Beginner’s Guide to Guitar Tabs [What You Should Know]

Almost all of us who start learning guitar encounter Guitar Tabs.

The Cheat code that you get from your buddy or search on the internet, helps you to learn songs quickly and easy way, Guitar Tabs become a good friend for newbies and in some cases, old guitarists as well.


You think that nothing is better than those “Guitar Tabs”,

and of course,

  • They help you learn those songs that you love but could have never figured out on your own.
  • You can play songs from start to end without hassle.
  • Get the attention of your grinds and family.

Cool, Right?

But could you really play guitar? Ask, yourself. Imagine a stranger comes and asks you the same question what will you answer him?

Guitar Tabs don’t make you perfect. Its the fact.

But they help in the process of learning.

Sure, you might play some popular songs perfectly (almost), but if someone asks you to play something different, You are stuck.

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That could be a pretty embarrassing situation, huh?

Even, if you keep going with the tabs day by day and become more and more dependent on them. Here comes the goal of this post.

Here are the highlights.

  • Understanding the Guitar Tabs.
  • When you should be using them?
  • The Myth of Guitar Tabs is that “they make you perfect”.
  • When should you stop using Guitar Tabs, and why?

Read also,

First off,

What Are Guitar Tabs?

Guitar Tabs are easy to learn the songs and exercises on the guitar where numbers are used to indicate the notes, chords, and harmonics, placed on six horizontal lines shapes called tabs.

Unlike the standard notation system, Tabs are easy to read. In the Guitar tablature system, numbers and lines are used to represent notes on the guitar fretboard.

It’s very different from the traditional staff or clef notation system. In Guitar Tabs, numbers are placed on six horizontal lines that represent the six strings of a guitar, with the numbers indicating which fret to play.

When you see two or more numbers stacked one upon other that means it’s instruction to play more than one note simultaneously. So, as compared to the traditional notation system, it’s very easy to play chords with the help of Guitar Tabs.

How to Read Guitar Tabs?

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Reading Guitar Tabs is actually not as tough as you think. As you know, guitars have six strings which are when played in special combinations on frets, what we get to listen to are “chords”. We also play songs on guitar by pressing individual strings at certain time intervals.

Guitar Tabs have six horizontal lines where the topmost line represents the upper string on the guitar and so on. The numbering system guides us about the finger placement on the frets.

When you see the numbers one upon another at the same place, that means it’s an instruction to play the notes simultaneously to create chords and harmonies. On the other hand, if the tab has individual numbers one after another that means it’s the instruction to play single notes ie; or songs.

That’s it.

Understanding guitar tabs and playing through them is fairly an easy task but it has some drawbacks in long run.

Such as,

  • You will become dependent on Guitar Tabs.
  • Using Tabs it seems that you are a perfect guitar player but actually you are using a tool and without that tool, you will become helpless.


So, when do you need this tool in your hand?

When You Should be Using Guitar Tabs?

The answer is simple.

We need tools when we are newcomers. Once we master ourselves in that particular field we don’t need them anymore. In guitar learning, the same rule is applied.

When you are a newbie guitar player, you face problems in catching up with songs and their chords. That’s not just your problem but quite common among guitar learners. In this condition, you need a “tool like guitar tabs” to catch the songs, chords, and harmonies.

Just like,

A baby who want to walk but “can’t” is been provided with a walker

But with time he is able to walk without any support and then there is no need to provide the walker to the baby.


The Myth Behind Tabs: Overgrowing Skill

The problem begins when you become dependent on this tool. It would be the worst condition for a guitar learner when he will become dependent on a tool like Guitar Tabs.

Because they think that it’s an awesome tool helping them to learn guitar quickly but it’s not.

I’m not saying that using guitar chords is a bad thing. But, you need to think it like a baby walker. When you feel that you can be able to play songs without tablature it means it’s time to remove the tabs from your practice schedule.

And many guitar learners become confused in this stage. They feel that tabs are helping them overgrowing in guitar playing. They think that practicing with tabs makes them perfect.

