Sheet Music Or Tablature ? Which Is Best?

This is a question that is hotly contested among players of all levels. Some say that to play the guitar, you have to only read sheet music. Others say that to play the guitar, you can use only tablature. So which is best to learn and why? Let's take a look at each one, and then you can decide for yourself.

Sheet music

Sheet music is the most comprehensive way to learn to play a SONG on the guitar or any instrument for that matter. This is because of the completeness of the piece of music. By that, I mean that all the features of the song are represented on the notation. Things like:

1. Note duration. Quarter (1 beat), half (2 beats) and whole notes (4 beats) are visually identifiable. The same with rests.

2. Key signature.

3. Timing. At the beginning of each line, there is a number that looks like a fraction. This is the time signature. The top number tells how many beats per measure, the bottom tells what type of note gets one (1) beat. So a signature of 3 / 4 means "three beats per measure and a quarter note gets a beat".

4. Slurs or ties. These are just curved lines connecting two notes. If the notes are the same tone, it is called a "tie". If the notes are different tones, it is called a "slur".

5. Dynamics. These are represented by words like "crescendo", "decrescendo", "fortissimo" or "bravissimo". There are many more, so these are only an example.

Sheet music has 5 horizontal lines and 4 horizontal spaces. From the bottom up, the lines are called E, G, B, D, F. The spaces are called F, A, C, E.


Another type of sheet notation called tablature or just "Tab". These are easy to learn and can be helpful to many beginners. The only shortfall of tab is that it only tells where the note or chord is played on the guitar neck. Unlike sheet music, tab has 6 lines that each represents a string on the guitar. Numbers are placed on the lines to tell what position to play the note.

So there is no timing, dynamics or duration information by looking solely at a piece of tablature. The best way to use tab is to listen to the song, see how it sounds and follow along with the tab in front of you. That way, you could pick up the song and play it eventually, though you will have no idea of why.

My suggestion is to use both of these in conjunction. Lots of songs will have the music notation on top with the tab below, like a grand staff. This is a very helpful, powerful way to learn any song or technique. You have the actual staff notation AND the position on the guitar where it is played. By combining the two together, you are learning how and where at the same time.

This is one of the most powerful ways to learn to play the guitar. Of course, you will need further instruction, so please do not think you just go get a tab book and be a rock star. Fame and fortune will happen later?.