How to Read Guitar Tablature:
Basics

Overview

Once you discover how to read guitar tab (tablature), you'll find it easier to learn a tune than with standard music notation.  It's fast and easy to grasp for a beginner.

Almost any song written can be found online written in guitar tab.

Tablature isn't a new idea; it was first used in the 1400's for the lute!

Guitar music is played all over the fretboard. It can be hard to figure out where certain notes are played with standard music notation.

Most notes can be played in different places on the fretboard, and the guitar can be played in alternate tunings!

Standard music notation does not show this, but, guitar tablature does!

Tab is written on six lines, which represent the strings of the guitar, and where you fret the notes are shown as numbers.

Tab will show you where hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, slides, harmonics, vibrato, and other expressions are used. It will also give you information on where to position capos etc., and show you which tuning the music piece is in;( Assume it's in normal tuning unless the tab says otherwise).

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

The following are advanced lessons,  definitions of what the symbols mean can be found in the guitar glossary.

Read Guitar Tabs ... Rhythm

Read Guitar Tabs  ...  Rests and Strumming

As a beginner you only need to learn the guitar tablature symbols for notes and rests.

Learning to play guitar starts with the basics. The following diagrams are for more advanced players, or for someone who wants to learn more advanced music.

Guitar Tabs  ...  More Advanced Symbols

Get useful, downloadable, free tab software to find, play and loop guitar tablature here:      Free Guitar Tab Software

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