For a lot of beginner guitarist we start out learning Tablature (or TAB for short) because it makes reading music a whole lot easier. Instead of learning a bunch of complicated music notations, we instead just read a few numbers. For those of you that don’t know what TAB is here is a quick explanation:
For guitar, TAB is written out as six horizontal lines going down in a straight row, one line for each guitar string. On those six lines there are numbers, the numbers represent which fret you should play on the guitar and on which string. If you see the number one on the top line then you know to play the first fret on the first string, if you see a five on the same line then you play the fifth fret, and so on.
This system makes playing the guitar so much easier because you don’t have to try to read the notes or try to figure out what the odd symbols mean for slurs, tempo, repeat signs, or try to figure out what D.S. al Coda means. Symbols for slides, bends, hammers-ons and pull-offs are also a lot easier to read with Tablature. Because TAB is so easy, a lot of guitarist will learn TAB, and only TAB. They see no reason why they should learn how to read Sheet music. So what exactly is the downside to not learning sheet music? Is there a downside?
Yes, there is a downside, and there are quite a lot of them!
I’ll give you a few guitar tips within this article to give you some ideas on why you should learn how to read sheet music.
- 1. Sheet music opens up more song possibilities
One of the biggest downsides is that if you don’t learn how to read sheet music you are limiting yourself on how many songs you can learn on your guitar. I found this out when I started learning how to play Classical guitar music. There were a lot of songs I wanted to learn how to play that was only written out as a score on sheet music instead of TAB, which forced me to either learn how to read sheet music, or not learn the song at all. I eventually went with the first choice out of frustration.
Here is how it all started for me- My sister and I both learned how to play the violin back when I was about eight years old. Those lessons helped get me started on reading and playing music. However, I eventually gave up the violin and several years later switched to the guitar, which then introduced me to tablature. In my eyes, Tab was more efficient and was way easier to read, so I completely stopped with sheet music because it was too complicated.
One day I asked to play a duet with my sister, I was on the guitar and she was on the violin. We were going to play Jean Sebastien Bach’s Minuet, however I found that my guitar TAB version wasn’t the same as her violin sheet music, my version was incomplete and cut off halfway through the song. She said she had an extra set of sheet music and gave it to me. This is when I first realized that I couldn’t read it, and therefore we couldn’t play the duet. After that day I started learning how to read both sheet music and TAB so that my sister and I could continue playing duets.
So to sum up the story, if you learn how to read sheet music, eventually you will be able to play any song that is presented to you, rather it be TAB or Sheet music.
- 2. Sheet music helps you to learn new songs while keeping the tempo
Learning a new song always takes a bit of time for you to memorize all the notes, but it is a lot harder to do with TAB. I’ll explain why.
With sheet music it helps you to keep track of time and tempo, that is what all those notes and symbols represent. Often times TAB music won’t include bar lines, tempo markers, slur lines, whole notes, or dotted notes, so you have absolutely no idea how fast or slow to play a song. If you have never heard a song before in your life, you would have no idea how the melody should be played; which brings me to my next story.
My brother also plays the guitar, and he asked me to play Anberlin’s feel good drag with him. He had no problem playing the TAB version because he listened to the song all the time, so he knew when to speed up, when to slow down, and when to pause in certain parts of the song, but I had never heard the song before (remember, I play classical), so I didn’t know how the song was supposed to be played. He handed me the TAB for the song and showed me which parts I should play, but I couldn’t get the tempo for it because the TAB had no tempo markers for how fast I should play or when I should hold for whole notes. All I got was fret numbers. So the moral of the story, learning to play a new song with TAB is almost impossible without listening to the song first.
Some artists will take the time to attempt to write out some form of TAB music theory for you to follow so that you can get the melody and tempo right for that song, but in the long run it is better if you learn Sheet music because it already has the tempo for you and will go across the board when learning all songs, not just one.
- 3. Sheet music opens up more job possibilities
So how does sheet music open up more job possibilities?
This one is simple: Just think how embarrassing it would be if you were a professional artist and you were asked to play a new song but you couldn’t read the sheet music. Or if you were asked to make some adjustments to a song but you didn’t know how to write music. Learning how to read and write music will open up a lot of job opportunities for you in case you ever wanted to make a career in music, rather it be writing it, teaching it, or performing on stage. Nashville is known for their musical artists and if you want to be among the greats you will need to learn how to read and write music; an artist that can read and write their own music will go a lot farther than one that can’t.
Another good thing about sheet music is that it has now pretty much become an international language of its own. If you learn how to read sheet music on a violin, you can also play it for the piano, guitar, or flute!
All sheet music is interchangeable with almost every instrument. This is how the artist (who was formerly known as) Prince, as well as the artist Nick Jonas are able to play so many different instruments, ranging from the guitar all the way to the piano.
Reading sheet music may seem complicated at first, but when you break it down it really isn’t that bad. You just need to take the time to learn it slowly so that it all sinks in. So, my advice is that if you are going to start with TAB, that is fine because it is easy and helps to get you started, but make sure to take the time out to also learn basic music theory as well because it will not only teach you how to read sheet music, but in the future you will also be able to write your own music as well.
Have a question? Want to make a comment? Post it in the comments section below and share your guitar tips.