Learning only tabs OK?

Been working for me for over 3 years, two bands and loads of fun.

I would encourage you though to learn the first five notes of each string starting at the nut. Knowing where your g, b, c, e, etc is on each fret in the first five positions is very helpful when you’re playing with another group.

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Faster to remember FACE and ACE-G, the gangstas

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The thing I find less intuitive about tabs is the timing. If you are unfamiliar with a song, and the tab doesn’t have bar lines on it, its just guessing where the beats fall. Music notes make this easier.
Tabs are much easier to quickly write out and later share via typing though (i.e. on the web), and its pretty easy/intuitive to work out the notes to play.

Every tool has its place.

I also like this version I have seen sometimes where the fret numbers are replaced by note names, forces you to learn the letters!


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For me, tabs are these:

Full timing information, just like standard notation. The tabs that are just ascii art that are just characters that should be aligned in a monotype font is just a make-do for easy sharing, just paste the text somewhere, and you do not need any special software to create them.

Kinda like if you would do standard notation, but only draw dots where the notes are, no timing information.


Yeah, modern tabs are much better, with actually slightly more information than standard notation.

I’m starting to see the advantage of learning the basic GAB, CDE, FGA notes at the minimum. I agree that w/ tabs its impossible to learn the rhythm of song. Once you get I find a rhythm it helps me alot.

I used to feel the same way. I had no desire to learn music theory. I learned all my classical music guitar from tabs. But my playing was bad because the length of the notes was incorrect. Starting this course I felt the same though. Don’t want to learn music theory or read it. But as I got to that section, it was really interesting and much easier to learn than I had imagined.

Josh has a way of explaining things that makes learning bass very simple and fun. I enjoyed that section of music theory, and learning to read music even though I’ll probably never use it. I prefer tabs too. But learning the scales, notes on the fretboard, chords, etc all very important and will only improve your playing in the long run. Yes some of the greats never learned it but they were special. Not all of us are that lucky. Why not add all the skills you can to improve your playing? It can only make you a better bassist in the long run.


Basically it depends on if all you want is to play covers or if you want to make your own music.

Basic Music Theory makes the latter much, much easier. And learning the notes and intervals is table stakes for that. And all of it will be communicated using standard notation.

But it IS possible. the same rhythm, in tab:

and in standard notation:

The rhythm is also there in the tab notation. But yes, you will have to learn how standard notation shows a note length, as this is just what is used in tab.

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This is the case with some tab, but many, if not most, tabs indicate no time information, just note/fret locations.

Songsterr has millions (well, literally 800k) with rhythm and U-G is catching up.

Considering the kajillions of tabs online, most do not contain time indicators like music notation.

If it weren’t for tabs, I’d not know any songs.


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Its just the fact its absolutely impossible to get the rhythm of a song using tabs. Hell I can’t get the rhythm w/ music. My intent is to continue to follow Josh’s advice and learn the basics a little further than GAB, CDE, FGA. sharps, flats, roots. etc… Its looking more & more to me that not learning basic music notation handicaps a student.

Yeah no. It might be for you, at your current experience level. But as @howard said Songsterr has a huge database of songs that are tab but include rhythm notation.

I use tab in conjunction with listening to the song. The combination allows me to learn songs.

As usual with everything there’s nuance, grey areas etc. I also use notation for more complex stuff like the latest Nathan East song I learned because tab isn’t quite good enough for the trickier stuff imho.

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Regardless of whatever method you chose to read, you owe it to yourself to listen to your favorite songs and transcribe at least one song a year. You can write it in whatever form you want as long as you understand it. This is by far the best advice ever given to me and I’ve been passing it on to everyone.

The ability to see and read is not half as important as the ability to hear and recognize the note and the act of recording the notes you transcribed is priceless.


Haha, I’m coming from tab and recently I decided to start learning to read. For a tab reader one of the first things I encountered when reading is the note can be played anywhere, and that’s a bit uncomfortable and I haven’t quite gotten used to the freedom.

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Good tabs will have timing notation that can be read to understand the rhythm. Also, if you’re learning a song and you’re using tabs….haven’t you listened to the song? It’s pretty impossible to get the feel for any song without hearing it - what’s the drummer doing? Are you just holding the low end for the rhythm guitarist? Are you playing a counter melody? Any song you learn you will need to know like the back of your hand. Listen to the music while you read the tabs. It’s actually a lot easier than it might seem.


Bullseye Antman! If you know a song’s rhythm by heart the tabs make it a snap… IF you have the manual dexterity to execute the timing. I don’t unfortunately.


While I strongly believe that learning to read music is worthwhile, well, it’s a nuanced subject :rofl:

(this is an outstanding and well produced analysis, worth watching).