I have been playing guitar for a few months and have grown to love it. I played sports and participated in 0 fine arts growing up, so this is all very new to me. I was excited to initially learn guitar tabs since they are so easy to read, but I've decided it is finally time for me to delve into learning sheet music and translating it into tabs for practice. As an exercise, I am curious in translating part of a score from a video game. The part I decided to start translating (along with the notation) can be found here (credit goes to 8-Bit Music Theory for the video content and Nintendo for the music itself). I am only interested in the top bar (the one that gets labeled as running up A lydian and subsequently down D lydian).

I believe I have derived the correct notes which are in the key of A, as seen below (this is just the first two measures) (I am also unsure how to depict stacked notes/chords when writing them out like this, so I apologize if this is incorrect.)

C - C - D♯ - D♯ - E - E - F - F - G - G - A - A - B - C - D♯
A - A - B - B - C - C - D♯ - D♯ - E - E - F - F - G - A - B

EDIT: I just came across this site which names chords based on the notes. So in my example it would be Am Am Asus2 Asus2... etc., but that is besides the point of this question.

Anyways, assuming I have the correct notes, I have tried to put them into tabs, but I can't really find anything that sounds "right".

  1. Should I stay on the same two strings? (I am ignoring note length and any other advance tab notation, again for the sake of example.)

I would assume obviously not, as this requires too much hand movement and sounds "stale" all being on the same two strings.

  1. Do I incorporate multiple strings that aren't consecutive?

Albeit sounding a bit nicer, I would also assume not since this is way too hard to play (at least for me lol) in rhythm and still incorporates a lot of hand movement.

  1. Do I stick in one general area, moving across multiple strings?

Or something different?

General questions:

  • How do I know which note should go on top? ie


  • How do I know when to move to the next string?
  • Do I completely ignore the stacked notes/chords and play these as individual notes in a tighter area/shape higher on the fretboard? (This question I am especially intrigued by)

etc, etc...

It seems like there are so many different ways to turn sheet music into tabs. Is it a "feel" sort of thing? Do you experiment around until you land on something that sounds nice?

This is my first question on this site so I hope it is appropriate, in-depth, and valid while clearly conveying what I have tried. I understand this is a loaded post... so if someone experienced just wants to post their take on the tabs I could try and figure these questions out myself.


Note: I am playing on electric

  • Hm, if you could ask only one question: which one is it?
    – MS-SPO
    Jan 21, 2023 at 18:31
  • @MS-SPO What an experienced musician's take on the tabs would be. Then I could try to piece together the answers to the rest of my questions from there.
    – bismo
    Jan 21, 2023 at 18:59
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    @bismo, thanks. What I recognize time and again is that guitarists tend to recommend using leadsheets instead of tabulatures. Though a reason is rarely given, if you think about it, what you do is to see something (notes, tabs, chord-letters ...) AND to translate it into finger-motion. It's just the same mental-mechanical process as reading written text out loud. // The fret position can also be indicated in lead sheets, e.g. by fretboard symbols, or simply by a number indicating the barre. // The fret to chose depends on sound, playability, previous and next notes etc.
    – MS-SPO
    Jan 21, 2023 at 20:00
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    If you want to learn to read sheet music for guitar, transcribing it into tablature will actually impede your progress. Read sheet music only that has no tabs and play guitar from it, forget about tabs while you're learning to read sheet music. Jan 22, 2023 at 2:40
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    Do not waste your time using tab as an an intermediator. Tab is only as good as the writer, some of whom are still wet behind the ears. Immerse yourself straight into the dots, and save time in the long run. Yes, it may take a little longer to get results, but you'll benefit from doing just that.
    – Tim
    Jan 22, 2023 at 12:26

1 Answer 1


As you have yourself admitted, the question is a bit too broad, but I have a couple of thoughts on it anyway.

First of all, learning standard notation is a good step towards better musicianship, and it's also a must if you want to play more complicated things on the guitar. BUT:

Firstly, I wouldn't recommend translating standard notation into tabs. The reason is that if you're going to learn to read music at all, you want to achieve at least a certain level of fluency in it — you look at the notes and you should more or less immediately see what is going on there and/or be able to play it on your instrument. If you translate the scores into tabs, you will never reach such fluency since you never get to practice it.

It's as if you wanted to be able to read English texts aloud correctly, and you decided to grab some dictionaries and painstakingly rewrite many texts phonetically, so that you could easily read them. You may do this many times and you still won't be good at reading English.

Second, tabs should be avoided if possible (in my humble opinion with which you may disagree). Yes, they're good for people who cannot read music and who want to learn simple tunes fast. They're mostly awful at everything else. As soon as any more complicated rhythm or voice leading occurs, the tabs become a nightmare to write and read. And they force certain fingering upon you, with which you may disagree. So (in my opinion!) you should leave tabs behind as soon as you can.

Third, if you want to learn to play from scores on your guitar, I would recommend playing pieces that are actually meant for guitar. There are loads of music written in standard notation that are written for the instrument. In your example, you have a lot of stacked thirds. They can be very naturally played on the piano, but it's quite hard to play them nicely on the guitar — they're just not that well suited to the instrument. Of course it can be done, but for a beginner it's probably more pain than it's worth (and not only for a beginner — you're not going to find them in many of more advanced pieces either).

Fourth, you haven't read the score correctly. There is a key signature of three sharps (A major) that makes each F into a F#, each C into a C# and each G into a G# (unless cancelled by a natural). So you play wrong pitches, and that's why you're not getting what you want. Written correctly, it should be C# C# D# D# E E F# F# etc., and A A B B C# C# D# D# etc.

Moreover, you play the notes in wrong octaves. In your first example, you play an octave lower than what's written in the score. In the second example, the note on the G string is in the correct octave (but you should play on 6th fret, since it's a C#), but the A is an octave higher than it should be (you should play it on the 4th string, 7th fret). This changes the relations between the notes considerably (the formal name for this particular thing is "inversion") and you get something quite different.

Fifth — when it comes to fingering (i. e. choosing what tone to play on which string with which finger), it's more or less a matter of taste. In most cases, there are multiple "solutions". Pick the one that you find the most comfortable for you. With more time spent with guitar, you will also find that the thicker strings have different "color" than the thinner ones, and so playing high up the neck on thicker strings will sound differently than playing lower on the neck on thinner strings. That's all up to your consideration. Just stick with what sounds good and feels comfortable to play.

  • Thanks for the concise, in-depth answer. It appears I indeed forgot to include the sharps from the key signature, leading to an incorrect reading. Thanks for pointing this out. Per the second part of your fourth point, how could you tell I am playing the incorrect octaves from the score? Is there any special notation I'm not noticing? And how can you tell which note on a guitar relates to which octave? Of course one note 12 frets higher on the same string is an octave higher, but how can you compare octaves between the same note on different strings?
    – bismo
    Jan 22, 2023 at 17:57
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    @bismo — the dots in the score contain precise information about pitches, including the octave, so nothing special. Regarding the octaves: how do you find the notes on fretboard? Do you by any chance use a chart like this: cdn.musiciantuts.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/… ? If so, then your problem is that the notes in the score tell you name + octave, but this kind of a chart does not show the octaves, so you conflate them together.
    – Ramillies
    Jan 22, 2023 at 23:34

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