How to Convert Tabs to Sheet Music

By Carl Hose

Tablature (or TAB) is a form of musical notation used primarily for musicians who play stringed instruments, most often the bass or guitar. Most other musicians play from traditional sheet music, using traditional musical notation such as time signatures, music note and rest values, and chord diagrams. A piano player, for instance, will probably not understand a tab and will have trouble playing unless the tab is converted to sheet music. Tab music can be converted to sheet music to make it accessible to musicians not familiar with tablature.

Place your tablature and a blank sheet of music staff paper side by side to allow yourself to easily work between them. On the blank staff paper, write the clef of the song first. If you are transcribing guitar tab, the time signature you place on the blank staff paper will be the treble clef. If you're transcribing bass tab, you will use the bass clef. You can refer to an online guide to help you with traditional music symbols (see Resources).

Write the time signature of the song. In most cases this will be 4/4, which means four beats per bar of music on the staff. If you're unsure of the time signature, write 4/4. This is considered common time and the most widely used of the time signatures.

Determine what key you are in and notate the key by adding the appropriate sharps or flats. You can refer to a major and minor key reference guide online to determine your key (see Resources).

Learn the lines and spaces on the music staff if you aren't familiar. There are five lines and four spaces. The notes on the treble clef music staff are F, A, C, E for the spaces and E, G, B, D, F for the five lines. Notes above the staff follow the musical alphabet going forward. Notes below the musical staff follow the musical alphabet in reverse. The musical alphabet is C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and the octave C.

Play the tab you want to transcribe to sheet music one bar at a time, or break it up by musical phrases if you are more comfortable. Determine the note you are playing on your guitar, then write that note on the music staff on one of the lines or spaces as a traditional music note. Tab typically does not indicate rhythm, only the actual note played, so you will need to determine whether you are playing a whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, or sixteenth note. This will determine how many notes go in each bar of the sheet music. Bars in sheet music are separated by vertical bar lines and the notes are placed in those bars by musical value, until you reach the correct number of notes to match the time signature. You can use an online note value reference chart to help you determine note length (see Resources).

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.