Tablature

Tablature (tabulature, or tab) is a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering on a fretboard rather than musical pitches.

Tablature is common for fretted stringed instruments such as guitar, bass guitar, ukulele and other. Tablature was popular throughout the Renaissance and Baroque eras and is widely used today in notating modern music.

Contents

Concept

The concept of tablature is operationally based because tab indicates where and when a finger should be placed to produce a note, so the pitch is denoted implicitly. Tablature for plucked strings is based upon a diagrammatic representation of the strings and frets of the instrument.

6-string guitar tablature

The basic structure for a guitar tablature:

e|------------------------|
B|------------------------|
G|------------------------|
D|------------------------|
A|------------------------|
E|------------------------|

Each one of these lines represents a string on a guitar.

The bottom line represents the top (thickest) string on your guitar. The top line represents the bottom (thinnest) string on your guitar: [1]

Thinnest     |-------------|
2nd Thinnest |-------------|
3rd Thinnest |-------------|
3rd Thickest |-------------|
2nd Thickest |-------------|
Thickest     |-------------|

Techniques notation

Tablature can use various symbols to indicate various techniques, though their notation can vary:

Symbol Technique
x Dead note
g Grace note
(n) Ghost note
h Hammer-on
p Pull-off
r Release
> Accented note
t Tapping
b Bend
br Bend release
pb Pre-bend
pbr Pre-bend release
/ Slide up
\ Slide down
~ Vibrato
s Slap
P Pop
PM Palm mute
TR Trill
N Tremolo

Advantages and disadvantages compared to standard notation

Advantages

  • Direct visual representation. Tab is a familiar visual representation of the fretboard compared to standard notation.
  • Determined fingering position. Notes on the guitar can be played in various fret positions and on several strings. This ambiguity makes the correlation between standard notation and playing technique less specific than in the case of the piano and other instruments. Tablature has two extra advantages: it definitely identifies the note and it notates music in different tunings.
  • Simple typewriter-font representation. Tablature can be made as ASCII tab. This feature makes it comfortable to distribute electronically.

Disadvantages

  • Indication of pitch. Fretboard tablature shows the fingerings, but not the pitch. This is a serious restriction because getting the actual pitch needs calculation considering the tuning, so making it more difficult for a user to sing the notes by sight. It limits the capability to feel the sound right from reading the tablature. Standard notation provides such possibility, allowing to understand the science of harmony, musical analysis and music theory behind it.
  • Instrument-specific. Tablature can only be read easily for one specific instrument, while the standard notation is universal.
  • Rhythmic information. Tablature can't give full information on rhythm and timing. Tablature writers sometimes provide some rhythmic information by adding note stems, flags and beams but the system is not so standardized as in standard notation.
  • Distinction between musical parts. Multiple parts cannot be rhythmically defined in tablature notation.

References

  1. Ultimate Guitar "Reading Guitar Tablature II"