How To Read Guitar Tab
By Ben BlakesleyGeorges Music
Guitarist 1, "Hey, do you know how to play [insert cool song here]?"
Guitarist 2, "No."
Guitarist 1, "No prob, I'll send you the tab and we can jam on it next week."
Guitarist 2 (thinking to himself), "Crap. How do you read tab?"
If you've ever found your self in this situation, or stumbled upon this:
when trying to learn a new song and were confused, this article is for you!
This is guitar tab and it's a great way for you self-starters out there to learn new songs without the daunting task of reading actual sheet music or notes on a staff.
Guitar tab can be found in a number of places, most notably, a plethora of guitar sites online and in just about every guitar songbook you can buy.
What it lacks in notation, it makes up for in ease of use and the speed at which a beginner can start using it to further their musical education.
What do those lines mean?
To start, you need to know a few things about how tablature is laid out. It is typically displayed in a boxed format with 6 lines where each line represents a string of the guitar.
You'll notice that to the left of each line (string) there is a note name that corresponds to standard tuning on a 6-string guitar. This may or may not be present in all the tab that you find, but if it's missing, it's safe to assume that the tab represents standard tuning and the high E string is the first line.
And the numbers??
The numbers on the lines represent fret numbers. So if you see a 3 on the low E string, that means to play the low E on the 3rd fret (a G note). It's as simple as that.Think of the lines as a timeline moving from left to right. If you see something like our example, that means that you'd be playing low E on the 3rd fret, A on the 5th fret, and G on the 5th fret all at the same time (commonly known as a G5 chord, or G power chord). As you work your way from left to right, you play the notes indicated in sequence.
Honestly, that's about all there is to it. It's a very simple system, however, there are a few things I'd like to note that you may come across on your tab reading journey.0 - if you see a zero on a string, that just means you play the open string. Essentially it's saying play on fret 0x - if you come across an x on a string, that means that you will mute that string as you playh - you may see something like: 5h6. This indicates that you should play the string on the 5th fret and then 'hammer-on' to the 6th fret without striking the note againt - almost the same as a hammer-on, the t represents finger tapping (think Eddie Van Halen) a notep - similar to 'hammer on' the p represents 'pull-off.' If you see 6p5, you would play the string on the 6th fret and then pull-off to the 5th without striking the string againb - along the same lines, the b represents a bend. 5b6 indicates that you would play the string on the 5th fret and bend the note up to the 6th fret pitch (although your finger stays in the 5th fret)r -conversely, an r is a call to release or return the bend to its original fretted note/ - the forward slash is used to represent an upward slide. 5/6 would be a slide from the 5th fret to the 6th - the backslash does just the opposite and indicates a downward slide~ - the tilde represents vibrato on a noteThe biggest flaw with guitar tab is that there is no way to notate duration or rhythm. Being able to play a song you've never heard before just from the tab is impossible, so if you're serious about your music, I definitely suggest you learn to read notated music. It can only make you a better player.PS. Bonus points for anyone who can identify the song used in the tab example.
Ben Blakesley is in charge of Marketing and Technology at George's Music and is a self-taught guitarist who first learned to play by reading tab until his eyes went blind. But don't go spreading that around.