There are those who say tablature is only for guitar music, and others who claim that reading drum tabs will atrophy your ability to read traditional sheet music. Both of these claims are ridiculous of course – over the years I’ve been drumming, I’ve referred to and written dozens of tabs in the course of learning them. The 3 main reasons I’m such a fan of drum tabs are:

  • Easy to read – Sure, all aspiring musicians should have a strong grasp of sheet music, but if you just decided to learn a song you heard, I don’t see any reason to be pushed any harder than you have to be. This is the least important of the reasons, but it’s still pretty unhelpful to argue against it. Why make things harder than they have to be?
  • Easy to write – I find the best way to learn a song is often not to read the music, but to transcribe it. It’s the most ‘low-level’ experience you can have with the music being played, short of playing it yourself, and by the time you print off your tab you’ll know most of what’s written already. The same can be said for sheet music, but I know from experience that writing sheet music is no easy task. When you consider that a tab contains virtually identical information but can be written in a fraction of the time, the choice isn’t hard for someone looking to transcribe their favourite tracks.
  • Easy to find – Even if you don’t trascribe your own music and prefer to tap in on those created by others, you’ll be hard-pressed to find ANY sheet music online apart from rudiments and the occasional snare drum solo. Sure, you can order the official sheet music books if they’re available, but that’s a BIG if. Not to mention they will often carry an exorbitant price tag. However the online tablature community is flourishing, and drum tabs have staked their claim. They’re plentiful, free, and can be easily saved, modified to your perferred appearance and printed off.

Of course illegal music downloads are also flourishing, so I should a word on the legal implications. I’m not an American so I’m following this from the sidelines, but since the MPAA and friends decided to go on a crusade against musicians spreading their love of music, tablature sites have been closing down all over the place. One of these sites that folded under legal pressure is now back and here to stay, having secured licenses from the record publishers to display their tabs. This site of course is MXTabs.net. So if you’re going to go downloading online tabs, consider getting them from a legal source.

All that said, I should reiterate that I’m not saying sheet music doesn’t have its place, but more often than not (in my experience) you’re just after a quick reference of the main grooves and fills, and within a few days you’ve got the meat of the song engraved in your mind.

Tabs too have their place, and in my humble opinion they’re certainly far less deviant from the traditional sheet music notation than any guitar or bass tab you’ll find.