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To Tab or Not to Tab - Music Notation vs. Tablature

 The traditional form of music notation has been around for a long time. It has been refined to the point where every nuance of the musical composition can be conveyed to the musician through the use of a myriad of different notation or symbols. These symbols tell the musician the rhythm, (time signature), the pitch, (key signature), when to play soft or loud, (piano,forte), where to slow down or speed up, (note duration), how long to hold each note or how long to hold each silence, (rest), and how fast or slow the music should be played, (tempo). In essence, everything the musician needs to know to perform the piece exactly as the composer intended is given in the traditional transcript of the composition. The amount of information supplied by the music notation allows the musicians to play the music without ever having heard the original song.

  In order to make use of the information given by traditional notation, the musician must take the time to learn the "language" of music , in much the same way that one would learn the language of a country they planned to visit. The language of music is certainly not a requirement for playing music, as playing music is more an emotional concept that is only limited by the musicians "familiarity, or unfamiliarity" with his/her instrument of choice. The advantages of learning the language is that your music can be readily conveyed to other musicians, (and vise versa), and of course the ability to converse knowledgeably with other musicians will be a definite plus in any scenario, whether it be a local jam session, or a studio environment. The only disadvantage of the traditional music notation is that it requires time, and effort to learn. An example of the traditional music notation is seen below:

Red Apple Rag

Red Apple Rag

 Tablature, on the other hand, is an easily understood form of written music that allows the beginning musician to quickly play a musical piece. This style of music notation is, however, almost exclusively confined to the stringed instruments, (though it can also be used for flute, piano, or harmonica). Tablature tells the musician what string to play and where to place their finger on that string to achieve the desired notes that are required to play the composition.  

 The representation of notes solely by string and finger position simplifies the determination by the musician for the proper, or most convenient, location on the fret board to play those notes. While the basic concept is extremely easy to understand and use, the problem lies in the fact that you really need to know what the music is supposed to sound like before you can play it correctly. The rhythm and timing of the music is not readily conveyed in tablature, nor are the minor nuances that the composer originally intended, so without hearing the song, the musician must rely more on his/her own interpretation. All things considered the use of tablature is a good way for the beginning musician to quickly build confidence by allowing them to easily learn new songs for their repertoire.

The Red Apple Rag in simple tablature form.
Tab

 There are also some more advanced forms of tab that will give a little more information to the guitarist by showing the timing of the notes, whether the note is a quarter note or an eighth note, etc. While this requires at least some knowledge of music theory, in regard to note timing, it make it easy to play music without having to learn the notation required to show the positions for the notes or chords on the fret board. The use of tablature is a good way to start playing that guitar "right out of the box", and will allow you to learn the music for your favorite songs quickly. The use of Traditional music notation, while requiring more effort and time, will allow you to learn and "understand" the music for those favorite songs. So while tablature is a good way to start playing and building confidence with your instrument, learning traditional notation and theory should be your ultimate goal. A better understanding of music will give a tremendous boost to your skills as a musician and composer.

The Red Apple Rag in a more informative version of tablature.

Advanced Tab

Typical Note Symbols in Advanced Tablature

Advanced Tab Symbols

 An important and obvious point that should be mentioned here is that the use of tablature is found abundantly on the internet, whether it is an entire composition or just a riff or two, and this abundance certainly makes it easy to learn that elusive little lead you've been trying to master, or that particularly difficult bass run. Tablature is a easy to understand tool for learning to play, and a convenient method of spreading the music around in a form that beginners, as well as seasoned musicians can use.  All things considered, the main objective in the end is to play your music and enjoy, so whether you use the traditional form of notation or the current forms of tablature, keep on makin' music!

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Origin Of Music | Psychology and Music | Pianos - Acoustic vs. Digital | To Compose Music , First Learn to Improvise | Guitar Buying Tips
Protecting Your Acoustic Guitar | To Tab or Not To Tab | Copyright Info | When The Music Dies | Good,Bad,Remarkable | Music Promotion
Requiem For The Songs

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