Alex Stanton by Alex Stanton  February 11, 2013 

To Tab or Not to Tab

If you read the About section, you may recall my experience the night I discovered the guitar, let me flesh out the scene a bit more:  The guitar was an travel size Ovation (not a recommended axe for a beginner) that had been sitting in the corner of my room in its box for 4 months, I think I was initially turned off by the wooden leaves on the top. This was a period of my life in which I was spending a great amount of time on the computer, mostly downloading songs off of Napster and listening to those while downloading more.  Naturally when I finally had the inkling to grab the guitar my first move was not to go buy a book of sheet music, or look up a teacher and sign up for lessons, it was to hit the web.

Like most beginner players, I started with no aspirations of becoming a great (or even competent) guitarist.  I had one goal and one goal only: to play Walking Contradiction from my second favorite Green Day album Insomniac.  Had it meant that I had to spend weeks learning open chord shapes and C Major scale patterns, none of which were in the song, I would have certainly stopped there.  But as it was on this fateful night, I discovered Tablature.

It seemed too good to be true, a notation system that took thirty seconds to learn?  I couldn’t believe my eyes, or my ears as I quickly plunked out the bass line of the song I thought I would be months from recreating.  That tiny amount of instant gratification lead to an almost instant obsession, Napster hummed along in the background downloading songs for me to recreate on the guitar.  It was a new day, everything was free and anything was possible.

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About 3 Months later I was in a band, taking regular guitar lessons, and soaking up everything about the guitar I possibly could.  I was also still learning songs from tab, although I had graduated from the simplest bass lines to more complex pieces of music, taking on ridiculous challenges like Classical Gas and the Freebird solo.

When I went back later on to learn to read music on the guitar I found it quite satisfying.  The level of detail that can be conveyed on paper is amazing, and makes Tablature look like what is: a mere chart of where to put your fingers.  The skills one gains from reading and understanding sheet music are invaluable, and you don’t get them from reading Tabs.  However, it takes a level of patience that only the most exuberant beginner can put forth.  I for one, would have never gotten there without my good friend, the tab.

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