Reading Bass Tablatures

Bass tablature, is a pretty simple system of music notation for bass. Learn how to read bass tablature here!

Ultimate Guitar
IMPORTANT!: Learning to play bass tabs and songs is only a small fraction of what learning to be a bass player is all about. Be sure to read my article on mistakes beginner bass players make in the bass basics section.

Strings in Bass Tab

Bass tab shows the strings of the bass drawn horizontally. Most often bass tab is written for 4-string bass, but you may see it for 5-string and 6-string basses. The bass strings are drawn with the lowest-pitched string at the bottom. Standard bass tuning from lowest to highest is E-A-D-G and looks like this:

G ----------------------------
D ----------------------------
A ----------------------------
E ----------------------------

Some music will require a different tuning or more strings, but the perspective stays the same with the lowest (fattest) string at the bottom.

Fret Numbers in Bass Tab

In bass tab, notes are indicated by fret number. The fret number is written on the string on which it is played. Most basses have between 20 and 24 frets. You may see fret numbers from 0 (the open string) up to 24. In this example you are to play the 3rd fret on the E-string followed by the 2nd fret on the A-string, then the 5th fret on the A-string, and finally the 5th fret on the D-string.

G -------------------------------
D --------------------6----------
A --------3----6----------------
E ---4---------------------------

Bars in Bass Tab

Bars are usually marked as they are in standard notation with a vertical barline.

G -----------------------|-----------------
D -----------------------|-----------------
A -----------------------|-----------------
E -----------------------|-----------------

Rhythm in Bass Tab

Many times rhythm is not indicated in bass tab. All you get is the order of the notes. In this case you are left on your own to listen to the recording and piece it together yourself.

Other times rhythm is marked underneath with the count written under the fret numbers.

In this bass tab example there is an eighth note count written underneath...

G ------------------------------|--
D --------------------6---------|--
A --------3----6----------------|--
E ---4--------------------------|--

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Other Bass Tab Markings

Markings on strings:

A forward slash ( / ) indicates a slide moving up in pitch.

A back slash ( \ ) indicates a slide moving down in pitch.

A caret (^) indicates a bend.

An X (x) indicates a ghost note.

An H (h) indicates a hammer-on.

A P (p) indicates a pull-off.

For markings beneath the strings:

An S indicates a thumb slap.

A P indicates a pop.

A T indicates a tap.

3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Other than the error in the paragraph related to the tab for the fret numbers indication, it was a mediocre article at best.