Hey Friends! You are here to learn How To Read Guitar Tabs, and I am here to help you. A funny story before we start. I was writing this post and ended up writing double my standard length and thought, Nobody, is going to read all of this! So I cut it into 2 parts (that’s probably what movie directors do too!). See Part 2 here if you wish.
This is the no-nonsense short version where we jump straight into the tools you need to read guitar tabs. The post where I share some helpful hints (in my opinion of course) to make your guitar tab reading journey a bit easier is here. Let’s hit it! (don’t actually hit anything)
The Basics – Like, Really Basic.
The main ideas of guitar tabs are simple.
- Show the Guitar Strings (dotted lines)
- Show the musician (that’s you) where to put their fingers on the strings to play the right note/chord.(numbers)
- Show the musician how to move from that note/chord to the next to play the song or piece
That is It! Next paragraph.
Pre Introduction – Easing You into The Tab.
This is what most tabs look like. There may be variance but you should be able to understand them without too much hassle.
To use a tab you first have to understand the symbols and notation used. A detailed look at those items is seen below in The Guitar Legend. For a simpler introduction, we will start with the most important part of the tab, the numbers! Looking at a tab you can usually see the tuning of the guitar along the left side of the page.
Hint: Basically if you hold your guitar like you’re about to play, then simply rotate your guitar so the strings face the roof (guitar flat on your lap), this is what the strings would look like in order. It may seem confusing at first, but believe me, once you get used to it you hardly look at your strings or even the tab!
A. The dashed lines represent the guitar strings (probably dotted to make it easier to read the numbers)
B. The dashed lines represent the guitar strings.
C. The vertical lines represent bars (musical divisions)
D. The two black vertical lines represent the end of the musical bar.
The number you see on the dotted lines represent the fret you should play
- A single number means to play that fret, on that string
- Numbers in a vertical line indicate a chord (notes played simultaneously) – place your fingers on all relevant numbers
- Single numbers in sequence indicate an Arpeggio (notes of a chord played individually)
The Guitar Legend – Or Map, Whatever!
This is basically the standard way to explain yourself to other people who use your tabs. It is essentially like the legend or key (no pun intended) to a map. Don’t be intimidated by these foreign-looking symbols (trust me its easier than learning sheet music). Most people have a legend below their tab so I will try to cover the 15 most common ones (common to me).
How Does it Work? – User Manual
The part you have been waiting for! This is just an example that I made up so don’t get your hopes up for anything spectacular.
- Pick the 5th note on the D string in a downwards motion
- Pick the 7th note on the G string in an upwards motion
- Pick the 7th note of the B string, then play the next note by hammering your finger down onto the 8th fret followed by hammering down on the 9th fret (Use whichever 3 fingers are most comfortable for you)
- Place three different fingers on the 5th, 7th and 8th frets of the B string. Pick the 8th note on the B string and then pull the B string down at the 8th fret. Release the bend to play the 7th note. Pull the 7th note down and release the string to play the 5th note.
- Bend the 5th note B string one full tone up (match the pitch of B string 7th fret).
- Bend the 5th note B string up a halftone (match the pitch of B string 6th Fret).
- Hold an A Major chord as shown (5,7,7,6,5,5) and strum once.
- Continue holding A Major chord and mute G string 6th fret with your finger and strum.
- Holding the A major chord. play each note of the chord one at a time (arpeggio) first ascending then descending.
- Upon arriving at the 7th note play a vibrato note.
- Play 5th fret G string tremolo.
- Play 5th fret Gstring Ghost bend (also known as prebend)
- Play 7th fret B string Artificial harmonic.
- Play 12th fret B string Natural Harmonic
- Place two different fingers at 7th and 9th frets. Play 12th fret B string with a single tap from a strumming hand finger. Once the tap is played pull the 12th fret down and release it to play the 9th fret. Pull fretting hand finger down at the 9th fret to play the 7th note.
- Repeat numbers 1-16 once more (due to repeat sign)
NOTE: There are different tunings (like DADGAD etc) but for simplicity sake, we shall stick with standard tuning.
Get Your Tab On – Its Up To You.
Personally, I find the guitar tabs to be wonderful teachers. They help you accelerate the learning process but also teach you not to believe everything you read. These tabs are made by other humans (like yourself) and therefore can contain mistakes. You will become more adept at picking up these mistakes as you play.
The power of music is that it can teach you how to learn and the joy that comes with learning. Music will also keep you humble (the best attitude to have when you learn). This is because the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know! For some, this seems like a fruitless quest but for you and me, the chase is an exhilarating experience!
You now know How To Read A Guitar Tab!
Do your best and have some fun friend! See you around!