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Tab vs. Standard Notation

by Larry

I’ve witnessed and participated in many “Tab Vs. Standard Notation” debates.  I’ve heard the “purists” call tab a “crutch” where you will never learn the piece completely without standard notation.  While the the other side will argue that tab opens a door to a ton of music to those who did not get formal training.   The arguments go on and on and there will never be a right or wrong answer.  All I can give you is my testimonial of sorts.

I’ve been working on a piece that I’ve toyed around with for years but was never really comfortable with it.  I learned the it using tab and a recording that came with the songbook.  At first glance, the piece appears to be easy learn but it has to be played at a fairly high tempo (200bpm) so frustration began to kick in.  No matter how much I practiced it never sounded or felt right.

So what did I do?  I decided to look at the standard notation part of the transcription and noticed something that the tab doesn’t show.  I was not separating the melody with the bass line completely.  In short, my index and middle were playing notes my thumb was supposed to be playing.  The result of this mistake was the melody was getting muddied up with notes that weren’t supposed to be there.  So I made my thumb do it’s job and the song began to fell better; there is now a clear separation between melody and the bass line.  Only problem is that I now have to re-learn a bit a of the song to un-learn some of the bad habits I developed.   A small price to pay to get it right.

What’s better? Tab or standard notation?  For me, it’s both.  I can learn a song much faster using tab but the musicality comes out using the standard notation.  The separation of voices, dynamics subtle nuances that only standard notation can provide.  Tab is ideal with the help of standard notation but if you can read music well, then there is no need for tab, theoretically.  So maybe the edge goes to standard but that takes nothing away from tab because I owe of ton of my repertoire to tab.

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1 comment

Diavd December 7, 2008 - 2:01 pm

Both are good…tabs give you a quick reference where to put your left hand. But the standard notation gives tempo and a hord of other details if you can read that then switch into the tab for the details of the notes you have the best of both worlds.


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