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Reading Guitar Tab

Updated on February 4, 2014

What is Guitar Tab?

Guitar tab, or tablature, is a way of writing guitar music that is very different to classic notation. It consists of six lines, representing the 6 strings, and numbers written onto the lines to represent the frets you hold down.

Benefits of Tablature Over Notation

Guitar tablature is easy to read and doesn't require any knowledge of music theory or rhythm values. You can combine tablature with listening to a recording of a song to get the correct speed and rhythm.

Another major benefit is that it tells you exactly which fret to use for each note. With standard notation, each note can be found in several places on a guitar neck, and you can only determine the best location of the right one to use through experience. Special effects, like hammer-ons and pull-offs, can also be shown in tablature.

11 h 14 is an example of a hammer-on, where you pluck the note on fret 11 and then forcefully hammer another finger behind fret 14 to sound it.

13 p 12 is an example of a pull-off. In this case, you would pluck the string while holding it behind fret 13, then use that fretting finger to pluck the string as you pulled it off, leaving another finger pressed down behind fret 12.

Disadvantages of Tablature

Although it is easy to read, most tablature only gives you information on the order of notes and where on the neck they are played. It doesn't tell you the tempo (speed), rhythm or dynamics (volume). This means that you have to rely on already knowing the song, or listening to a recording while you read the tab, to work out how to play it. Standard notation shows you all of the above information, meaning that you can learn a piece you have never heard before accurately just by reading the music. You have to be quite a proficient reader of notation and have a good knowledge of music theory to be able to do this quickly. Fast sight-reading comes with practise.

How to Read Guitar Tab







In the above example, the letters down the side are the tuning of the strings. Most guitars are tuned to EADGBE, but some songs use different tunings. The lowest line represents the lowest sounding string on the guitar (positioned the highest on the neck), and the top line represents the highest sounding string (positioned the lowest on the neck).

The numbers tell you the frets to put your fingers behind when you pluck the string. In this case, it is telling you to play fret 2, then 3, then 5 on the highest E string. The 0 means that you need to play the open E string.

If you see an x, you need to mute the string as you play it by lightly resting your hand or finger on it. It is an interesting effect used in many songs.

Tablature is also used to notate chords, where two or more notes are sounded at the same time. If you need to play several notes at the same time, they will be positioned directly above each other.







The above example is how you would write out the chord of G major in tablature. In this case, all the notes should be played at the same time, usually strummed from the top of the neck to the bottom.

In Conclusion

What I have shown you are the very basics of guitar tablature. It does get more complicated, but hopefully you now have some understanding of what guitar tablature is, the benefits and disadvantages of the system, and how to read it. Take your time and read lots of tablature, and you will master it in no time.


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    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, monthsong,

      Nice. Very nice hub. Voted up and away on this because you deserve it. I am an long-time lover of guitar. I have strummed, learned chords, and now I need to learn how to pick.

      This is helpful. Thank you.

      I CHORDially invite you to read a couple of my hubs then become one of my followers.

      I would love that.


      Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama

    • mothsong profile image

      mothsong 5 years ago

      Hi Thundermama. Thanks for the comment! I think that tablature makes learning guitar more accessible to self-taught people or those who find music reading difficult. Although I read music, I find working out a song with tablature and my ear much quicker.

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 5 years ago from Canada

      Interesting hub, I wonder if using tablature would be an easier way to learn to play guitar.

    • profile image

      SellyCells 6 years ago

      I had no idea it could actually assist in learning the guitar. Great to know... Thanks.

    • mothsong profile image

      mothsong 6 years ago

      Guitar hero can help you to coordinate your left and right hands and develop your skill to hear/pick out rhythms, but the mechanics of playing guitar are very different to playing guitar hero. Guitar hero doesn't teach you about the different ways of striking strings, how to hold down strings properly, how to position your hand behind the neck, where to find individual notes, how to make chord shapes, and many other factors. It can, however, increase the dexterity of your fretting hand if you play it a lot on higher levels.

    • profile image

      SellyCells 6 years ago

      Does Guitar hero help you to learn the guitar at all?