Playing from tablature alone has one large disadvantage – there’s no real indication of how long particular notes should be. If you’re learning a song with no audio reference this can make things really challenging, so guitarists are often presented with a form of tablature that includes bars of traditional staff notation as a reference. Here is an example of what that would look like, (note that if this were handed to me, I would focus on the tablature at the bottom, and only taking in the rhythmic information in the top part.)
In this lesson I hope to explain the value, in terms of length, of notes. Please remember that for this lesson we’re only interested in the note’s rhythmic information. That is, it’s value in terms of length. Reading a note’s pitch from staff notation is for another lesson, for now assume that you’re getting chords, pitches, etc from tab.
Below are the 4 most common values of notes, in order of size. I’ll go over each of these notes separately now, one bar at a time.
The first note we see here is called a Semibreve. The length of a Semibreve is exactly that of the entire bar. As most pieces of western music are composed in 4/4 time, you could say that a Semibreve is most often the same length as four Crotchets.
A Minim, such as in bar 2, is held for as long as 2 Crotchets. In 4/4 time, you would have 2 Minims to a bar. There are 2 different ways of writing them dependant on where the note is written. If the note is below the middle line you would usually write the stem above the circle, and if the note was above the middle line the stem would be below the circle. If a note lies precisely in the middle then either way is acceptable. Minims are sometimes referred to as half notes.
In bar 3 we see Crotchets. The same rule applies with regard to the note’s stem. You would get 4 Crotchets in a bar of 4/4. Regarding time signatures, the first 4 in “4/4”, (the top note shown on the time signature on the previous page), indicates that there should be 4 notes. The bottom number tells us how long these notes should be, “4” referring to Crotchets. This is why Crotchets are also referred to as quarter notes.
Quavers, as in bar 4, last half as long as Crotchets. In a bar of 4/4 you could fit 8 Quavers, and this is why they’re called eighth notes. You can see that Quavers are often paired by joining their tails. They are paired when two Quavers appear next to each other in the same bar. The third and fifth symbols show what Quavers look like when they are written separately.
Now, for each of these notes you also have what we call Rests, written below. These represent an absence of playing, a pause. Pausing between notes can often make phrases a lot more interesting than just playing and holding notes, so expect these symbols to come up quite a lot. As touched-on before, there’s no common way of noting that you need to pause in tablature, which is another advantage of staff notation.
As before, bar 1 is a Semibreve Rest, bar 2 is a Minim Rest, bar 3 is a Crotchet Rest, and 4 is a Quaver Rest. There’s also nothing fancy to remember about these notes in terms of pairing or joining, (just yet…) So enjoy it while it’s simple!