Hello hello! Being able to read Guitar Tabs (or any tabs involving strings) is easier than one would think. It’s actually not that complicated at all.
TABLATURE (tabs), is defined as: a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches. Tablature is common for fretted stringed instruments such as the lute, vihuela, bass or guitar, as well as many free reed aerophones such as the harmonica.
Or in simpler terms: It shows you where to put your fingers on which string you want to play.
Tabs are portrayed differently than Standard Sheet Music. You see, Tabs show you the exact placement of your fingers on the instrument you’re playing; Whereas, with Standard Sheet Music, there are just a bunch of symbols and squiggly marks that are (in my opinion) more difficult to follow. (Tabs also have symbols, but again, they look foreign and confusing to me). Now, both types produce the same result, they’re just written differently and I personally find that Tablature is way easier to read and apply. (Especially if you are just starting out)
So Let’s Get Started
This is a normal and blank Guitar Tab Sheet
At a closer look, you will see 6 horizontal lines on each section of the tab, these lines represent your guitar strings. (There are 6 because most guitars have just 6 strings) The top one represents your Skinniest String, and the bottom one will be your Thickest String. The top string is called the “e” string, or 1st string. This is because when it is played open (when you do not hold down on any of the frets and just play it by itself), it plays a simple e note. The next string down is the B String, or 2nd String. It is called that for the same reason, it plays a B note when played open. The rest are: the G String or 3rd String; D String or 4th string; A String or 5th String; and the other E String or 6th String. Since the 1st and 6th strings are both E notes, we usually write a lowercase “e” for the skinnier string (1st String). If not, just remember the top horizontal line (string) is the high e.
~ Now, always remember when reading a Tab, it goes from LEFT to RIGHT, just like if you were reading a book. ~
NOTES – SYMBOLS – TEChNIQUES
When reading a tab, you will see numbers on the horizontal lines, these represent the frets you are supposed to put your fingers on. Single numbers, read from Left to Right, are going to be a Melody, Riff, or Solo that you are going to play. If the numbers are lined up or stacked on top of each other (vertically), that is going to be a CHORD. You play those stacked notes at the same time.
Palm Muting: Shown as “P.M.–” To do this, simply take your Picking hand (I’m a righty so I use my right) and with the side of your Palm, lightly rest it on the strings right above/before the bridge (not too hard), and play whatever it is you are needing to Palm Mute. The dashes (—) after the P.M. represent how long you need to Palm Mute the notes it is shown on.
Muted Notes: or Dead Notes, are shown as an “x” on one or more of your strings. To play it, simply mute the note/string with your right or left hand so the pitch is completely muted.
Sliding, Up or Down: Sliding refers to when your finger(s) are on a particular fret (a number) and you slide up or down the neck to another fret. Sliding up the fret is shown as a “/‘ symbol and means you are sliding to a Higher pitch, where sliding down is a “\” mark and you’re sliding to a Lower pitch. On a Tab, you will see a number, a slanted line, and then another number.
Bending: Shown as a “b” (for Bend) You will see a Fret Number, then a b right next to it. Very commonly used. What you need to do is bend the string with your finger on the fret you are on, and this will put a slight difference in pitch and effect on that note. Practice it a couple of times and you will catch on very quickly.
Release: Shown as an “r” but since it is correlated with Bends, you might see “br” after the note that is needing it, they’re the same thing. To do this, bend the string you are on, then release it to cause another note to play that is on a different fret but same string. On a Tab, you will see a number, a b or br, then another number.
Let Ring: Shown as “Let Ring —” and is above the note(s) that need this effect. Play the note(s) specified, and let the note marked, ring until the end of the dashed line.
Hammer-Ons & Pull-Offs: Very commonly used together. A Hammer-on is shown as an “h” and a Pull-off is a “p“
- A Hammer-On is where you are going to “hit” down on the fingerboard (the neck) right behind the fret needing to be played, causing the note to play. On a Tab, you will see an h before or after a fret (number), depending on when you need to hit the note shown.
- A Pull-Off is the opposite. It’s where you are going to Pull Off the fret where your finger already is, causing a note to play. On a Tab, you will see a number, a p, then another number.
Another way to show these two, is with a curved line above the notes needing the effect.
Vibrato: Shown as a “v” or a squiggly line “~” right after the fret number or above the tab where the Vibrato needs played. The is where you repeatedly bend the string, of the note you are on, for an expressive vocal sound and effect.
ANOTHER WAY TO LEARN “CHORDS”
This other way is the most common way chords are portrayed. It is usually shown in a little box-type thing called a Chord Grid. The 6 strings (lines) are still shown, but this time the strings are Vertical, not horizontal. The skinny “e“, 1st String, is on the right, and the thicker “E“, 6th String, is on the left. The spaces between the Horizontal Lines represent the Frets. From top to bottom, they go lower to higher. They will usually say on the side which fret number it is.
Now for your finger positions. How to know where to put them so you can play the chord you want to. There’s a couple ways it is shown. The first is: There are usually little dots on which fret to play and which string to play it on. Also, directly on top where your vertical lines (strings) stop, there might be an “X” or an “O“. The “X” means Don’t Play That String, the “O” means its an Open String, and you DO play that. Another way is the exact same as the Dot Positioning, but instead if dots, there are numbers. Where these numbers are placed is exactly where you need to play (just like the dots) the only other difference, is that these numbers tell you which finger to use. Sometimes there is both as well.
- Index Finger
- Middle Finger
- Ring Finger
- Pinky Finger
Learning all of these techniques is going to change your Music world. Every one of them are extremely easy to read, learn and apply quickly. After practicing with them a few times, they are going to be imbedded into your skull and I guarantee you will not forget how to do them. They’ll basically become a second language to you.
So anywho, that’s a pretty good overview of the finer points in Tablature. I hope this will help you out on you’re way to Guitar-Awesomeness. Just keep practicing, having a good attitude, willingness to learn, and don’t give up! Once you have your basics down, you can get more creative with everything, write and record things that you are proud of, help others learn, and more. So basically, the only direction you can go is UP!
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, comments, or anything at all about this material, feel free to leave them below, or you can reach me at JerrickS@livebreathecreatemusic.com and I will be more than happy to assist you in any way I can.
As always, Keep Rockin!