8. To make matters worse, today's musicians are using tablature notation more and more. For those that don't know what this is I will give you some details. It is a crude way to notate music. It is generally used for notating music for stringed instrument mostly like the guitar, bass guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin etc. It is set up to look like a music staff, but the amount of lines used are for the amount of strings the instrument has. There will be five lines for instruments that have five strings like the five string banjo, six lines for a guitar that has six strings, and four lines for instruments that have four strings like the four string bass guitar, or mandolin or violin etc. Numbers are then placed on the lines to indicate the fret to play on each string.
I tell my students that you can learn to read music with the same effort you use to learn tab. I explain the flaws and missing notation needed to notate music correctly. Another problem is that you can't see the relationship between the notes in the measure and the chords above the measure. The visual harmonic relationship is missing. You are just looking at numbers. There is a tab notation for harmonica also. The main instruments that used tab prior to recent times were the harmonica and the five string banjo. These instruments were predominantly taught by tab. There were very little music and method books that taught it any other way.
When I have to teach these instruments, I teach them by both regular music notation and tab at the same time. I told my students I hope you are paying me to learn something about music in addition to the instrument. I point out if you learn how to read music you can apply it to any other instrument. I also remind them if you learn to play an instrument from me, learning another instrument will be a fraction of what it took to learn the first instrument. I point out you would just have to learn where the notes you already know how to read were on your new instrument. The musical terms theory etc. are all the same. The technique for the new instrument would be the only other thing to learn.
The main reason I see a student learning tab is that they can figure it out on their own with an instruction sheet. I read tab very well for all the instruments that this system is used for so I am able to make the educated comparisons. I tell my students I will teach it to them at a time I think it is appropriate. You can learn good ideas and licks from a crude notation like tab. I tell them it is the creative musical idea that is worth while, not the method used to notate it. You can learn an idea from hearing it, reading it from music, or tab etc. I explain nothing you learn goes to waste.
Around March 2005 I called to place a sheet music order with a very big music publisher. I got my regular customer service representative who handles the New Jersey area. I started to explain the kind of needs I wanted to fill. He started going over the list of things he wanted to suggest to me. As always I start asking about some of the contents and how the music is notated. To my amazement he had very little that he could offer me in regular music notation only. When the music is notated in both tab and regular music notation it takes up so much more space on the page and gets spread over more pages. I find this annoying. I asked him why this was and his answer was that the music stores kept asking for more and more in tab notation. I told him that I thought this was crazy. He said that he agreed with me and went on to explain that he has a university degree in music and specialized in woodwind instruments.
Another example that surprised me happened over the summer of 2005. I got a college student that went to school in Connecticut. He was taking guitar lessons from his college professor at the college but not as an accredited subject for over a year. He knew a decent amount of chords and had the appropriate dexterity for a student of a year plus. You could see he liked to play a lot, which is why he was physically in decent shape. The mental understanding of music was a totally different story. He could not read music, and did not know anything about keys, time signatures, rhythm notations, simple chord progressions, or anything that would help him figure anything out on his own. He could read the tab numbers but not the tab rhythms. This means that he would not be able to play what tab read unless he would know what the song sounded like. Even this would offer only a facsimile of the song. He was learning by rote like the majority of students I get from most any program in music. You can teach by rote using regular music notation, or from tab notation. The teachers expertise and dedication is what it takes to get students reading music notes and their rhythm correctly. After the ten lessons with me over the summer he was able to read basic music in simple rhythms, play the simple chord progressions in the most important keys, and play with better timing and a totally revamped technical approach to playing guitar with his hands.