How to Read Guitar Tabs

How to Read Guitar Tabs – Guitar Lessons

Learn Guitar Tabs Fast with this quick tutorial. If you take the time to learn to read tabs you will be able to learn how to play the guitar.


(1.) Reading Guitar Tablature

TAB or tablature is an alternate method of writing down music played on the guitar or other instrument. It uses an abbreviated notation method which differs from conventional music notation. I will only be covering guitar tablature for the purposes of this tutorial. At the very top you will often see a credits box giving credit to the original artist and the person that translated the song. Tab is generally a simple text file so that it can be shared and posted easily. Some more advanced sites have interactive tab, and tab in formats that can be played by tab players. Below is a sample header that you might see at the top of a guitar tab page.

#——————PLEASE NOTE——————#

# This file is the author’s own work and

# represents their interpretation of the

# song. You may only use this file for private

# study, scholarship, or research.


Date: Thursday, 5 July 2012 23:39:11 -0500

Subject: Tab: Sample Song Title – Sample Song Artist

(2.) So what does this all look like?

It looks like this:







Imagine that you are looking down at the neck of your guitar from behind while you are playing. The Bottom line represents your Low E string (String with the lowest pitch) and string closest to you. Next is the A String, D String, G String, B String and finally the high E String (String with the highest pitch). It is also the thinnest string. So now you know that the notation on the left indicates the name of each string and what note it is when played open. So what comes next? Numbers written on the lines show you where to press the string. You will notice that the neck of your guitar has little boxes from the head to the body. These little boxes are called frets. You press down on the string between the frets to change the strings pitch. If it’s a zero, you should play the string open (not pressing down or fretting). Fretting simply means pressing down the string down with your fretting finger to play the desired note. (E F F# G G# A) The number is placed on the string you need to fret and it tells you what fret to press. Number one is at the head of the guitar all the way to twenty-two by the body. Try playing this it is easy and it is all on the low E String.







(3.) What about chords? –¬†Learn Guitar Chords

You have now learned the basics of single notes, but what about chords. Chords are simply written as notes on top of one another. Below is a sample F Chord. The x means do not play that string. If nothing is noted you should also not play that string it will have a 0 if you need to play it open (Not Fretted).







Now notice in the following guitar tab sample below, that the notes are not directly on top of each other. This is still an F chord played one string at a time starting from the D String. Not spaced out like plucking each note individually, but more of a strum. It is still an F chord but the notation indicates that it should be played as shown.







The example below is also an F chord played starting at the D string slowly picking each string up to the high E string and back down to the D string. At this point you may be wondering how you will know the correct timing. Unfortunately tab does not expressly show the exact timing as conventional music notation will. It is always best to listen to the song that you are trying to learn. However depending on who translated the song into tab you may have some timing clues. Generally evenly spaced number notation is played with the same timing between notes, closer notes are played more quickly and, yes… there is more notation that will help you with attack and timing technique.







This children’s song illustrates timing based on note spacing as well as chord/bass fretting. It is a little past beginner so don’t worry if you have trouble with it. I am just trying to illustrate how some of what you have learned all comes together.







(4.) Those crazy symbols.

Below are the most common symbols and letters used in guitar tab. These symbols or letters are placed between the notes to tell you how to play them. I recommend that you learn these common symbols:

h – Hammer on

p – Pull off

b – Bend string up

r – Release bend

/ – Slide up – slide down

v – Vibrato

t – Right hand tap

x – Play the ‘note’ with damping

(4a.) The Hammer On

The Hammer on in the exercise below is done on the A string. Play the two open notes on the E string then fret the A string at the fifth fret and pick (play) the note, without removing your (pointer) finger from the fifth fret and while it rings fret the 7th fret (with your ring finger) but DO NOT pick the note. The 7th fret note should ring from the energy left over from picking the fifth fret. Repeat.







(4b.) The Pull Off

The pull off in the how to read guitar tabs exercise below is like the opposite of the hammer on. You start with your fretted note pick (play) the note then remove your fretting finger and the note should ring open from the left over energy. The open note will differ in sound based on your pull off.







(4c.) The Bend

Just what it sounds like bend the string to a higher pitch. How far is usually indicated above the tab staff, but sometimes in the tab like 7b8 for example. Pick the fretted string then bend to the desired pitch.

Bend up 1/4 tone







(4d.) The Slide

Again this is a simple slide. It starts from the fretted note from the 7th fret on the B string to the 9th fret. Only pick the starting note then slide your fretting finger.







If you are interested I am the author of this article and it is also available from the link below in a format that will provide a user friendly printout. This is the first in a series of lessons that I will be posting as time permits.

(c) Copyright – Frank C. Fallo All Rights Reserved Worldwide

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Topics covered: read guitar tabs, learn guitar tabs, reading guitar tablature

One comment on “How to Read Guitar Tabs

  1. I don’t think I would’ve kept playing guitar if it wasn’t for tabs, they made it so easy for me to learn, I know it’s important to also learn real notes, but in the start to learn some quick songs etc. guitar tabs are awesome.

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