar tab below. You can instantly see where to play the notes but not for how long. Spacing is sometimes used to overcomes this-longer spaces between notes means hold the note longer. But this leads to the problem of determining if a space means to sustain the notes or rest between notes. All this confusion leads to each guitar player interpreting the tab differently.

Example of guitar tablature

Another draw back of guitar tab is other instruments can not use it directly. The above tab example is useless to a piano player, for example. The piano player would have to find the note on the guitar the tab refers to then find the same note on the piano.

Guitar tab also lacks a method of conveying what key the music is written in. The tab example above is in C major but that is not immediately apparent.

Music notation overcomes all of guitar tab's short comings but with somewhat of a high price. Notation is much more difficult to learn than guitar tab. Guitar tab doesn't care if you know what note is at the third string second fret. You only need to know how to put your finger there. Notation, on the other hand, records notes, not precise neck positions. This requires you to know the locations of all the notes on the guitar neck. For example, guitar tab tells you the specific location to play a note (third string, second fret). Music notation gives you a note, an E note for example, and a specific pitch and time the note is to be played. It is up to you to know where that note is on your instrument.

The pros of notation are not limited to a single instrument. The sheet music can be played on any instrument, even if not in the same pitch range.

Example of guitar sheet music

Most instruments, such as horns and piano, have only one of each note. The guitar, on the other hand has multiple 'copies' of a note. This can make it difficult to know exactly which 'copy' to play. To solve this problem, notation for guitar includes neck position symbols to specify where on the neck the note or phrase is to be played.

This site uses both standard music notation and guitar tab. You are strongly encouraged to learn both.

Guitar tablature and sheet music together

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