Learning only tabs OK?

I don’t give a rat’s ___ about learning to read music. Can I just learn bass tabs and learn enough to play about anything? I mean if Eddie Van Halen and Mick Mars didn’t/don’t read music thats enough for me.


Absolutely, they are just tools to help you learn. Music is like a map and tab is like a turn by turn gps. You see different things but it gets you from point A to point B.

I can read music like a book but it means nothing because I did not formally study music theory. Good tabs show you where to play and give you note value.


I very much appreciate your knowledgeable reply. Josh is such a nice guy it almost feels disrespectful to him to skip thru the ‘How to read Liberace & Barry Manilow’s sheet music’ vids… but it just bores the ___ outta me.


After years of playing and reading music a few years ago I started reading tabs and I was a slow start as it was very tough when I had my nose stuck straight up in the air but one I got down and really learn to read it, I found that it’s a great tool to use.

The one limitation to even a good tab is the choice of where to play. For example, the people who make the tab has the preference to use open strings then you have to follow that unless you find your own path, and some fills some likes to move up and down the neck rather than up and down the strings.



There are many ways to make music. Tabs are the Cliff Notes, easiest way to get going. If it works for him/her, then a player should use it. But if a player wants to know more about proper phrasing, dynamics and timing, music notation is the whole enchilada.

To each his own.


Learning to read music is not required at all to play bass. Tabs are fine to start. Eventually you’ll develop an ear.

However, I do feel everyone should learn to read music. It’s a really valuable skill. You don’t need to read it at full playing speed at all to get a lot out of it. Maybe not so much for bass but definitely for other instruments, except guitar.


Absolutely agree with @howard. Reading music can be ever helpful going forward in depth. While I don’t and can’t sight read fresh unseen music sheet I can read a familiar sheet at speed, I definitely can’t do that with tab as it’s not in my tool bag.

In addition, I definitely can have that as any kind of cheat sheet at live gigs but if I must have anything I’d put up the music sheet as a last resort because when I look at the sheet I see notes and I can play it anywhere I want to play, as I mentioned before tabs would only show where I must play. I’m just not built that way I know every notes on my fingerboard to be restricted onto one path it’s not very helpful in a pretty stressful situation (reading music live) I won’t go there, lol.


For learning popular guitar genres (rock, blues, country, etc.), tabs are the jump-start way.

For playing classical guitar, and in other professional situations (e.g., playing in orchestral ensembles for movie scores) the ability to read music is an absolute necessity.

The old joke about how to shut up a guitarist is by putting sheet music in front of him is funny because it’s generally true. But it is definitely not universally true.


Ahh yeah classical will for sure require it. I only called it out in general because for the kinds of things the OP is interested in, standard notation is even less common on guitar than bass.


Yep, I agree. Popular genres most often don’t require reading music.


I can’t read sheet music. I mean, I sort of understand what I’m looking at from when I played piano as a kid, but nowhere near well enough to turn it into notes on the neck.

Tabs are a great way to learn and advanced tab notation can pretty much relay everything you’ll need to play a song. Unless you think you’ll be in a situation where you need to read sheet music, I would say it isn’t necessary. As others have stated, the biggest problem with tabs is bad tabs. Almost every tab you find online is trash. You’ll practice something that’s either inaccurate or transcribed in an excessively difficult way to play and get frustrated when you can’t learn a song.

CoverSolutions on Youtube has great play along tabs, very accurate :+1:

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All i know is i REALLY wish i would’ve started studying electric bass guitar 30+yrs ago. Bass guitar IMO is like the foundation of a house or the wheel of a ship. My goal is to perfectly play the BARNEY MILLER theme which seems VERY hard.


You will totally be able to play that. Just go through B2B and absorb the goodness. Then all you need to do is practice the tools you’ve learned. With knowledge and practice, you can do anything.


Well here is the tutorial

As a gift to you I put it through Final Cut Pro and slow it down to 69% (sorry I tried 70 but it kept slipping, lol). It should be very approachable for you. Happy practicing.


I grew up playing piano and, for some odd reason, even after 40 years of playing I’m still terrible at reading music. Tab I can fly through but put some sheet music in front of me and I’m back to going “Every good boy does fine” to figure out every note. Outside the staff? Useless.

What I’m trying to say is: don’t sweat it.


1885 Thanks so much!

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I’ve been very slow and lazy at learning to read music, or even the notes on the fretboard. But I’ve also always felt that playing from tab is like color by numbers: good results without actually knowing what it is I’m doing.

Now that I’ve put a bit more effort in it gives me much more freedom and confidence and I wouldn’t want to miss that.

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Its looking to me like Regina just aptly put it - “color by #'s” which equates having no clue how a group of notes is going to sound & playing them because they’re written down.

Fixed, lol. Your welcome bud.

Yep, assuming a tab is even correct, it will usually provide info on where to fret notes in a line.

Some other, more detailed tabs provide more info about notes’ timing.

But, generally, tabs are most useful with a tune that’s already familiar to a player, providing a fretboard roadmap of where/how to fret a line. Hence the “paint by numbers” reference.

Tab is designed to be a jump-start shorthand, and if that’s all someone needs, it’s a decent enough tool, particularly for learning popular genre tunes.

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