How to Read Guitar Tablature:
Basics




As a beginner, when you learn how to read guitar tablature, (guitar tab),  you must first learn how the strings of the guitar are represented.

Guitar tab has 6 lines. These correspond to the 6 strings of your guitar, (or the six sets of double strings of a twelve string guitar).

The top line is the highest pitched string (high E; also called 1st string).

The bottom line is the lowest pitched string (low E, also called the 6th string).

The first diagram shows some blank tab and the string names. They are named after the notes that sound when the strings are played in the open position in standard tuning. An open note is the note that is played without pressing the string onto a fret.

If there is something you don't understand don't worry, you will soon know how to read guitar tablature!

Here's an example of blank tab with the string names:

How to read guitar tablature figure 1, the names of the open strings

In the next example you will see the difference between blank standard notation and blank guitar tablature.

Compare guitar tab to standard notation

The next example will show you some notes on the first string (high E string). These are quarter notes and are to be played from left to right one after another. Notice the straight line below the number? The line shows the timing of the note and the straight line means the note gets one full count.

The numbers on the lines show which fret the note gets played at: 0 is open, 1 is first fret, etc. This diagram shows that the 1st string gets played open, then 1st fret, then 3rd fret, then 5th fret.

The following diagram shows an A minor chord played as quarter notes.

Note how the notes are stacked one on top of the other, just like the standard notation. This means that you play all the numbered strings at once, four times in this measure.

Do not play any strings that are not numbered.

How to read guitar tablature chords on the tab

In the following diagram a "G chord" is played using a brush stroke. A brush stroke is played by strumming the chord more slowly.

In the tab format used in this site the brush strokes are marked with a letter "B" and an arrow showing the direction to strum. Other forms of written tab may not use the same symbols, if they use any at all! Still, other tab formats may show the chords on a slight angle, which means the same thing.

You can usually find details about the symbols used by other formats at the beginning of the music piece, or near the front of a book or magazine that uses tab.

How to read guitar tab diagram for brush strokes

The following diagram shows a "G chord" strummed using quarter notes and then played individually, using eighth notes starting at the "low E" (6th) string up to the "high E" and back down again.

You will notice at the bottom of the stems that there is another line. The line may or may not be joined to another stem. This signifies that the note is now played for half the length of time of a quarter note.

In the standard music notation, in the remainder of the second measure there is an eighth rest, (it kind of looks like a 7), and a half note rest (the small rectangle on top of a short line above the 4th string).In the remaining measures there are whole note rests, ( rectangle hanging from the line).

In the guitar tablature you can see that the same part of the music with the rests in standard notation, has stems without any numbers. This is how rests are shown in this format of guitar tablature.

A rest means that no music is played there.

Remember; most beginner guitar tab doesn't show rhythm this way. Instead, they just space the notes farther apart to indicate rhythm, and you will need to either know the music, or have the music playing and follow along.

Guitar tablature showing chords and single eighth notes

That wasn't so hard, was it?

Next lesson:

How to Read Guitar Tablature: Lesson 2


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