When I first started to play guitar I was like most people who started playing. That is everyone knows what a chord is. At minimum they have heard of a guitar chord. It was a little while later in my journey I heard the word “Tab”.
It was at that moment I realized I didn’t know; What is a guitar Tab? What is a Guitar Tab? A Guitar Tab is an abbreviated word. It is short for Tablature. Tablature is a way for people to read music. Which is a form of music notation using symbols, letters and numbers. Instead of using music notes on a Staff.
There are a lot of different symbols that embody Tab notation. If you want to learn all the different technical structure of tab, and the nuances that are used to create a composition using tab. Then read more to understand how tab is used, and how to read it.
Tab VS Music Notation
When you learn guitar you can learn by learning music or Tab. Learning music is like learning a different language. Actually learning to read a different language. There is nothing wrong with this. But it makes learning the guitar a lot more difficult.
The reason is that now you are having to learn music and “guitar” all at the same time. Which can be overwhelming to learn all at once. This is why Tab can be so handy, and makes learning the guitar go a lot faster.
Many people that start out trying to learn music first. When they get a guitar never finish. They get frustrated and set the guitar down. Never to return to it. Learn guitar and tab, Theory and then music if you want. There are many guitarists that can’t read music.
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How Do You Read Tabs for Guitar?
When you are looking at the Tab. You are looking at the neck of the guitar. There are 6 strings. These are the 6 strings of the guitar. Starting at the bottom of the musical Staff. The bottom string is the 6th string of the guitar. The thickest string.
The next string is the 5th string of the guitar. Next is 4th string, the 3rd string, and the 2nd string. At the top of the Tab is the first string. As a reference the strings names from bottom to top are:E A D G B e.
Which can be remembered by Eddy Ate Dino-mite Goodbye Eddy. Click the link if you want to learn all the notes on the fretboard.
Guitar Fingerboard Breakthrough
What do the Numbers Mean?
When you see numbers on the lines these are not your fingers. The numbers are where on the guitar you will place your fingers. So if you see a 5, on the 6th string. This indicates that you are to place your finger at the 5th fret of the 6th string.
You play individual notes if the numbers are placed horizontally apart from each other. Then if the numbers are lined up vertically, one on top of the other. This indicates that this is a chord. Place your fingers in the same sequence that is shown on the tab. You are playing a specific chord.
If there is a zero on the string this means play the string open. Without putting your finger on the string.
Related Article: Beginner Guitar Quiz.
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Example of Tab
Here is a close up look at what Tablature looks like on paper. Some times there is only the Tab without the staff. After looking at the example read the explanation below.
- There is a zero on the 6th string indicating play an open 6th string.
- Strings (6 5 4 3 2 1) You would play the individual string (note) on that fret. 6 string 6 fret. 5th string 5th fret, etc.
- The next 3 examples are chords: See Below.
The first chord is an A Major chord. It shows x on the 6th string. The X is there to let you know. Do not play this string. Then “0”, on the 5th string. This indicates play the 5th string open. Meaning play the string, but do not place your finger on the string.
Then on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd string is the number 2. Which means your playing those strings on the second fret. Last is the open high e string.
You would play this chord with your first, second, and third fingers. Placing them at the second fret. When strumming you would strum from the 5th string. Try not to play the 6th string. It will sound bad.
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Tab D Chord
Then the next chord is the D Major chord. Like the A chord there are two “X “. One on the 6th string, and the other on the 5th string. Both indicate you don’t play those strings.
The “0”, on the 4th string is an open string. You play the string without fretting the string. The 3rd string is played at the 2nd fret. Then the 2nd string is played at the 3rd fret, and the 1st string is played at the 2nd fret. When you position your hands properly you have the D Major open chord.
If you need help with open chords. Click this link first position chords to learn where to place your fingers.
E minor is the last example
E minor is the last example shown above. All the strings are played with this chord. They are all open strings. Except for the 5th string, and the 4th string. Those strings are played at the 2nd fret. So you see how the tab works. But there are also symbols in Tablature. Below is a list of Tab Symbols.
The Tab example above has a staff above the tab. The staff is 5 horizontal lines joined together by a brace. The staff is used for musical notation. Notice that on the Tablature there are 6 lines joined together.
There are other symbols that make up the different parts of tablature. These are necessary to articulate the different nuances when playing. When your playing the guitar you don’t just play notes or chords. If that were the case all you would need are numbers in Tab.
Since you bend the strings, Hammer on the strings, And do things like Palm mute. You need to have letters. The letters allow the reader of the Tab to know what it is you are to do. For example, whether to bend, or pull off the string.
There are also Symbols used for expressing which way to move up or down the neck of the guitar. These are all helpful to know when reading tablature. Take a look at the tab symbols shown below. With the definitions of what each one means.
