Learning How To Play Guitar-Music Notation or Tablature


Acoustic or Electric, Pick your poison.


Learning to play the guitar is an exciting way to reach your inner musician. The question everyone asks first is what kind of guitar should I get.

What type of guitar do I want?

  • acoustic, Electric, bass?
  • Full tone, soft tone, rock tone, low tone?
  • Are you a beginner, experienced, or a performer?

Acoustic guitars give a nice full sound for that down to earth feeling. This is usually the pick for beginners. Unless you plan on being in a rock band then you will want an electric, or a bass guitar. Even if you just like the sound of an electric or bass, it is your choice.

Which ever you choose, you will need to learn how to read some type of music symbols that can teach you how to play.

You have to know where to put your fingers, how and when. There are two types of ways to do this. Tablature or musical notation.

Which Do I Need To Know

I’m sure by now you have asked yourself, do I really need to read music to play the guitar?

I guess it depends on how involved with music you want to be. If you just want to learn how to play, you don’t necessarily have to learn to read staff notation, or (standard musical notation), You can learn by using what they call Tablature. On the other hand if you want to play your music with others in a band, or you want to be able to play songs that you have never heard of, you may want to learn staff notation, (reading music notes on a staff). This type of reading is how you communicate with other band members. Let’s take a look at each way to see which way is better for you to learn. You can eventually learn both.

These next two sections will explain the different pro’s and con’s of each method.




If you just want to learn to play guitar without having to learn how to read music, then this will be the fastest and easiest way for you to learn. Let me be clear, (this method only works for stringed instruments.) The reason I say this is that tablature works with the number of strings and the frets of your stringed instrument. The way it works is, let’s say you have a six string guitar, in tablature the lines represents the six strings in ascending pitch order, and the numbers on those strings tell you on which fret you should be, (where on the neck of the guitar), when playing that string. You always read from left to right. That’s it. Not too complicated. It helps you build confidence faster and gets you playing right away.

Pros And Cons of Tablature

  • PROS
    • lines represent the six strings on the guitar in ascending pitch order. The numbers on those strings tell you which fret you should be holding the strings on. You read from left to right, and that’s all it takes. There’s no need for months of study to understand tab, (tablature).
  • CONS
    • What basic tablature doesn’t tell you is, WHEN the notes are to be played and for HOW LONG they should be held.

Standard Music Notation

The standard notation staff shows the notes of the music. The pitch of each note is determined by its vertical position on the staff. The purpose of standard music notation is to show what the music sounds like, It is not meant to show you how you play it on an instrument. Learning standard notation for guitar involves locating all the notes on the fret board, learning when and how long to play them, and what all the other symbols mean. It takes many months of practice to become competent and fluent.

Pros And Cons Of Standard Music Notation

  • PROS
    • Standard notation provides complete musical information. The pitch, duration of each note, which is shown by the shape of the symbol. Fingering suggestions can be added as small numbers next to the notes. Fretboard positions are shown by Roman numerals above the staff. As you get more fluent, you can read and play real time pieces of music without having to know how they sound.
    • Standard music notation is a universal musical language that can be understood bu musicians of countless instruments.
  • CONS
    • Takes a long time to learn and master standard notation, though learning any musical instrument also takes a long time. My dad used to tell me that, every body wants to play, but know body wants to learn. This stuck with me always in my musical instrument endeavors.
    • Not easy to produce standard notation on a computer, unless you have the software that produces it.
    • It is more difficult to find free notation online than free tabs online.
    • Some guitar techniques, such as strumming, aren’t easy to show accurately in standard notation. Strumming might be very easy to play by feel, but not so easy if written out accurately in notation.


So if you want to learn how to play just the guitar for yourself, and want to learn quick, then tablature is the way to go. If you want to learn to play any music whether you have heard it or not, then you will have to learn to read music notation.

It all depends on your preference. You can start out with tablature and as you get more comfortable with the guitar and build your confidence, then start learning how to read music by learning standard notation. Learning standard notation opens up a whole new musical world for you. You can learn to play other instruments, maybe you want to learn to play the saxophone or the flute. Then you will have to learn standard notation.

Remember, learning any instrument can be fun and challenging. For quick learning the guitar or other stringed instruments then Tablature is great for you to start, but if you want to learn other instruments beside string, you will have learn to read music.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Happy Reading!!


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