If you are just beginning to learn guitar, you may be deciding whether to focus on learning from tabs or standard music notation. A few basic chords are all you need to get going. Many of the best and most memorable songs are built on three or four easy-to-play chords.
There are several ways to learn and ultimately it depends on personal preference. Whether you want to be a rock god, or you just want to play a few songs by the Beatles everyone has to start somewhere. Practice is all that is needed to learn guitar notes for beginners.
Chords are made of notes, and songs are built on chords, so it is vital that you master the simple stuff before you start trying to play rock anthems or symphonies.
Outlined below are a few helpful tips on how to learn guitar notes for beginners. We wanted to highlight the difference between tab and sheet music and discuss the pros and cons of both.
Tabs or Sheet Music?
Which should you choose? Is it practical to learn both? Reading sheet music for guitar can be tricky but tabs may not provide the whole picture. Some guitarists have become great without ever learning how to read sheet music. So don’t worry if you find it dispiriting at first!
Reading music and getting to grips with musical notation is like learning a new language. If you eventually become fluent in this musical language it can be used on a host of instruments and has great potential for application. Learning from guitar tabs is a totally different way of internalising music and is often the preferred route for beginners.
Reading sheet music can present a daunting challenge to most and many great musicians have succeeded without learning to read sheet music. Overall, sheet music allows the greatest understanding of a piece of music and how to play it but for a beginner guitar tabs will often suffice.
Figuring out guitar string notes and guitar keys for beginners can be accomplished more easily than twenty years ago thanks to the internet. Nevertheless, as a beginner you have to make a decision at some point: tabs or sheet music?
Learning from tabs is common and relatively simple. A tab sets out where the musician’s fingers should be placed on the fretboard. The visual information corresponds exactly to what the musician should be doing physically. It is a good way for beginners to familiarise themselves with the guitar.
There is only so much information that can be conveyed through tabs and that is perfect for beginners. Simple guitar chords and simple melodies can be written and read with relative ease, unlike sheet music that gives a broader sense of how a song should be played. Simple chords for beginners that require only two or three fingers on the fretboard are expressed clearly via guitar tablature.
In standard guitar tablature there are six lines representing the strings of a guitar. On the strings are numbers that indicate which fret to hold when playing that string and you read from right to left. It all makes sense and is relatively simple to understand. Visually, guitar tablature is ideal for beginners because it directly describes the physical patterns one has to undertake while practising.
- Tabs provide simple and easy visual information.
- Guitar tablature can be quickly interpreted by beginners.
- A lot of guitar tabs are easily accessible for free online. The quality of these tabs is not always the best, but most give a beginner a good starting point.
- If you already know what the song sounds like tabs can be a great method of quickly learning the fingering.
- Tabs are an easy way to communicate with other beginner musicians
- Tabs are limited and do not often provide the musician with a sense of the feel of a song.
- It is difficult to convey complex melodies and chord structures via tabs. If you overuse tabs you risk limiting your musical vocabulary which will make it harder to progress as a musician.
- In most guitar tablature there is a lack of timing information.
- Whilst there are plenty of available tabs online, the quality of these tabs can be poor and misleading.
Sheet music is the best way of conveying musical information. Standard music notation depicts each note on a clef, provides the tempo, and often gives guidance as to the dynamics of a piece. It is far more comprehensive than guitar tablature when it comes to understanding the whole of a musical piece.
Sheet music allows for complex melodies, chords and timings to be written and understood. It is useful to develop an understanding of standard music notation if you want to learn any instrument.
Learning to read music this way is not easy or quick. At first it may be difficult to grasp, especially for individuals beginning to learn guitar. Once you get over the initial hurdle of learning what each note on the staff is then you will unlock the ability to learn notes, chords and songs more accurately than via guitar tablature.
Nevertheless, for a beginner learning basic guitar notes and simple guitar chords from standard music notation can seem frightening. It takes a long time to learn and practicing your first guitar chords via notation is not always the best option, especially for non-classical musicians.
- Standard music notation is the most comprehensive way to visually depict a piece of music. Once you have learned to read music this way you will be able to hear every note, phrase and melody in your head just by reading from the page.
