Reading Guitar Tablature Correctly

The following lesson will help to explain to you the basic concept of how to read guitar tab. Learning tablature is quite simple, and you should find yourself reading guitar tab in no time.

Reading Guitar Tablature Correctly
17

Lesson 1: Basic

The following lesson will help to explain to you the basic concept of how to read guitar tab. Learning tablature is quite simple, and you should find yourself reading guitar tab in no time. Tablature is a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches. Tablature is common for fretted stringed instruments such as the lute, vihuela, or guitar, as well as many free reed aerophones such as the harmonica. A tab staff for guitar has six horizontal lines, each one representing a string of the instrument. The bottom line of the staff represents your lowest "E" string, the second line from the bottom represents your "A" string, etc. The thickest string being the bottom most line and the thinnest string being the topmost.
e--------------------------------
B--------------------------------
G--------------------------------
D--------------------------------
A--------------------------------
E--------------------------------
Numbers are then placed on these lines to represent finger positions on the guitar fret board.
  2nd 3rd  2nd fret              
e-2----3---2---------------------
B--------------------------------
G--------------------------------
D--------------------------------
A--------------------------------
E--------------------------------

Chords

To tab a chord the notes would be placed in a vertical line upon the horizontal ones. This diagram represents a D Chord. You would strum the bottom 5 strings of the guitar in one motion if you were to read this tab properly.
e--2----------------------------
B--3----------------------------
G--2----------------------------
D--0----------------------------
A-------------------------------
E-------------------------------
And this one you would strum the "D Chord" three times.
e--2--2--2---------------------
B--3--3--3---------------------
G--2--2--2---------------------
D--0--0--0---------------------
A------------------------------
E------------------------------

Tablature Symbols

The numbers don't really describe the subtle techniques that a guitarist can execute, these are the tablature symbols that represent various techniques. Here are some of the symbols. h – hammer on p – pull off b – bend string up r – release bend / – slide up \ – slide down v – vibrato (sometimes written as ~) t – right hand tap s – legato slide S – shift slide T – tap

Hammer On

A hammer on is executed by picking a note and then hammering done with the fretting hand on the second note. The second note isn't actually picked but kind of echos the first one. Here is an example of how hammer ons are written in tab:
e----------------------5h7----
B------------------7h9--------
G--------------9h11-----------
D----------7h9----------------
A------5h7--------------------
E--3h5------------------------

Pull Off

A pull off is the opposite of a hammer on, so the first note is played again then the fretting hand pulls the finger off and lets the one fretted behind it play.
e----------------------7p5----
B------------------7p5--------
G--------------7p5------------
D----------7p5----------------
A------7p5--------------------
E--7p5------------------------

Bend

A bend is represented by the symbol "b", this is where the fretting hand actually bends the string to give a wobbly effect.
e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G--7b----7b-------------------
D--------------7b----7b-------
A-----------------------------
E-----------------------------

Release Bend

A release bend is represented by the symbol "r", this is just like a bend, but it tells you when to release the bend and go to the next note.
e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G--7r5---7r5------------------
D--------------7r5---7r5------
A-----------------------------
E-----------------------------

Slide-Up

A slide up is represented by the symbol "/". You would play the first note on 7 then slide the finger that is holding that note up to 9.
e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G--7/9---7/9------------------
D--------------7/9---7/9------
A-----------------------------
E-----------------------------

Slide-Down

Opposite of a Slide Up, slide down is represented by the symbol "\". You would play the first note on 7 then slide the finger that is holding that note down to 5.
e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G--7/5---7/5------------------
D--------------7/5---7/5------
A-----------------------------
E-----------------------------

Vibrato

Vibrato is like a constant rhythmic bending of the string. You do a bend up and bend down quickly to create a moving sound. It is usually represented by "v" or "~".
e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G--5v-------------------------
D--------------------5~~~-----
A-----------------------------
E-----------------------------

Tapping

Tapping is much like a hammer-on but you don't strum any notes. Just tap the notes on the fret board with your fretting hand.
e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G--5t---5t---5t---------------
D-----------------------------
A-----------------------------
E-----------------------------

Try This:

Plain White T's - "1, 2, 3, 4" (Intro)
e-------------------------------7---9---10-----10---12p10---10------|
B--10----7---10-----10-------10-------------------------------------|
G---------------9-------7-------------------------------------------|
D-------------------------------------------------------------------|
A-------------------------------------------------------------------|
E-------------------------------------------------------------------|
I hope you learned from my lesson. Wait for my Lesson 2!

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    My Last Words
    Also, forum pro tip: If you post tabs on the forum, use [CODE] ! ! ! Or it will end up like a mess.
    K33nbl4d3
    Not a bad lesson for its purpose, needs proof reading. A quick skim came up with: "You would strum the bottom 5 strings of the guitar in one motion if you were to read this tab properly." (4 strings) and "then hammering done" (down). In addition, the definition of tapping is incorrect for more or less any context you'll see the term used: Tapping is hammering-on with the picking hand, usually with the middle finger or (less commonly), the side of the pick (although the other fingers of the picking hand may be used). Less of a sin, but still problematic, the definition of bending is sketchy at best. To clarify, bending is to bend the string, to reach another [i]specific note. While it happens, for a tab just to indicate a bend with no "target" note is bad practice, though someone who knows the song should usually be able to figure out which note to bend to. Likewise I'd say the "release" definition could be clarified too, but as I said, the actual information is, for the most part, correct and relevant.
    fanapathy
    You gotta fix this: Numbers are then placed on these lines to represent finger positions on the guitar fret board. The numbers represent the fret number and that's it. People typically mistake it for fingering number and your wording doesn't help. You would strum the bottom 5 strings of the guitar in one motion if you were to read this tab properly. 4 strings. Just tap the notes on the fret board with your fretting hand. More often than not, notated tapping in tabs is with the picking hand. It's a good article but you should go over it again.
    TJ1991
    Really good, clear article for the most part. Needs proof reading as there are a couple of glaring errors, but nothing really bad. I think the bending bit needs more detail, like how far you should bend the note etc (ie 7b9 rather than just 7b or whatever).
    xHellbound
    A few more important ones: ^ = bend r = release (bend) PM... = palm mute (under notation) <#> = pinch harmonic tr = trill X = dead note note with . under it = staccato
    richcse
    is it a type "o" that the slide up and slide down example appear to be the same symbol??