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Learn How to Read Guitar Tabs

Updated on February 27, 2014

Learn Guitar Tabs

What is Guitar Tab? Tab is short for tablature. It is a method for making musical notation without using notes. The guitarist puts his fingers on the guitar neck in the frets indicated by the tab.

How-to Read Guitar Tablature: Basics

Reading guitar tab is easy. The six lines in the tablature image represent the guitar strings. The top line stands for the high E and the bottom line for the low E. The numbers on the lines of tablature show which string and fret to play. A number sitting on the 5th string means play that string and if the number is a 4 that means the 4th fret. A zero means play the string open

Guitar Tab Symbols

h stands for hammer on and will be between the initial fret and the one to hammer on—7h9

· a pull off will look like 9p7

· ^ this symbol is sometimes used for either a hammer on or pull off—7^9 or9^7

· bending—string bends are denoted by a b—7b9—it could look like this7(9) sometimes the tab writer omits the b

· Slides—this slash / means ascending and this one \ means descending—7/9—7\5-- an s might denote the slide without telling its direction because the tab writer didn't use the slash mark

· r stands for release bend--7b9r7

· v stands for vibrato--the ~ might be used for vibrato, which is a repeated bending of the string

· t means right hand tap--7t—similar to doing a hammer on, but without strumming

· x means string muting

· < > is used to mean harmonics

· PM means palm muting

Beyond Basics of Reading Guitar Tabs

There are several others symbols used in tab beyond the basics. Three or four numbers piled on top of each other represent a chord. The name of the chord might be written too

Using and Reading Guitar Tab: The Weaknesses

The major weakness of tab is that it doesn’t denote the rhythm of a song. Without the rhythm notated the guitarist has to already know the rhythm. He doesn’t have a way of knowing how long each note is held. If he hasn’t heard the song a friend wants him to play with him, he’ll have to hear it and learn how long to hold each note, whereas, with standard notation, the timing is noted. The notes represent so many beats.

Guitarist have another problem when using tab and playing with other musicians that don’t use tab. The other musicians can’t read tab and there is a lack of a mutual mode of musical communication, but musicians playing various instruments use standard musical notation.

Tab is an easy way to learn songs, but it doesn’t tell the guitarist all of the musical information about a song the way standard notation does.

There is a kind of hybrid tab that draws the stems onto the numbers to show the timing, but you might as well just learn standard notation. This kind of tab is awkward and negates the reason for using tab.

Chord Theory Lesson

Tab is a Good Tool

Though not perfect, guitar tablature is a useful tool for playing guitar that shows the fingering, but doesn't indicate the pitch of the song. Still, it has been around for centuries and is here to stay.


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    • Deltachord profile image

      Deltachord 8 years ago from United States

      Thanks lovezan. I appreciate your compliment.