Tablature or standard notation – What is best for guitarists

By December 15, 2021 No Comments

by Janus Buch


As a professional guitar teacher I’ve dealt with this question a lot of times. Is It better to learn standard notation or should one just learn from tabs? This article will talk about the pro’s and cons of the different approaches and hopefully give you some perspective and what path you should take. Ultimately there is no “on solution fits all” The most important thing to consider is this: What do you ultimately wanna achieve on your guitar.?

You can definitely be a great guitarist without the ability to read standard notation, but there are a lot of cases where you need it. It’s not something that is needed if you are simply a hobby guitarist, but before swearing it off you need to be absolutely clear about what your ambitions are on the guitar.

Tabs are easy – maybe to0 easy

Tabs are extremely easy to understand and read, which is great because it allows a lot of people to simply go online, find some tabs and start learning to play the guitar. This is awesome, but this accessibility to the guitar also comes with with some potential pitfalls. One of these major pitfalls is not training your ear. When you simply train yourself through the use of tablature you only train yourself visually. In other words a melody on guitar is reduced a number sequence and you as the player are basically only taking dictation. Those are really hard to remember and it does not develop you as a musician. You CAN develop musicianship through tablature, but most people simply end up like musical parrots.

Standard notation is the language of musicians

The melody goes like this; third fret, fourth fret to sixth fret, then two times the fourth fret before you end up on the third fret again. This was said by no piano-, sax- or violin player ever. Nobody communicates in fret numbers besides guitarists (and maybe bas players). So if you have any desire to be able to play or communicate with other musicians than guitarists, you need to learn standard notation.

Standard notation is the common language between all instruments, not only guitar. So if you ever intend to play with other musicians and you want to be able to communicate with them in a common language, standard notation will be that language.

Not being able to communicate with other musicians will also often lead to you not feeling like at “real” musician. When they are talking among each other and you can’t participate because all you have been doing is to play numbers on a piece of paper, you’ll wish you simply learned it from the get-go.

About the author

Janus Buch is the head teacher and founder of Bredballe Guitarskole in Denmark. Bredballe Guitarskole is located near Horsens and we offer a wide verity of programs to take your guitar playing to the next level. A lot of guitar players find them selves stuck in a rut when it comes to their progress. Even though they do practice and spend a lot of time on youtube lessons, they don’t feel like they are getting anywhere. If this sounds like you, we are able to help you. If you are native to the area, seek you Bredballe Guitarskole for the best value for money guitar lessons near Horsens.