Just about everyone that plays guitar in the modern era and has sought to learn something, or turned to the internet to get their musical fix, has come across guitar tabs. Nearly everyone who has encountered this internet phenomenon has probably been frustrated with the vast variation in quality that this format provides.
What Are Tabs?
Tablature, or 'tabs' for short, is a very straightforward and basic way of writing out guitar music. Basically it consists of six lines each representing a string on the guitar, and numbers representing the fret number of what is supposed to be played. The lowest line in the group of six is the lowest sounding string, and the highest in the group is the highest sounding. One simply reads them from left to right, like words on a page, and plays them in that order.
What is needed to make tabs?
On a computer, all that is needed is a simple word processing program like wordpad or notepad, and a little bit of familiarity with the program in order to place the notes where they need to be. Need an example? Just google your favorite song and append 'tabs' to the end of the query.
Pluses and Minuses
There are pros and cons for guitar tabs. In the most common formats, it's pretty hard to know by looking at the paper what the song is going to sound like if you haven't heard the song before. So in most cases you should have a recording of the song handy so you can follow along and play it like you hear it.
The other drawback with guitar tabs is that there is hardly any sort of regulations or checks and balances to filter out inaccurate tabs. Anybody can publish a guitar tab. So it's critical that you have some sort of experience with guitar in order to know what is worth paying attention to and what isn't.
On the other hand, since it's so easy to publish a tab on the internet, they can also be available much quicker than alternatives like published materials (books, magazines). Did your favorite band just release a new album? Chances are you can probably already find tabs for their songs online.
Published Materials (Books & Magazines)
Conversely, there are many more filters and checks and balances in the publishing industry to make sure that the transcriptions you're getting are accurate and educational. Think about it: If you are a major publisher, you have a reputation to uphold and it is in your best interest to make sure that your publications are accurate, thorough, and complete. Often times many of the transcribers have a wealth of education, experience, and insight into playing that allows them to make well educated decisions in the transcription process.
Most publications also provide rhythm notation with the tablature as well. This is good because if you know how to read music, rhythm notation will give you a good idea, if not exact, of how the music will sound. Even if you haven't heard the music before.
The Bottom Line
I know how to read music, but my personal favorite notation to teach with is tablature with rhythm stems attached to it-- it's most accessible and also has the most information in the format. One can tell what the song sounds like without hearing the recording, and it's presented in a straightforward way that is easy to learn.
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