This question is about the reliability of guitar tabs and whether or not licensed tabs are always (or usually) going to be more accurate than the unlicensed variety.
Before we answer the specific question, let's talk about what licensed tabs are and what it means when a guitar lesson program offers them.
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What are licensed guitar tabs?
Whether or not we agree with it, music publishers exclusively own the rights to all music produced by their artists, and that is not considered public domain. This means that it's technically illegal to display, teach, or use that music (or tab sheet) for any purposes, commercial or otherwise.
Those who do must be granted permission or "license" from the publisher.
When it's guitar tabs, this means that the notation comes directly from the publisher's documentation of the music in question.
What About User-Submitted Content
The laws still apply in this case, though the practicality of sorting out every "pirated" tab sheet on the internet isn't realistic for publishers. Instead, publishers will often seek out agreements with larger platforms that allow user submitted content, the details of which can be widely varied.
When Tabs and Sheet Music are Sourced and Licensed from Publishers
These tabs are being used commercially, since consumers are paying for access to them.
This is the arrangement I'm referring to when I talk about licensed guitar tabs.
Now, onto the main question.
Are they more accurate then user-submitted tabs?
Are they more accurate than your average non-licensed tab or user-submitted tab?
The short and easy answer is, yes.
When music is licensed by a company like Guitar Tricks or Ultimate Guitar, they're going to have access to the documented sheet music directly from the publisher. This means that you should be getting the sheet music that was submitted to the publisher from the artist that wrote and recorded the music.
Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that all licensed tabs are automatically more helpful or that user-submitted tabs have no value. For example, some people prefer to figure out songs in more easily accessible tunings and then post the tabs online.
Depending on the situation, this could be a better option for you even if it's not strictly licensed or 100 percent accurate.
There's also something to be said for an artist putting their own twist or spin on a given piece of music. If you're covering a piece of music, it might not be necessary to agonize over every single note and nuance of the song.
Instead, make sure you get the following elements down:
- Bass line
- Chord progressions
- Dominant melody
If you get these three elements from an un-licensed tab sheet, that should be enough for you to fill in the rest with your own creativity.
To circle back around:
Are licensed tab sheets always the most accurate? Yes, that's a fair assumption.
However, that doesn't mean you absolutely must have them at all costs. There are a ton of great user-submitted resources available online, so we'd recommend being open to them, in addition to licensed song lessons, when and if you need them.
Our recommendations would include the following:
Do you have questions about guitar tabs that we didn't address, or about the programs we've mentioned?
If so, feel free to drop a line in the comments section and we'll jump in to help out as best we can.
See ya there.