Monday, April 28, 2014

Tab vs. Notation, Part II – The Clarity of Tab

Last month I began my discussion of “Tab vs. Notation” by briefly outlining what the two notational systems offer. Furthermore, I delved into a brief history of tablature and the three types that are currently used. This month I wanted to continue the discussion by talking about the advantage tablature may have over notation when it comes to the guitar.  

During the 1980’s tablature saw a resurgence because of guitar magazine transcriptions, educational videos from top-notch players and “like the record” transcription books. Today tab is commonplace and in some cases is the preferred method for communicating “guitar music.” Moreover, it has become an extremely useful tool for young players and hobbyists to learn from as many inexperienced players cannot read music well; if at all.

Learning to play from tablature is easier than using standard notation because it clearly identifies the strings and frets to play - in some sense it is like “paint by numbers” for guitarists. This is not a bad thing, but keep in mind it was specifically intended to communicate the music of fretted string instruments.

Standard notation on the other hand was not meant for any one instrument, but rather as a way to convey music for all instruments. Since it is not instrument specific standard notation requires guitarists to take extra steps in order to “interpret” the music. Whereas, the player must: (1) Identify the note(s) to be played. (2) Decide what position to play the note(s) in - the tonal quality will vary depending on the strings employed. (3) Determine the appropriate fingering. The example below takes a simple C/G triad and demonstrates *only four* of the numerous fingering choices a player can make.

Obviously, tablature has an advantage over standard notation when it comes to the guitar – it is a clearer and more concise system of notation for our given instrument. However, there are some pitfalls to being a “strictly tab” kind of player/teacher and I’ll discuss this more next month.