But actually, that’s not the case.


Are You Addicted to Guitar Tabs?

You are getting addicted to guitar tabs. Just like a baby who s forced by his parents to leave the walker but he wants to stick with it.


Well, in the case of babies their parents help them to leave the addiction to a walker, but in your case, nobody can tell you when you should remove guitar tabs from the practicing schedule.

It’s only you who can decide if you are ready to leave tabs or not. But detecting the crossline is not easy. Many new guitar learners are unable to find out the best time to leave their addiction to guitar tabs.

Believe me or not, using tabs is just like addiction to drugs. And it will affect your whole guitar-playing skill.

So, as soon as you realize that you are no more need of them, try to remove them from your practice.

There are certain reasons why I’m convincing you to leave guitar tabs at the end.


Tabs are Holding You Back

Tabs actually don’t help you master guitar. You think that continuously practicing guitar with tabs makes you perfect but it’s not true. Guitar Tabs are just a tool. They help you just in playing songs, chords, and harmonies by seeing the tablature.


The whole procedure of mastering any instrument depends on only three skills.

  • Pitch Perception
  • Memory
  • Improvisation

Without these three skills, nobody can be able to play songs and chords on his own. Let me explain these three skills in detail and the harm regarding them when using guitar tabs as well.

1. Pitch Perception

This is the single most important skill in music. Good pitch perception is the base of mastering any instrument. And with guitar tabs, this skill never really develops.

Actually, our brain is too lazy in absorbing new information. It’s human nature that when we are provided with easy options we don’t want to go through the long process.

Hence when we practice hours and hours with some tools like guitar tabs, our mind thinks that there is no need to observe the pitch perception of a song or a riff as it is easily available in the form of guitar tabs.


Now think, when you are practicing to catch a song or a riff or just a base chord of a song without any written document, What happens?

You become more prominent in recognizing different scales. Your mind wakes up and begins to work on your pitch perception and tell you about the right and wrong notes.

And with continuous practice, that time comes, when you become a master in guitar.

2. Memory

The second skill you develop by throwing guitar tabs away is better memory.

In your daily work how much you memorize doesn’t really matter when you are playing a song while staring at chord charts and notations. The whole practice will become helpless when in the middle of the song someone takes that tab paper away from you.

It’s just a cheat paper that guides you in playing guitar. You can’t stand even 10 seconds off when someone takes the guitar tab paper away from you.

Because you didn’t memorize the song in your own mind.

But when you practice a song without a guitar tab and commit yourself that you will learn songs entirely by memory. The magic happens and you are getting to memorize the song quickly with every passing practice schedule.

And it helps you master the guitar.

3. Improvisation

When you start practicing without any guitar tabs and notations, I bet from the first day you will notice the improvement in certain things such as,

  • using the different types of effects
  • Familiar with changed tempo
  • feel free to combine leads and rhythm etc..

Your mind will begin to observe,

  • How things sound in recording vs real life.
  • The strumming techniques.
  • How to improve the timing
  • And many more things.

And the last word I want to tell you is that,

If Tab Writers Can Do it…You Can Also Do?

Whether you grab the tabs from the internet or from your buddy, have you ever wondered where these tabs came from?

The fact is it’s not an automatic process. There are people behind making tabs called tab writers. That means those people sit down and listen to the songs carefully while trying to duplicate them.

And write them on tabs to share with the world.


Then the question is if they can do it…why not you can do it?

Obviously, you can do it too. You just need to throw away your tab book and listen to the song carefully, observing the pitch perception in your mind while finding the scales on the guitar fret.

By mastering this skill you will be able to say your friends that you are a complete guitarist.

That’s it.

However, if you are struggling with learning guitar, here is a course that I always recommend to my readers.

Try this course and you will wonder how fast you are improving your guitar skills.

Read also,

Share this article on your social circle if you like it and let me know your thoughts about this article by leaving a comment below.

Gautam Roy is a recording engineer and a blogger from India. He loves music, writing, and travelling. He is also an active investor and a successful entrepreneur.

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