01 Difference Between Tab and Notation

Standard Musical Notation


Visual Representation

Tab is a visual representation of the instrument's fret board. Standard musical notation indicates pitch, duration and expression but does not offer specific playing direction for an instrument.

Tab does not require as much training for players to be able to read it and it’s generally considered to be easier and quicker to interpret.

Fingering Position

On a ukulele the same note can be played using different fret positions on different strings. For example, the note C can be played on the 4th string by pressing the 5rd fret, then also on the 3rd string by pressing the 12th fret, and so on. The diagram below demonstrates this point, showing the note of C being played on 4 different fret positions and on 4 different strings.

Try playing the notes on this diagram to help demonstrate this point.



Tab will be specific to an individual instrument, such as guitar, bass guitar, mandolin or ukulele. Standard musical notation however is transferable to other instruments. Tab does not provide any skills transferable to other instruments or general musical study. It’s beneficial for a player to read both forms of notation.

Visualisation of music theory information

The science of music theory is clearer and easier to understand with the use of standard musical notation. The techniques and tools used to understand and create harmony cannot be easily applied to tab. Therefore the study of music theory is hindered by the reliance upon tab.

Rhythmic information

Tab provides limited information on rhythm and timing. The duration of a note is gauged by the gap between each number. Standard musical notation has a selection of symbols that allow for the exact duration for each note to be interpreted.

Visual Indication of pitch and harmony

It can be difficult to get a general outline of the music by simply studying the tab without playing it or listening to a recorded version beforehand. In contrast standard musical notation allows musicians to get a feel for the piece purely from sight.
This is because tab only shows where notes are fretted. The pitch of the note can be worked out by considering the tuning of the instrument however, this takes experience for a player to sing or internalise a piece by sight. Standard music notation shows the progression of the notes pitch and harmony in a much clearer form.


Both tab and standard music notation have advantages. This is why our diagrams at Rock Star Academy use both systems together. We also use the latest technologies including animated tab players to make learning and playing very fun and easy.