Tablature and Dots - Spoilt for Choice

by Oliver Staines

As teachers of the guitar we have the great good fortune of the many perks that come with being able to teach what essentially is the ‘coolest’ instrument is around.

Being as it is, at the centre of much of the popular culture of the last half century, the guitar gives its teachers the opportunity to avoid many of the associations of stuffiness and traditionalism that can come with tuition in the classical repertoires. Meanwhile we have the greatest chance of actually retaining genuinely enthusiastic and progressive students. Stimuli are rife throughout entertainment culture and the world around us.

The great variety provided by this vernacular tradition also brings its own problems - to be solved by the teacher themselves. In this article I would briefly like to touch on one or two of these issues that have arisen in my work perhaps as food for thought or to spark off further discussion on the subject.

The guitar itself has spawned countless offspring, who’s playing styles and techniques are as varied and different as the musical worlds they occupy. Classical, flamenco, steel string acoustic, electric etc. etc, as well as their various sub divisions. When someone decides to take up the violin there are comparatively few questions to be asked; in our case they are extensive.

With the former it would usually be presumed that the student is expecting to grapple with the traditional canon - a path well charted in the form of an extensive yet clearly defined syllabus, teaching method, materials, authentic repertoire and institutions to support them Initiation into the world of the guitar however leaves one in a boundless and largely uncharted territory where innate contradictions such as that of the establishment of a syllabus around authentic repertoire and copyright law, abound.

Across guitar styles we have two main methods of notation, tablature and staff notation. Both are useful tools for accessing huge resources for, or applicable to guitar. Nevertheless what I have found to often be the case, particularly with young learners, is that to attempt to teach the two simultaneously can result in far from desirous consequences.

At best the student makes slow progress across two confusing new written languages, and at worst the overload of conflicting information leaves them unable to grasp either, and overwhelmed by a frustrating experience of written music that is not necessarily easily reversed.

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