Arranging 7

To TAB or not to TAB

Tablature is an ancient system of notation for fretted string instruments where horizontal lines represent the strings and numbers placed on these lines represent the chosen fret. Many guitar teachers use only TAB viewing notation as a disincentive. The problem here is that non-readers (of notation) can communicate only with other guitarists. Many teachers use notation exclusively, regarding TAB as a form of cheating. My view…..

……is that it has its place. All pupils are introduced to notation from the outset and it is a natural thing for them. I always write everything in notation and sometimes provide TAB as an alternative:

  • to assist in learning scales for exams (as opposed to learning them to help understand harmony)
  • to speed up the learning of a passage where notes associated with one string have been relocated to another. This is often done for the sake of improved sound quality e.g. so that vibrato can be added to a long note which might normally be taken on an open string (not pressed)
  • In a situation where the pupils have enough on their plate e.g. a group  piece with tricky ensemble skills; frequent changes of position etc.

The score writing program I favour, Sibelius, can automatically paste notation into TAB. As it has no way of knowing which string you plan to use, it defaults to the lowest fret number. However, by clicking on the note and using the cursor keys, a rapid adjustment can be made. It can even deal with alternative tunings – once prompted.