I feel like starting with a “back when I was learning guitar” kind of statement. Because… back when I was learning how to play guitar we didn’t have quality transcriptions of our favorite songs in abundance like these days. I was lucky to find a page or two of transcribed music is guitar magazines. Tablature was not as common, nor was it a well-developed form of notation. A couple of years went by and the guitar mags started including a few fully transcribed songs in each issue. Woo hoo! This was (and still is) a great resource for all guitar players. We could now go to the newsstand, get the latest guitar magazines and learn some killer rock tunes, fully and accurately transcribed in standard notation as well as tablature.
These days you can get transcription books of your favorite albums. It’s really cool, but it’s also why I felt I should give you a little insight on those books. When you pick up one of those books there are two things you must know. 1) Realize that 99.9% of the time, the artist did not write the notation in the book! That is very important to understand. It is most likely that the artist signed a licensing deal to a publishing company so the publishing company could sell the sheet music to the artists recorded music. What does that mean to you? It means that someone else transcribed the sheet music and that person could be a great transcriber, or not. The best thing to do is get a book that is published by a top publishing company. As of this writing I consider the top two publishers to be Alfred Publishing and Hal Leonard. They have the best transcribers. 2) As a guitar player, make sure to get a book formatted for guitar. This is easy to spot. Just open up the book and see if there is standard notation with tablature directly underneath. Otherwise you might accidentally get a book that is formatted for “piano, vocal, guitar”. This notation has the grand staff for piano notation, lyrics and for guitar notation they add chord blocks above the grand staff to show you which chords to play. Be aware, that’s the only guitar notation you will get from that format. It won’t show you any specific riffs, melody lines, solos, and you’re lucky if they even show you some vague rhythmic or strumming pattern. Sometimes, to make it easier for the piano player, they will transpose the song into a different key.
So remember, the next time you pick up a transcription book make sure you remember those two important points. 1) Get a book from a top publishing company. They are likely to be the most accurate. 2) Confirm that it is a book notated in a format for guitar, not for piano, vocals & guitar. Now go practice and have fun learning some new songs!