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What are the Guitar Tablature Symbols?
Tablature is a simple way to read music by showing the strings, and the frets to be played. There are also different Symbols that are used to denote slides, hammer-on, vibrato, trills, pull offs and more. These are different techniques a guitarist can use when playing. Tablature is flawed in that it does not show the duration of the notes. When you use tab (tablature) it’s usually on a song you have heard before.
Definitions / Symbols:
Hammer – on – Is executed when a guitarist picks a note and then hammers on or hammers there finger onto the second note. The second note is not picked, it echo’s the first note. The symbol for a Hammer on is h.
Slide – a slide when you pick a string, and then slide your finger up or down the string to the second note. Keeping your finger pressed firmly against the fretboard. The symbol for a slide is / Slide up or \ slide down.
Pull – off – a way to sound a note without plucking it. A pull off is the opposite of a hammer on. Play the first note and using your finger pull off of the string so that it plays the fretted note again. The symbol for pull off is p.
Vibrato – a wavering sound produced by shivering a fretted note up and down rapidly. Using your finger you bend up and bend down fast and continuous to make a moving sound. The Symbol for vibrato is v.
Trill – A Trill is a rapid vibratory sound and a rapid alteration of played notes. Using your finger you play one note and hammer on and pull off the second note rapidly. The symbol for Trill is tr.
Bend – To push or pull a string up or down. Increase tension and pitch. The symbol for bend is b.
Palm Muting – A Technique that involves resting the picking hand on the strings near the bridge to cut off any resonance, creating a percussive sound. The symbol for Palm Muting is PM.
Volume Swell –
Volume swell is where a guitarist makes the sound louder or softer. When using the volume control to create a fade in effect while playing a note or riff. The symbol for volume swell is <>.
Dead note – X Do not play the string.
- The lines are the strings on the guitar from bottom (thickest string) to top E A D G B e.
- The numbers are the frets where you put your fingers.
- If the numbers line up vertically you play all the strings at ones.
How to read Guitar Tabs PDF
Reading Tab is not that difficult once you learn the Symbols. Knowing the symbols is one part of it. But then the second part is knowing how to play what the symbol is notating.
Remembering all the Tabs, and what they mean can be daunting. So I made a quick reference guide. In this PDF it has everything you need to read Tab. This way you can have all the answers right at your finger tips. Click the link to get the Guitar Tab PDF.
What Do Numbers Mean on Guitar Tab?
People quite often think the numbers on guitar tab are your fingers. First finger second finger etc. That is incorrect. If you do that you will quickly find out your playing the wrong notes.
The numbers are where you place your fingers on the fretboard. The frets are the metal wire going down the neck of the guitar. Each number shown on the tab indicates what fret your fingers are at. Then the lines on the tab are the strings. So for example if the tab shows. Play the 3rd string at the 10th fret & the 6th string at the 8th fret. It would look like this:
The numbers start at the first fret. The fret closes to the head stock. This would be 1. Then it goes up from there, and can go as high as the last fret on the guitar. Just as a side note, a Power Tip to know where you are. Most guitars have dots on the neck of the guitar.
They are there so you can quickly tell what fret you are at. The dots on the fretboard are on frets 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12. There are two dots at the 12th fret. If your guitar doesn’t have the dots on the finger board.
You can still find them on the side of the neck closest to the 6th string. Again there to make it easy to see at a glance where your fingers are. Related Article: 58 Beginner guitar tips you should know.
What does H mean in a guitar tab?
There are many Symbols in Tablature that notate how, and where to play the note. Like what fret to play the note at. What chord to play. When you need to bend the note. Bending the strings etc. One of these symbols is: “H“, above the number means to hammer on. See the example of a Hammer on:
To “hammer on” means if you place your finger on a string, pick the note, and then hammer on a note. Literally pound the note like a hammer with your finger. So that the string rings out.
Like in the example above. your finger on the 5th fret first string. Notated by the 5 on the first string. Then the H means you are going to Hammer on. In this example since it is a 7, you are hammering on the 7th fret. On the first string. The notes that are being played are the A and the B. Click the link if you need to see how to play a hammer on.
To see a list of the different symbols take a look at the aforementioned paragraph.
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What is a Ghost Note on Guitar?
A ghost note is what happens when you are strumming your guitar. If you strum down four times that is a measure of time. 4/4 time. It is counted one two, three, four. If you strum down and up it is counted one and two and three and four. The Up Beat is the “and” of the beat.
When you are strumming you want your hand or arm to stay in motion. Like a clock pendulum. Down up, Down up, Down up, and Down up … You get the idea. After strumming down if you bring your arm back up, but don’t strike the strings. This is what is called a ghost note. Click this link to learn more about ghost notes and strumming.