There are three major ways to write guitar music, sheet music, tabs, and chords. Most guitarists can read tabs and chords too. However, what about professional musicians? What do they use? Do professional guitarists use tabs?
Professional guitarists usually do not really use tabs for many reasons. They generally can sight-read sheet music. Many also play by ear, improvising based on the music’s chord progression. Tabs are also limiting in many ways.
In this article, we explore the topic of professional guitarists use tabs and how they use them. We also discuss if you should learn tabs yourself.
Why Do Professional Guitarists Not Use Tabs?
Professional guitarists generally do not use tabs because they do not need them. Tabs are also limited in what they can notate, which means they cannot write down all aspects of the music they want. Finally, professionals generally rely on sight reading, or playing by ear, based on chords.
Tabs are a system of notating music popular with casual guitarists and keyboard instrument players. The system uses a series of numbers written on top of 6 individual strings for guitars.
The numbers represent the fret, while the lines represent the string. For example, if there is a number 4 on the top line, you play the low E string on the 4th fret.
Tabs may be excellent for casual and beginner guitar players since it simplifies the reading process. However, they are not popular with professional musicians. This is because:
They Do Not Really Need Tabs
Guitar tabs are generally used by casual guitarists or keyboard-instrument players, as it is a simpler notation system. In most cases, casual musicians do not have formal training, which means they may be unable to read sheet music or full-on music theory.
Most professional musicians either have formal training as children or learn to read sheet music later in life as professionals. Most guitarists also take the same journey.
Those who cannot read sheet music may rely on playing by ear. These players are blessed in that they can freestyle a guitar solo out of nothing by a series of chord progressions.
As a result, professional guitarists often do not need tabs since they can either read sheet music or are capable of playing by ear.
They Find Tabs Limiting
Tablature is a simplified notation system for guitars and keyboard instruments. It helps those who cannot read sheet music to at least play from a piece of paper.
However, tabs achieve this by keeping things simple, too simple, in fact. As a result, Tabs may be unable to note finer notes in playing, such as expression, articulation, and dynamics.
Tabs also can be quite limiting for guitarists in that it dictates the exact location to play the note. This may be helpful for casual players, but professionals often know where is the more suitable or comfortable position to play a note.
Sheet music, in return, does not dictate the string position to play. Instead, it gives out a note, allowing guitarists to play it at a suitable string position.
As a result, professional guitarists may find tabs limiting in many ways and choose not to use them.
They Do Not Really See Tabs Much
Professional guitarists also do not really use tabs, as they rarely see them in their daily practice.
Professional guitarists often play in a band or are individuals invited to play in sessions. When they sit down and play with other instruments, they usually see one of the following:
Modified Notation Sheets: These are basically notation sheets but modified for guitars. These usually have the melody, words, and chords for the guitarist to look at. You may see this in guitar or piano books at your local music store.
The guitarist uses the chords as a guide to play rhythm or improvise a solo. The melody and lyrics help him to play in sync with other instruments and the vocalist.
Chord Sheet: The chord sheet is the usual note you see online. They contain the lyrics, chords, and melody. Some may add in things such as time signature or dynamics.
A chord sheet helps a professional guitarist to learn the chord progression of the song and develop a way to play the rhythm to suit the song. They could also use the chord progression to improvise solos.
Complete Score: If the professional guitarist plays with an orchestral band or is a classical guitarist, they may be given a complete score.
These could be an individual score for the guitar or a combined score where the guitarist can see what other instruments play.
Often the professional guitarist is expected to be able to sight-read and play the sheet immediately. However, they are also allowed time to practice so that they can play better.
How Do Professional Guitarists Use Tabs?
Professional guitarists may use tabs when writing down what they play. Some may also use tabs as a way to practice new songs. Some also use tabs to refresh songs and solos that they have not played for a long time.
Professional guitarists may not really use tabs in their professional work. But that does not mean they do not read or use tabs in some other capacity.
Some professional guitarists use tabs to write down what they play, especially when crafting solos or other plays. This process helps them join parts and test play to ensure everything fits. They may also change the individual notes as they do this.
Many also use tabs as a way to practice new songs. This is especially after they have written down a complicated piece of solo. They can then look at the tab and use it to practice playing.
Finally, since they have written down what they play in tabs, they can come back and revisit it at a later date. Say the guitarist has not played the solo for long, and the memory has decayed. In this case, they can return, look at the tabs, and refresh their memory.
Should You Learn How To Read Tabs?
You should learn how to read tabs as a casual or beginning guitarist. This saves you time from learning how to read sheet music since it is simpler. You also get to play many popular songs in more accurate detail compared to just using chord notes.
Saves You Time From Having To Learn Music Theory
If you are an aspiring guitarist, one of the things you need to learn is how to read music. You can choose between reading chords and tabs or going all the way and picking up how to read sheet music.
Reading sheet music may not be something you can pick up on your own. You will often need hours of formal instruction to pick up the skill.
This may not be something you have, especially if you only plan to play guitar as a hobby.
Tabs are not too difficult to learn. You can pick up the skill to read tabs by watching YouTube tutorials in a few hours. You will save time and become more capable of reading and playing your guitar.
You Get To Play Songs More Accurately
Another thing about learning tabs is that it allows you to play songs more accurately. This is because tabs are a more detailed notation system; they are not as complicated as sheet music.
Tabs are detailed enough to note singular notes and effects such as hammer-on, slides, etc. This lets you learn how to play guitar solos from rock legends by looking and practicing at a tab.
This is something that simpler notation systems, such as chord notes, cannot compare to. Chords may tell you what chord to play but cannot notate singular notes. Chord notes also cannot notate effects such as slides or hammer-ons.
Tabs cannot match sheet music with accuracy. But for hobbyists or casual guitarists, it is usually good enough.
You Can Casually Jam With Other Musicians
When you can read tabs, you can jam with other musicians. This is because you will be able to work with them better.
Tabs are the cornerstone of guitar notation, particularly within the casual, hobby-playing circle. This means you can communicate with other players and play better if you read tabs.
You can also quickly note down your musical ideas. For example, suppose you spent hours crafting a great solo, and another friend wants to learn it. You can simply pass the tab to the friend instead of teaching it note by note.
You may also find playing along or jamming with other musicians easier. For example, your band is playing and has tabs written out on each instrument.
Suppose someone played the wrong note; everyone could return to their tabs and see if they are playing the music correctly.
Tabs Are Widely Available
Learning to read tabs lets you easily pick up many popular songs online. This is because many guitarists write down songs as tabs for others to learn from.
For example, suppose you are keen to learn how to play the solo of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ by Oasis. Rather than trying to figure out the notes one by one, you can simply go look for the tab and try to play along with the tab.