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How to use Guitar Tab

Updated on August 25, 2014

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 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

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.

  • Equally useful - if you have a Mac, just connect your guitar with a minijack to jack lead (Apple store) You can then use Garageband to record a chord backing track, and record a second track playing the tune from the tab part.
  • Then - make a great Christmas present for friends and family by burning them a CD of your playing with i-Tunes.

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.


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    • Jon Green profile image

      Jon Green 5 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi Jeff - an x is just a muted note, or click - usually part of a chord where you are palm muting to add rhythm.

    • profile image

      Jeff 5 years ago

      What if the tabs are x's on the diagram? For instance, there is a 2 on the diagram so that would be the secand fret on what ever string it sits on. But what if it's an x. What would it be played as then?