Some guitarists decry guitar tablature as a cheat or, at best, a crutch, instead telling guitarists to learn standard notation. I can understand this position, although I don’t hold it myself. (If you don’t know what guitar tablature is, read this.)
I think guitar tablature has made the guitar a much more accessible instrument, almost a paint-by-numbers introduction to the instrument. Looking at a page of sheet music with notes seemingly randomly scattered across the page can be daunting and, I suspect, off-putting to someone new to the instrument.
There is certainly a place for standard notation for guitarists, and I highly recommend that any guitarist learn standard notation. In fact, it’s essential for many styles of music, such as jazz and classical. And, although I think teaching standard notation should be a part of any guitar instruction program, I don’t think it’s helpful to hold a dogmatic approach that only standard notation should be taught as part of guitar instruction. There are many different ways to learn the guitar.
A little background about me and why I feel the way I do. I started playing guitar at the age of 15. Like many teenagers, I didn’t have much of an attention span, and guitar tablature provided a quick approach to playing actual music. I think if I had tried to learn standard notation first, I would have been more likely to put aside the guitar and never return to it. As it turned out, I got hooked fairly early on because, thanks in large part to guitar tablature, I was able to play real music quickly. And, several years later when I started college, I decided to get a minor in music and took up classical guitar. As part of my classical guitar studies, I honed my sight-reading skills. But, as I mentioned earlier, I may have never made it to the classical guitar if I hadn’t first discovered tablature.
Of course, the flip side of the debate is that it’s easy to bypass important musical learning points by using tablature, which results in guitarists who do not have many of the basic skills that other musicians learned as a result of studying music theory. Additionally, sometimes the nuance of the music gets lost if all you’re doing is connecting numbers together. In cases like this, it does become a bit of a cheat.
I’m wondering what others think. Do you think guitar tablature is evil, great, or somewhere in between? In my opinion, I think the benefits of guitar tablature outweigh the negatives, but I think it’s important that guitarists expand beyond tablature at some point in their learning.