Reading TAB And Chord Diagrams

A in depth lesson teaching the much needed skill of being able to read tabulature and chord diagrams.

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Tabulature(TAB) is a form of written music designed specifically for guitar. It is a visual representation of the strings on the guitar and tell you where on that string to put your fingers. This is a breif explanation of how to read TAB: TAB has six lines each representing a string on guitar. The top line represents the high E (thin one) string and the bottom the low E (thick one). This is how the strings appear in order if you lie the guitar down on your lap with the strings facing upwards. On These lines there are numbers these represent the number of the fret that you play to get the note.
High E (thin one)||--------------------------------------0------||1
                B||--------------------1-----------------1------||2
                G||-----------2--------------------------2------||3
                D||-----------------------------2--------2------||4
                A||--0-----------------------------------0------||5
Low E (thick one)||---------------------------------------------||6
The first note is and open note shown with a zero on the A string (second thickest). The second note is on the second fret (hence the number 2) on the G string (no laughing), and so on for the rest of the single notes. At the end of the bar we see a full chord represented as several notes on top of each other. For this you play the frets indicated for each string at the same time. At the end of the bar I have labbelled each string with a number. I have done this to avoid confusion as most beggining guitarists think of the thickest string (Low E) as the first string when infact it is the opposite way round. In the world of guitar there are many different ways to play the same notes and different ways to get to notes. These techniques are shown in TAB by different symbols and letters. Here are some examples: Hammer-on and Pull-off: Slides: Bends:
||-----------------|       ||------------------|  ||------------------|
||-----------------|       ||------\5------/5--|  ||------------------|
||--5-h-7---7-p-5--|       ||--5/7----7\5------|  ||--5bu7bd5---------|
||-----------------|       ||------------------|  ||------------------|
||-----------------|       ||------------------|  ||----------pb7bd5--|
||-----------------|       ||------------------|  ||------------------|
The first diagram show hammer-ons and pull-offs represented by "h" and "p" respectively. Slides are shown by forward and back slashes. A forward slash tell you to slide up to (or down from), and the opposite for a back slash. For bends there are severall different thigns that can be shown. "bu" means bend up, "bd" means bend down or realease bend and "pb" means pre-bend. There are a few more things for bend but they are the basics really. There is also lots more techniques that can be showhn in TAB. These often are represented differently by different people. In most TABs there will be a key at the bottom and in all official TAB music there will be a key at the start. Now the main downside to TAB is that note lengths and musical directions are not shown. This is partly over come by putting letters over the top of the TAB showing the note length. For example:
       Q    E  E  S S S S
H-E||--5----7--5--5-7-8-7--|
This is a partial TAB shown on the high E string (H-E). The first note is a "Q" in length, meaning a quarter of a bar when in relation to 4/4 but is basically 1 beat otherwise known as a crotchet. "E" is an eigth, half of a quarter, otherwise know as a quaver and so on. "W" stands for whole and "H" for half. That is basically everything you need to know about reading TAB, if i have missed out anything please infrom me. Chord Diagrams: Chord diagrams are used to help show precicely how to play a chord and so that chords can be shown as letters instead of having to TAB out the full chord everytime. Basic chord diagram: A basic chord diagram will simply be a single chord shown in TAB form like: Cmaj7 |-3-| |-5-| |-4-| |-5-| |-3-| |---| Complex chord diagram: When I say "complex", I mean more complex than the basic one. This one actually shows you where to put your fingers and tells you which fingers to use.
Am
0|---|---|---|---|
 |-1-|---|---|---|
 |---|-3-|---|---|
 |---|-2-|---|---|
0|---|---|---|---|
X|---|---|---|---|
Again the six strings are shown in the same way but this time the numbers relate to fingers and instead the frets are shown by vertical line as seen on the guitar. The "0" before a string means you play an open string, and the "X" means you don't play that string. For this type of chord diagram sometimes chords will be a lot further up the fretboard then can be shown on this diagram this is shown like this.
Am
|-1-|---|---|---|
|-1-|---|---|---|
|-1-|---|---|---|
|---|---|-4-|---|
|---|---|-3-|---|
|-1-|---|---|---|
 5
Shown under this diagram is the number 5. This means that what seems to eb the first fret is now the 5th fret instead. This allows for clear representation of chords anywhere on the neck while still being compact. This concludes this lesson on reading TAB and chord diagrams I hope this has been helpful for atleast one person. If I made any mistakes in what I have said or if there is anything you may wish to add please do comment on it, thank you.

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    spence713
    as someone who has just taken up the guitar this information has been great. it is the only time i have seen an easy way to understand all the bloody numbers and letters on a sheet of paper. as for the ash hole who said it was a wast of time, then he is probley that good were below, us humans that is, guy's a prick. well done mate and thanks for the info.
    DarrenQ
    Ok
    spence713 wrote: as someone who has just taken up the guitar this information has been great. it is the only time i have seen an easy way to understand all the bloody numbers and letters on a sheet of paper. as for the ash hole who said it was a wast of time, then he is probley that good were below, us humans that is, guy's a prick. well done mate and thanks for the info.
    DarrenQ
    I second the above comments. Very useful lesson. Thanks for taking the time to type it out. Great!
    jeff the pirate
    spelling doesnt matter but im still confused
    David Blackbird wrote: Not too bad... but you lose points for spelling...
    techno858
    Very helpful, i have been playing guitar for about three years now, but was limited in my playing to basic tabs, because i couldn't play chords. This is one of six lessons i have looked at, and this is the only one that has helped any.
    lobo165
    Im new to learning guitar, so can anyone tell me wat the dark circle and the light circle means on diagrams?
    Shaq23
    This the only stuff i read on TABs that made a lot sense to me.Thanks and Keep more posted.
    jceast3
    Well explained, Thank you for taking the time. I sorted it out by trial and error. I would have been happy to have found this when I first began playing 5 years ago. It would have saved me a good bit of frustration back then. I am self taught.
    djvoodoow57
    Been playing the Bass by ear for a year now ( Naughty i know ) and now im moving onto the Acoustic which i wanna learn properly so this lesson has been very helpful to me in my quest Thanks