- Learning to read sheet music is an invaluable skill because it forms a complete musical language that can be applied to any instrument, not just the guitar.
- If you are intending to play music at a high level with other professionals, sheet music is the standard.
- Learning to read standard music notation will also help you communicate with other musicians. Collaboration is perhaps the best part of making music. Standard music notation can facilitate coherent collaboration which may enable you to make better music.
- Learning to read music notation is difficult and will take a long time to master. If you are impatient and not eager to learn then you will not go far down this route.
- Musical pieces written in standard notation are not as easy to access. There are many websites that boast tabs for nearly every popular song, but you may find that the sheet music is elusive.
- While valuable, reading music is not always necessary. Learning to read sheet music requires a significant investment of your time. So, make sure you have a goal in mind before you begin to learn.
- Similarly, learning to read sheet music is more relevant for some genres than others. If you want to be a jazz or classical guitarist tabs will probably not be sufficient. However, if you just want to learn a few pop songs you will most likely be able to get by with tabs.
Rhythm First, Lead Second
If you truly wish to know how to learn guitar notes it is best to focus on learning rhythm guitar before you learn lead guitar. We know that you probably want to start rocking the melody but the rhythm is just as important.
Rhythm guitar is all about forming a base for the song. Holding down the rhythm section is an important skill to learn. Even when you graduate to playing lead guitar you will need to have your rhythmic skills ingrained in your head to succeed.
Rhythm guitar is also a good way to learn basic guitar notes because you will be playing chords over and over again. Chordal playing and experimenting with chord progression is a great way to practice.
Concentrating on rhythm guitar will teach you how to smoothly move around the fretboard. Then you can move on to playing complex melodies and crafting wicked solos!
To play lead guitar effectively you need to be aware of several things.
- The key
- The melody
- A scale that works with the key of the song
On top of these key issues, you can also learn guitar notes that will help you to improvise and riff over the rhythm guitar.
Certain scales and chord progressions will help you to develop a musical vocabulary. Alternating between rhythm and lead guitar is the best way to become a more complete musician.
Striking a Balance
You must decide for yourself which method best suits your ability to learn basic guitar chords. Often it is about finding the right balance. Learning is an organic process that evolves with your interests. If your interest in the guitar stems from a fascination with classical music, then you may be more likely to favour learning from sheet music.
On the other hand, if you are interested in rock or pop tunes then it may be easier to learn electric guitar chords for beginners from tabs. Easy guitar notes are conveyed clearly in guitar tablature and the visual representation may suit your learning habits.
Playing by Ear
Eventually, having learnt the basics via guitar tabs or standard music notation you may be able to learn and play music by ear. For the average musician being able to play by ear is a highly desirable skill. Some people have an innate gift and others have learnt to play by ear through many hours of practice.
Even if you are a relative novice on the guitar, it might be helpful for your music development to begin listening with more intent. The important guitar notes for beginners are those that appear regularly in the songs they listen to. By spending time concentrating and listening to music you will develop your aural skills.
Having a keen sense of rhythm, harmony and pitch is important to learning even the simplest guitar notes and chords. When you are learning how to play a song you have to deconstruct it. Training your ears as well as your fingers will help you pick up phrases, strange chords and awkward rhythms more easily.
Hopefully the above tips have given you a good idea of what to expect when starting out on the guitar. There are a host of great resources on the internet to help you make the most of your learning. If your practice is focused and consistent you will begin to hear great results.
The melodies and tunes that we all know, and love are built on simple and catchy chord progressions that any beginner should be capable of playing with a bit of practice. Whether you decide to use tabs, sheet music or both, practice is key.
Part of working out how to learn guitar notes is knowing your role and motivation in a band. Playing music with others is a great way of learning. You will learn a lot by playing rhythm guitar before moving on to play the more showy lead guitar melodies.
This article has focussed on guitar notes for beginners but if you have moved beyond this stage there are a host of other great learning resources on Play Guitars that can aid your musical journey.
Good luck with your guitar practice and we wish you all the best in your future musical endeavours!
Do you favor tabs or sheet music?
Share with us in the comments below!