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Guitar lesson - Tab Basics

Updated on February 11, 2022

Guitar Tab and Guitar grids

There are two types of guitar notation we're looking at here, Guitar Tab and Chord grids. They are both useful in different ways, but when you have both used together it's even better. Although both systems are very straightforward, not everyone understands them without explanation.

As there is no info on the rhythm in tab, you really need to listen to the song as well, which is easy as most songs are on Youtube in some form.

My hub Guitar Chords 101 has the most useful chords for beginners.

Reading Guitar Tab

Guitar Tab is a very quick way to learn tunes on guitar. The six lines represent the six strings of the guitar, with the thinnest E string, string 1, on the top. The numbers tell you the fret to use, a 0 means open string.

The first 4 notes are open string 2, a B note, played 4 times. Then the same thing on string 3, G.

The guitar grids shown above show the six strings as vertical lines, with the frets as horizontal lines. The string on the far right is string 1, the same as the top line on Tab. Your thumb would be on the left hand side of the grid diagram, and above the grid is the headstock of the guitar, so the picture of the guitar neck is rotated 90 degrees from how you see it when you're playing. This may seem a strange approach, but you get used to it very quickly.

Finally, there is a G major scale starting on the lowest string, string 6, then moving up to strings 5 and then 4. As everything in this lesson is in the same key, you can see the notes of Oh Susannah as an extension of the major scale, and use them for guitar solos.

Guitar Tab diagrams

Oh Susannah

We're starting on string 3, open string, then frets 2 and 4. You can just use your first finger for the whole tune. sliding between notes. At the end of line 2, repeat from the beginning.

My tip would be - learn the tune from the tab, but then memorise it. This realy applies to all tab, just use it as a start and then memorise everything.

This tune is in the key of G, meaning that you can accompany it with the chords from the G harmonised scale. here are the chords in G:

G Am Bm C D7 Em F♯m7b5 G

If you add the numbers to this sequence, it is easy to transpose or change key to all the other keys. Chords 1, 4, and 5 (usually written I, IV, V) would be G, C, and D or D7.

As most simple songs use the 1, 4, and 5 chords we would expect to use G, C, D7. It's good to add an Am chord too, so the second part of the tune goes from C to Am. (Oh Susannah)

If you know someone who plays guitar, they could play the chords while you play the tune.

You could also use the G major scale shown above in the tab to improvise or add bass lines, to this or any other song in the same key.

Another way to play scales is vertically, up the fretboard.

For G major use the third string, G:

0, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12. 0= Open string, fret 12 is G again, one octave higher.

Transferable Learning

You can use the material here to play literally hundreds of songs. The major scale in G, also the Em pentatonic scale:

String 1 : 3, 0

3, 0

2, 0

2, 0

2, 0

String 6: 3, 0

Will work with all the chords shown above. Most guitar players neglect learning the tune or melody line for songs, it's definitely something to work on.


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