When you start playing guitar, there are many methods for reading and playing music that you might want to explore. The three most common methods for guitarists to notate their music is with tablature, chords, or modern staff notation. Each of these methods has different benefits, and it is important that you pick a style of notation that fits your skill level and playing goals. Below, you can learn a little about the benefits and drawbacks of each of these notation styles.
Tablature involves six lines, each of which corresponds directly to a string on your guitar. Notes are signified by placing a number on the correct line. The number corresponds to the fret that should be held to achieve the note. The length of the note is usually designated by the amount of space between it and the next number but is rarely exact.
The benefit of tablature is that it is very easy to learn and start playing many different styles. You can easily write both chords and complex runs in tablature. The main drawback of tablature is that it is written specifically for guitar, meaning that if you only know tablature, you will not be able to read and play music written for other instruments.
Chords involve simply writing the letter-name of a chord. It is commonly used for rhythm guitar. It does not take up a lot of space and can easily be added above the lyrics of a song if you sing while you play. Additionally, learning basic chords will allow you to improvise with other musicians.
The drawback of chords is that they do not give you defined notes to play. You will either have to listen for the rhythm or feel comfortable exploring different finger-picking patterns on your own. Many beginning musicians are not comfortable with this, and so their skill level tends to plateau until they learn tablature or staff notation.
Staff notation involves five lines and four spaces, each of which correspond to a note that may be played at various places on the guitar, according to your preference. The notation also specifies the exact length and style of each note. This can be very helpful when you are learning new styles of music. Additionally, this allows you to adapt music written for other instruments to your repertoire. Unfortunately, staff notation usually takes the longest to learn and master.
When you start playing, you should feel free to explore all three types of notation and work with the one that you feel most comfortable with. However, as your skills mature, you should challenge yourself to try other types of notation.