The debate continues! TAB is a touchy subject – some people love it, others despise it. When we use TAB are we doing players – especially newbies – a disservice or helping them learn the instrument more quickly? Can TAB and musical notation ever be reconciled?
Here’s Bill’s* advice about the good and the bad of TAB:
1. Teach both standard notation AND tablature – as you can see from this example: teaching TAB and notation side by side could give a beginning player a leg up! Your students won’t have to find the frets for the notes; TAB takes care of that.
By Hyacinth – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18772619
2. Tab is essential in alternate tunings – when alternative tunings go beyond DADGAD I start to lose track of my notes. TAB puts that issue to rest.
3. Tab is preferred for rock licks and solos – TAB comes complete with its own guitar-specific set symbols like h for Hammer On, /n for Tremolo Arm down, PM for Palm Muting and so much more.
4. Tab is a problem when there is no rhythmic notation (like online sites) – Ultimate Guitar may have 800,000 songs on it, but how useless are a bunch of TABs when you have never heard the song. Take a look at this version of Hey Jude. I would never tell someone who is unfamiliar with the Beatle to look at this TAB. Why? No rhythmic notation!
5. When tab and notes are presented together – it is not the best situation for teaching note reading as students will defer to the tab – You have to be diligent! Be sure that TAB doesn’t turn into a crutch. The scale example presented earlier can be an early tool; your students should be weened off of it.
6. Teachers have different approaches to teaching reading. Some use tab as a way to introduce note reading like in the FJH young guitar books. Even piano pedagogy starts this way.
7. Tab has a history that began in the Renaissance – it was not invented by metal heads to destroy traditional music.
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1492659
8. TAB has an advantage for playing in upper positions especially when one has not yet taught upper position reading, yet it is needed in the repertoire – when you’re first learning to play (and maybe for years afterwards) remembering the notes above the 5th fret may seem unattainable. Using TAB along side notation can help.
9. A disadvantage of tab is that one cannot make connections with note names and chords. For example seeing that a GBD outline a G chord – here’s that disadvantage again. People who are strictly on TAB are going to have a problem understanding triads if it’s not explicitly taught.
10. An advantage of TAB is that one can often see patterns in the fingering and execution of riffs and melody lines, which is a guitar-istic composing device – TAB is just another tool that makes guitar fun and exciting for players. It’s also – for better or worse – a great way to get your hands around a song quickly. TAB isn’t going anywhere, so embrace it!
*This article was derived from Bill Burke’s advice to TGW Attendees and embellished by the TGW Team (BTW – * in guitar TAB refers to Natural Harmonic).