Should I learn to read guitar sheet music or tabs? What are
the advantages and disadvantages of each one of them?
Sheet music advantages:
• Standard notation is a graphic representation of the sound. You can see if the line is going up, down, or sideways (staying on the same note)
• Standard notation is self-contained. You can play a song you’ve never heard before, and come very close to what’s intended on the first try.
• Standard notation is the foundation for music theory. If you want to understand harmony, counterpoint, arranging, composition, orchestration, etc., you’ll need a foundation in standard notation.
• Because standard notation is a representation of sounds, rather than fingerings, you are free to experiment with position changes. And that leads to alternative phrasings.
Standard notation disadvantages:
• A fairly long learning curve. Figure a couple of years to be able to read in every key and position, and double that for chord reading in standard notation.
• A very short learning curve. You can learn the basics in 5 minutes.
• Unlike notes, numbers can be easily typed. That makes tablature prevalent online.
• Most online (and some off-line) tablature lacks any rhythm information. Because of this, you’ll need to know what a song sounds like before you can play it.
• Tablature gives you one way to play something. The E in the top space of the staff can be played in five places on most guitars, and in six places on some. Tablature shows you just one option, which limits your phrasing.
• Tablature makes no distinction between sharps and flats. This can hinder understanding music theory.
• Tablature is guitar specific. You won’t be able to write out a cool sax or keyboard riff and have those players understand it.
Because the learning curve of tabs is so short, you will always be able to pick up tablature. Because standard notation has many benefits that tab can’t rival, being able to read can be quite useful.