Is Using Guitar Tabs Considered Cheating?

One of the best friends of many guitarists in the modern days is guitar tabs. As an easy way to read music, guitar tabs offer a shortcut for guitarists to learn songs without needing to learn by ear or sheet music, both of which require quite a bit of training. So, this shortcut raises the question, is using guitar tabs cheating?

Although it is a controversial topic, for me, guitar tabs are a simple yet effective tool for learning songs to play. Just like sheet music, it is a way of music notation that shows how to play a song. The fact that they are easier and do not require prior knowledge to read does not mean it is cheating.

However, guitar tabs have their advantages and disadvantages, such as they are easy to read and widely available on the positive side and the degree of inaccuracy of guitar tabs on the internet, the lack of musical info like bars and rhythmic notations, as well as the disadvantage of skipping ear training that you would get learning songs by ear. So, a guitarist should take advantage of guitar tabs but not heavily rely on them and also explore other ways if they want to be a serious guitar player.

So, let’s dive deeper into the topic to examine the pros and cons of guitar tabs.

What are Guitar Tabs?

Guitar tabs are a version of music notation for guitarists. They feature six lines with numbers placed on them that stand for strings and which fret to use. For example, if you see the number 3 on the lowest line, it indicates that you should play the 3rd fret of the highest string.

There are different types of guitar tabs. The most common ones are guitar tabs with the classic-sheet notation on top, guitar tabs with stems, symbols, and lines for the rhythmic notation, and simple guitar tabs with just lines and numbers, commonly found online.

I personally like the guitar tabs with classic music sheet notation on top, which is also popular in applications such as Guitar Pro. It is a versatile and effective way to learn to play songs, as it precisely shows the notation with rhythmic aspects and allows you to learn classical sheet notation if you are interested in it. If not, you can basically read the simple tabs, ignoring the classical notation on top.

The tabs with rhythmic notation are less commonly found on the internet and some apps, which are actually quite helpful in learning songs with the right timings and rhythmic aspects. But, you must be familiar with the stems and symbols borrowed from classical music sheet notation.

The simple guitar tabs are the easiest to read as they only feature numbers and lines. However, they can be tricky as these tabs supposedly should have spacings between the numbers according to the rhythmic aspects of the song, but rarely, they come in an organized and accurate way. So, you might have to listen to the song and figure out the timings of the notes and chords by yourself.

Why do Some People Think Guitar Tabs are Cheating?

The main argument against guitar tabs is that it is a shortcut, avoiding the need to learn to read music or put the effort to learn a song by ear. Learning songs by ear was common before the guitar tablatures came out and helped many musicians with ear training. 

However, I stand on the side that guitar tabs are not cheating at all, as it is only a tool to learn and exercise songs in a simple way. A written form like sheet music or guitar tablatures is handy for learning a song. So, for example, buying a music sheet of Bach’s Ave Maria to play is not considered cheating. Guitar tabs are no different.

That being said, you should be aware that guitar tabs have their advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your goals with guitar, you might not want to be too dependent on the guitar tabs and learn other ways to read music and learn how to play songs. 

Advantages of Guitar Tabs

Easy to Read

The main advantage of guitar tabs is that it offers an easy way for guitarists to learn songs. You don’t need any prior knowledge to be able to read guitar tabs and learn the solos, riffs, and melodies you want. You don’t even need to know or learn the notes you are playing to read tabs, though it would be much better if you do for you as a musician.

Help You With Classical Music Notation

Although the form of notation is different, and the tabs are much less complicated compared to the standard music sheet notation, working with tabs can give you practice for reading and playing simultaneously. 

Also, guitar tabs with classical music sheet notation are great for getting used to the standard sheet notation. These tabs can be great gateways for guitarists wanting to learn sheet notation.


Another great side of guitar tabs is that they are widespread on the internet. As it is the simplest and the most common way of sheet music for guitar, you can find almost any song’s tablatures on different web pages like Ultimate Guitar. This way, guitarists can learn and practice their songs of choice for free, quickly, and efficiently.

Disadvantages of Guitar Tabs

Accuracy of Tabs

Especially on the internet, there are many tabs of the same song with different notes. A simple search for a popular song, like Stairway to Heaven, will give you hundreds of different guitar tabs with many different versions. 

I have seen many songs with wrong notes, chords, or rhythmic notation. So, finding the correct tabs for a song can be tricky.

Lack of Rhytmic Aspect

Another significant disadvantage of guitar tabs is the lack of rhythmic notation. Most tabs on the internet are simple guitar tabs with only lines and numbers. So, guitarists have to figure out the timings of the notes and chords by themselves. This process is very straightforward for some songs, but it can be pretty challenging for more complicated songs.

Only for Guitar and Bass

The guitar tabs are specially created for guitar and guitar-like instruments like bass and ukuleles. So they can not be used for other instruments. This is pretty limiting for the guitarists, who want to play with other instruments. Also, as the tabs do not show the names of the chords or notes, you won’t be able to connect with other instruments to play together if you do not learn at least a bit about the notes and chords.

Risk of Dependency

Being too dependent on guitar tabs will limit you as a musician. Guitar tabs are great shortcuts for learning songs, but you need to learn more about music and different ways of sheet notation to grow more as a musician, for example. It would be pretty hard to play with other instruments or create music of your own.

As sheet music gives you a better understanding of music and music theory, it helps you significantly in your journey as a musician. You can learn about notes, scales, harmony, and chord progressions to create your songs or communicate with other musicians to play a song.

Also, learning some music theory can help you a lot if you want to learn a song by ear. You can recognize chord progressions and scales to figure out the notes and chords of a song. This way, it becomes much faster and easier to learn songs. It also helps you immensely with your ear training.

That is why if you are serious about playing guitar, you should take advantage of guitar tabs but not get too dependent on them and learn other ways to read music. 


Guitar tabs are just a tool for learning songs more easily and quickly for beginners as well as seasoned guitarists. As with any tool, they are not good or bad. They come with advantages and disadvantages, which guitarists should be careful with.

Guitar tabs are not cheating at all guitarists, but it is risky for guitarists who want to learn more about music, compose their own songs, and-or play with other musicians. They should also learn standard sheet notation to a degree or learn a bit about music theory, as simple guitar tabs do not help you with those at all.

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I have been playing guitar since 2004. As long as I can remember I always had a huge passion for rock music and I extremely enjoy playing it. Helping people on their rock journey is what drives me to keep on playing. Read More About Me

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