Tabs Vs. Traditional Notation

Ollie Bonugli

Senior Member
Thanks for all your opinions. It seems that we mostly agree that Traditional Notation is better than Tabs, it'll be interesting to see what people think in a few years time. Hopefully Tabs won't have taken over!


Platinum Member
I wouldn't know where to begin with a Tab.
Traditional notation is hard enough, but Tabs! No way they are easier for drummers.
That Nashville stuff also gives me a headache.


Senior Member
When I started drumming about 18 months ago, objective one was to learn to read music.

I've played guitar for longer than I care to admit to, but never learned to read.

Honestly, learning to read was the easiest thing. Even at my "cat-sat-on-the-mat" music reading ability, notation is an enormous improvement over tab. I don't consider myself especially musical, but even I can (usually) hear the rhythmic pattern in my head when looking at a piece of drum music*.

* Simple music...Black Page and Polynesian Nightmare do not count!
I've tried to learn. Never picked it up. My original hurdle was nobody told me speed/tempo didn't really matter (as long as it was all the same).
I think the other thing that bothers me is the way music is counted vs how numbers are counted. In music, the whole number/count comes first, then the parts of it: 1-e-and-a. In math the parts come first: 1/4-1/2-3/4-1. Occasionally I've gotten my brain to see it differently and kind of read along with some parts. I haven't bothered reading anything, or had to, since I figured these things out.
I mean I did kind of follow sheet music in high school for bass drum, cymbals and tympani, but never for snare. My first teachers in middle school overestimated my reading abilities and I adapted by using some intense hand-eye coordination to copy what they were doing as they were doing it. They thought I was reading, until they finally told me to play by myself one day.


Silver Member
Another vote for notation.

I've looked at tab and was like "can't tell if that's supposed to be a sextuplet or 32nd notes, but its spaced like a quintuplet?"

You will never have that issues with notation.


Silver Member
Prepare to be dismazed....

That looks worse than guitar tabs. I am dismayed. I can understand and have used hybrid notation systems (think a mix of traditional notation for the bits of the piece that cn be notated that way and specific and keyed out graphic notion for the bits that cant, a particularly useful way to score electro acoustic pieces) because my school placed an emphasis on music since 1945 especially the so-called avante garde but that just looks hopeless. how would you sightread something like that?


Gold Member
That Nashville stuff also gives me a headache.
All that system does is tell you chord progressions.

There isn't any rhythm written n that short hand.

The leader says, "Let's play this song in [key]."

Then the melodic instruments follow the chord progression.


Senior Member
The difference? I can read one of the two.

I've given tabs a fair try. I have yet to find a situation in which they are useful. The same thing happens every time. I realize that I can figure it out by ear faster than I can decipher the tab. This is especially true for drums, but I find it applies to guitar too. The concept at least makes sense with guitar. It shows where to put your fingers to actually play something that you hear. Even then, I can figure it out almost as fast despite very little training or practice on guitar. If I actually cared about playing that kind of stuff, I'd just take lessons.

To me, tabs feel like taking a shortcut- except it's longer than the path and you get stuck in the mud.


Junior Member
Traditional notation doesn't work for everything.
Absolutely, music from the microtonal works of Stockhausen or Partch all the way to the subtleties of a BB King string bend are extremely difficult to notate using traditional systems. Before turning to the world of IT I was a professional guitar teacher for 10 years and have to admit I really liked tab. I did want all my students to get to grips with standard notation. However learning tab, on the guitar at least, was quick and got them playing much harder pieces than they could have handled if they were reading the music, particularly from a rhythmic perspective. If it meant they played/practiced more I was happy to use it.


Platinum Member
The advantage of traditional notation is that it can be adapted quite well for the guitar. Bends can be notated with specialist symbols - but it's not perfect.

Quite right about Stockhausen. I was specifically thinking of Penderecki when I wrote that post but there are dozens of others that fit that bill.


Platinum Member
I can think of two reasons one might use a tab as opposed to notate.

1) Online. In forums and computers in general, it can take some effort to properly convey a sequence of musical events. We can "fake it" with these lame tabs sometimes, and though it's not really "superior" to notated stuff, it can usually get the point across.

2) Real complicated voicing in drum context. Let's say you're trying to notate "Polynesian nightmare", and you want to be very specific about which of the 17 toms to use for each note. It might be easier to put them on a tab timeline.


Silver Member
Ledger lines (2 on each side) would offer 9 positions with 8 spaces = 17 notes. Then figure a minimum of 4 unique note heads = 68. Then subtract bass, snare, bass drum, hi-hat, ride, crash, cowbell, hi-hat with foot. That gives us around 60 notes to use for toms.