This blog will be part of a series. I am very passionate about the art of music education and I think if I drop all of my thoughts on the subject now it may be a bit overwhelming. This series will focus mainly on guitar education, but many of the same principles apply to other instruments. So, I shall break this series into a few parts. Part One is titled Guitar Tablature Vs. Standard Notation OR What kind of musician will you be?
Guitar tablature is a simplified way to write out music for guitarists. If you've never seen guitar tab before here is an example of Crazy Train written out as guitar tab. It is amazingly beneficial for complicated lead parts, scale patterns, and riffs. Standard notation refers to the treble clef staff that is common to musicians of all instrumentation. Here is an example of Crazy Train written in standard notation. These are often presented as though they are in opposition to each other. As though, as a guitarist, you must choose one or the other. Each side looks down on the other side. I'm not here for sides. I want to look at the benefits and faults of each system, in a concise manner.
Guitar tablature is great if you are familiar with a song. If you have never heard the song before, guitar tablature is utterly worthless. This was common during my first few years of teaching (before youtube on the iPhone!). A student would bring in guitar tab for a song I had never heard and want me to teach him how to play it. Impossible. Guitar tab is simply a series of notes with no rhythm attached. Which leads me to the first of two main problems with guitar tablature: There is no rhythm given to the note. In standard notation every note tells you two things: the pitch of the note (E, G, F#, High or Low, etc) and the duration of the note (long note, short note, quarter note, dotted eighth note, etc).
The other fault with guitar tablature as a system of learning is that the fundamentals of music are never taught or addressed. If you never learn the notes on the guitar (my assumption if you focus solely on tablature and disregard standard notation and music theory) then you won't know how to move guitar riffs or chords to different locations on the guitar or understand what you are playing outside of what you have been spoonfed through tab or youtube. Since it seems like most guitar tabs online are tabbed by 17 year old kids (another huge fault with guitar tab: no standards for publication online), I often find mistakes. Technically the notes will often be correct, but there are usually much easier ways to play particularly passages in a song. Without some basic knowledge of music theory (or a decent teacher) you are simply stuck with whatever tab you have in front of you and have to assume that this is the only way to play the song. Knowing what notes you are playing and where to find other similar notes on the guitar is a huge benefit for guitarists. More on this later.
I'll close with this thought. Ultimately it comes down to what type of musician you want to be. If you are content to sit in your bedroom and just want to play a few of your favorite songs then guitar tablature and youtube are an invaluable resource to you! I don't want to make light of the previous statement. Not everyone desires to be a great guitarist and many are happy to simply pick up the guitar every now and then and play a few familiar tunes. This is great! But, most guitarists want more. You have rock star dreams. If you want to be able to play with other musicians, and understand what and why you play what you play then you need to learn the fundamentals of music theory and standard notation. The fundamentals of music theory can be learned in an afternoon and built upon with a small amount of dedication. You simply have to be realistic with your goals (what kind of musician are you?) and make sure that your learning style matches it.
Part 2 will focus on the benefits that come with reading standard notation and understanding the basic fundamentals of music.