So, you’ve just picked up your first guitar, and you’re eager to learn. A quick Google search will point you in the direction of thousands of online resources. Throughout your research, you soon see the same thing coming up over and over again: guitar tabs. Effectively, this is a style of written music that faciliates learning how to play the guitar and much popular guitar music. The ‘tabs’ represent the strings and frets on your guitar, basically showing you where to place your fingers to produce different notes. Alternatively, you have traditional sheet music to learn from – but which is better?
More specifically, are tabs a good way of learning the guitar? Here are some thoughts on the matter:
Tabs are good in the beginning
Tabs are popular because they’re easy to read and use. Almost anyone can pick up a guitar and play a few tunes by reading different tabs. For this reason, it’s a useful way to get to grips with a guitar. You start playing simple songs and memorising certain melodies. Most people are overwhelmed by sheet music and music theory if they’ve never seen either before. So, tabs are a smart way to make baby steps.
Tabs don’t really teach you how to play the guitar
You can play songs on the guitar by learning tabs, but they don’t really teach you how to play this instrument. Put it this way, you could memorise a White Stripes song by learning the tabs to it. But, you wouldn’t be able to go off and create your own tunes. Likewise, if someone told you to play a specific chord or scale, you’d look at them with a confused expression.
You must learn the theory behind guitars and how to create all the different chords. This forms the basis of your knowledge, and you will use it to learn different songs by looking at the proper music for them. You are also in a position to make your own music and create little riffs and tunes when you’re bored. Think about it this way, tabs are like English subtitles on a French film. When you use them, you understand what’s going on and can watch the film with no issues. Take the subtitles away, and you suddenly have no clue what’s happening.
Tabs don’t offer any transferable skills
Lastly, guitar tabs are only useful when playing specific songs on the guitar. By comparison, learning to play sheet music will let you understand much more about the songs. You can transfer this knowledge to help you play other instruments. Consider this, you get your hands on some famous classical music, maybe something like Moonlight Sonata sheet music. It’s a Beethoven classic, and you’ll have no clue how to play it if you don’t read sheet music. By learning how to play sheet music, you can pick up a piece of music intended for any instrument and play it on your guitar. Or you can use your knowledge of sheet music to transfer to a different instrument with more ease.
In summary, guitar tabs have their uses. They’ve good at easing you in and building some confidence. Still, if you want to learn the guitar and become an excellent player, you’re better off learning how to read music and understanding all the chords and scales.
Craig Smith is a professional Guitarist, Teacher, and Writer living in Sanford, Florida. Craig has taught guitar lessons, performed 200+ gigs per year for nearly 30 years, and published 4 guitar instructional books. When he’s not gigging or writing, you may find him by the pool with his wife Celeste, 4 Chihuahuas, and a drink. 🎸