Guitar Music B.T. (Before TABs)

Guitar Music B.T. (Before TABs)

If you are under 50 you may not realize that Guitar TABs didn’t exist in their current form before the 1980s. There have been different forms of unique stringed instrument tablature as far back as the 15th century (for lutes), but modern guitar TAB is a fairly recent addition. I am not sure exactly when modern guitar TAB became common, but if I remember correctly it was sometime in the early to mid 1980s. When I was learning guitar in the 1970s music books (songbooks) contained only standard notation. And very few had more than chord diagrams (usually with simplified open chords) for guitar payers. Which is why many players back then learned songs by ear. We had no choice. 

Music books could get you “in the ballpark” for chords but that was about it. A few guitar specific music books might actually have guitar solos in them, like “The Deluxe Santana Songbook” (one of the better music books of the era for guitar), but they were written in standard notation. Which is what I learned back then.

The Deluxe Santana Songbook was one of the few music books in the 1970s with guitar solos written out (in standard notation.)

Here is a sample from The Deluxe Santana songbook. Notice the guitar parts are written in standard notation. 

The 1970s era Deluxe Santana Songbook used standard notation. 

The Phil Keaggy Songbook also notated guitar solos in standard notation.

One of the finest guitarists ever, Phil Keaggy, had a songbook that featured solos in standard notation.

Here is a solo from The Phil Keaggy Songbook. Check out those sixteenth notes. Try sight reading that in real time.

Your sight reading skills needed to be sharp (so did your guitar playing skills) to attempt any Phil Keaggy solos in standard notation.

Your sight reading skills needed to be sharp (so did your guitar playing skills) to attempt any Phil Keaggy solos in standard notation.

I have one music book from the 1970s which used its own form of guitar notation. It was the Layla songbook by Derek And The Dominoes (Eric Clapton.)

This songbook used it own unique guitar notation for solos. 

It used one element of TAB, fret numbers, but placed them under a line with the string number above. It looked like fractions in a math equation. It was supposed to be easier to read those “fractions” than all those ledger lines in standard notation. 

An early attempt at guitar notation was used in the Layla songbook. 

Look how far we've come. Modern guitar TABs certainly make it easier to learn songs you know. At least accurate TABs do. But they can also contribute to guitar players who never really develop their ears and can only learn songs by rote using TABs. I views guitar TABs as a tool. They are very useful in many situations, but they shouldn’t be your only tool. You should also work on learning songs by ear. That will pay greater dividends in the long run, making you a better player. And you won’t be so dependent on TABs.  

I hope you enjoyed my look back in time. 

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