Guitar Tab Vs Standard Notation (Sheet Music)

“How do you get a guitar player to play more quietly...?”

“You put some sheet music in-front of them.”

This is an unfortunate joke given to us guitar players from most other musicians, it is commonly known that most guitar players aren’t too good at reading music when compared to other musicians.

There are a number of different reasons for this but the main one is because guitar players have another way of reading music available to us, this is called Tab.


Tab is really helpful at showing us where to find notes on the guitar, the lines show us which string, and the numbers show which fret to play, the order of the numbers relates to the order in which we play the notes. However, a major downside of Tab is that it doesn’t allow us to identify which notes we are playing, or how long to play them for.

Standard Notation shows us which notes to play, how long to play them for and also when to take a rest, as well as other helpful information, such as how loud or quiet to play the note.

However in order to be able to effectively read and play notation we need to be able to memorise the location of the notes and on a guitar, unlike a piano there are multiple locations in which the same note can be found. This can seem confusing to a beginner at first, so in order to make this easier it is common to start by learning to play using just one location known as open or first position.

For us guitar players it can be a great idea to learn both ways of reading music as they both compliment each other!


Learning both ways can help us to communicate with people who play different instruments and also learn new songs a lot faster! If you also decided to try and learn another instrument in the future, you’d already know how to read music, making it a lot easier to learn.


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