The tablature is a very old way of writing down the music for positioned string instruments, such as Lute, Guitar, Theorbo, Vihuela …During the Renaissance, they ware several types of tablature: Italian German, French. The tablature shows graphically the string numbers and the fret numbers. Today the most widely presented in the web  type of TAB for guitar is the following:

TAB1The numbers indicate frets, the note values, and the other music components are not shown. Simply if one has to play from this TAB they should be familiar with the music in advance. It is mostly used for pop songs.

The following TAB is a bit more clear it represents the note values.


We can add here dynamics, articulations, and so on…basically everything except the pitch of the notes…and it will look like this:


Many editors today use TAB along with the conventional notation, like bellow:


where all expressions, dynamics rhythm, and any composer’s remarks are in the modern staff notation, the TAB shows only the frets.

Styles like Flamenco and pop are using this way of presenting the music very successfully and it serves both professionals and amateurs

They ware many discussions in the past regarding the use of TABs. In our days there is no question that using TAB for academic education or for understanding writing or explaining the music itself, is not professional or at least is not serious (we can say).

However, the tablature is the easiest way to start to play guitar. For a long time, I was against this until 12 years ago. Up until 2003, when I met two young gentlemen here in Dubai: James Holton from the UK and Saqib from Pakistan. Both joined the music school, where I was teaching,  almost at the same time.

They were using TABs for years. At a time, as I mentioned, I was employed in a music school. I didn’t have a choice, but to accept those “deformed” and “hopeless” students. In the beginning, I wouldn’t  stand looking at those strange signs on their papers while trying to point something, for example in Tarrega’s Capricho Arabe  TAB,

I was doing my best to teach those young men. What first took my attention was,  Saqib’s folder with TABs,  he was actually converting into TABs each piece that I was giving to him.  He had an amazing calligraphy technique the TABs he was writing looked beautiful. Along the way, I found that they both were real guitar and music lovers and each of them had a good repertoire.

With time I started to enjoy mentoring and helping them to fix some musical and technical issues that they came with. A year and a half later,  they were playing guitar using modern notation. They were doing theory work and so on. With time, we become good friends too. At some point they went on their way in life…since then I never had students using TABs

I think that there is nothing wrong with using TABs as an additional method along with the conventional notation. If it helps you learn or teach better.

Valentin Spasov

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *