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Way to Go – Guitar Tablature?

Due to some recent circumstances I have felt the need to state my opinion concerning Guitar Tablature.


My position on the value of Guitar Tablature is negative. There are two main reasons for this:


1) Guitar Tab doesn’t exist in the real world. I’ve played thousands and thousands of gigs, thousands and thousands of recording sessions, and spent years studying the guitar on a very advanced level. Do you want to know how many times I’ve been asked to read a tab chart? ZERO! Guitar Tab only exists in the guitar sub-culture, which is very inbred. Guitarists listen only to other guitarists, they hang out and talk shop with other guitarists, they read a plethora of magazines dedicated to the guitar, they frequent websites, message boards, and forums that are guitar-specific, and have developed their own written language (Guitar Tab) that only other guitarists understand, thereby cutting themselves off from the whole world of music and musicians. They are unable to communicate intelligently about musical content with other musicians who aren’t guitar players. Way to go.


2) Guitar Tab does not reinforce knowledge of the instrument; it sabotages it. I deal with students all the time that can play the latest big deal from the latest guitar god that they learned from a tab chart in the latest issue of I’m a Guitar God Magazine or a tab posted on, which, by the way, is probably inaccurate. They think they know something but they don’t know where E-flat is on the 3rd string. THEY DON’T KNOW THE NECK! If you don’t know the neck, whatever it is that you’re playing, no matter how good, accurate or authentic it sounds, you are playing by rote like a trained monkey. You don’t know what you’re doing. Way to go.


Unfortunately, in pursuit of the almighty dollar, Guitar Tablature has become institutionalized. I have been informed by one of their current artists, that a certain major publisher of guitar method books will not publish a guitar book without it being tabbed out and that this has become standard practice across the board. In this the industry is reinforcing the ignorance of guitarists and guitar playing that permeates the current environment. Way to go.


Guitar lessons as given by private instructors is a completely unregulated industry. That’s one of the things I like about it. It’s a beautiful thing. But the flip side of that is that it’s a completely “consumer beware” - type situation. Anybody can be a guitar teacher who can get somebody to pay him or her to show that somebody what they know. So what you have is a multitude of  “guitar teachers” who are products of the tab system. Because they can sound good, accurate, and authentic, people think they know something. They might even think they know something. But they don’t really know and understand musical content and they don’t know their instrument. They play by rote, and they teach their students the same, thus perpetuating the fraud. Way to go.


The solution to all this is not ramming “note reading” down students throats. I can teach a student for a long time without reading music. I don’t even introduce the concept until Unit 4 of my method of 10 units. However, by the time the student gets to that point, they know the neck. They know where every note is on every string, or at least have a method of finding it. The knowledge of the instrument is the first and foremost thing – all else will follow.


So…I acknowledge the need for a tab system that can be used to show the student the latest whoop-di-doo song he wants to learn before he knows how to read music. This tab system needs to require and reinforce knowledge of the neck instead of sabotaging it. This is what I do:


First: I teach the student a method for finding every note everywhere on the neck. It’s not that big a deal and most students attain this ability in a matter of weeks, not months - usually 3 weeks. Then, I use the following tab system:


I use standard tab paper – six lines representing the six strings of the guitar. However, instead of writing fret numbers on the strings a la standard tab notation, I write letter names. Thus, instead of “4th string, 7th fret”, we have “4th string, A.” This reinforces the knowledge of the neck instead of sabotaging it. It also makes reading music 10 times easier if and when the student makes it to that point.


In the past, I have followed the path of least resistance and have used Guitar Tab in my teaching activities. I regret this and apologize. Due to several recent experiences that have reemphasized to me the counterproductive nature of using tab as a teaching tool, I will no longer be using standard guitar tab notation in my teaching activities. While I might take a hit in the short run (I have already lost a student because of it), ultimately it’s the best thing for me, because it’s the best thing for my students. I will have a higher ratio of students attain to a higher level of knowledge and playing because of it.


I have written a method book in use by teachers in 15 states. Tabbing this book out would completely defeat the purpose of the entire method. I cannot add tablature to it for the sake of a publishing deal and retain any integrity. So the method stands as is. The best way to go is the way that it is. Way to go.


Jay EuDaly
November, 2010


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