Reading Tablature

How to read the simpliest notation for guitar.

7
What is tablature? Tablature is a form of musical notation which indicates fingering on a fret board. Advantages? First off you don't need to learn musical symbols, whole step symbols and half steps in order to play your favorite song. Tablature is a simplified way to read music for those people who are looking to play a few songs. Disadvantages? The biggest disadvantage of tablature is that it doesn't give time signatures so in order to get the timing of a song down you will probably need to already know that song. If you are a beginner who wants to put a lot of time and effort in to become a good guitar player I suggest you learn to read more than just tablature. In order to understand how to read tablature let's take a look at the intro to a popular guitar tune by The Beatles.
e|-------------------------------------------------------------|
B|---0-------1-------3------3--/12----12--12----12----12--12---|
G|-------0-------0------0-----------0-------0-------0-------0--|
D|-------------------------------------------------------------|
A|-----------0-------2------2--/10------10------10------10-----|
E|---3---------------------------------------------------------|
Notice how on the left hand side it tells you the strings. The e on top or the e up high is your high e where the E on the bottom or down low is your low e on a fretboard. Now since the tab shows us the notes on the left side as e, B, G, D, A, and E we know that the guitar most be in standard tuning. However if you don't see the Notes on the left hand side than usually it's said in the begging of a tab what tuning it must be in. If all else fails listen to what your playing and if it sounds wrong change the tuning. Now let's take a look at that same tablature again.
e|-------------------------------------------------------------|
B|---0-------1-------3------3--/12----12--12----12----12--12---|
G|-------0-------0------0-----------0-------0-------0-------0--|
D|-------------------------------------------------------------|
A|-----------0-------2------2--/10------10------10------10-----|
E|---3---------------------------------------------------------|
As I said before look at the letters on the left hand side to determine the string that coincides with the notes. Notice the first set of numbers (0 and 3) are aligned vertically. This simply means they are played together or at the same time. Furthermore the numbers represent the fret that you will hold on that string. So the first step is to play the 3rd fret on the low E and the open B at the same time. If you have done this successfully you have just read tablature, Congratulations! The last thing we'll look at this lesson are a couple of symbols. Generally in tab you have two similar symbols that are very important to matching a song. These two symbols the / and the \ represent slides up and down respectively. So if you take a look at the halfway point of the tablature above you will see the slide up symbol. This is really quite easy just play the 3rd fret on the B string and the 2nd fret on the A string. Play these two strings simultaneously and hold the frets as you slide your fretting hand up to the 12th fret on the B string and the 10the fret on the A string. Another import set of symbols you should know and understand is are p and h which stand for pull-off's and hammer-on respectively. A pull off is simply when you play a note on a string and than take you fretting finger of the note in order to play a lower note. For example: e|---5p3----- This technique will be show on the high e string. First put a fretting finger on the third fret of the e string and one on the 5th fret of the e string. Play that fifth fret and quickly pull your fretting finger of the fifth fret while keeping your other on the third fret. This will play the fifth fret and when pulled off the third. The hammer-on is simply the opposite of the pull-off where you go from a lower note to a higher note. Let's take that same tab above but use it as a hammer-on. e|---3h5----- Take a fretting finger and hold the third fret of the e string. Play that 3rd fret and with another fretting finger quickly put it on the 5th fret and hold. All in all that's all you really need to know to start off reading TAB. Some tabs on this site for example use different symbols but for the most part it is said in the beginning what some of the symbols mean. Remember tab doesn't give time signatures so it's better if you know the song you want to play and/or listen to it before you play it. -- Note by moderator. Also learn "Reading Guitar Tablature II" lesson.

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    blkstar
    I have a question about the first part. It says you play the 3 and 0 together. But how? There are three strings between them that don't have any numbers. So do I strum the E 3 and then hit the open B chord? Or do I play E-B including those extra three chords in the middle? (I'm a newbie sorry.)
    khori
    what the function of tablature..is that for a melody..sorry i blank about that
    blkstar
    Oops, I meant "those extra three 'strings' in the middle?" not chords.
    faye666
    yah i have the same question as blkstar..that tab above..do u pluck it?coz u said play 0 and 3 at the same time?? im also a newbie..sorry
    johnprs
    johnprs newbe wants to know about advanced tab codes on this site that are new to me ex q etc
    learnin2jam
    this is pretty helpful.. but.. i dont understand... is the tabs supposed 2 be upside down? like.. high E isnt that the stop string? so y is it at the bottom of the tabs?
    yankees717
    Simple rule of thumb...If the tab line doesn't have a number on it indicating a fret then you don't play it. If you don't see it don't play it. Only play the numbers indicating frets on the corresponding strings that are marked.
    phil cawrse
    well put but us slow learners and lefty's must really try that much harder lol tried to learnby a regular book with instructor finding this more fun thanksssss phil aka mr styx in ohio
    Aishla
    Good lesoon. I understand most of it. I don't think you need to add more symbols to this lesson. I think it's better if you put that stuff into another lesson. I have already read a lot of tabs (I play two months now) and I really never understood the 'p' and 'h' thing. So thanks a lot. But... I have got a little question. Two, acutually. First the pull off, when I pulled of the 5th, I didn't hear the sound of the 3th one. I just heard a noise which was a little bit like when you pull of and don't hold another finger on a fred. Does it really have to sound like when you just play on the 3th fred? And I also don't understand how tot play the hammer on well. Because when I put my finger on the 5th fred, after I played the 3th, you just don't hear anything. It stops the sound... Thanks in advance Btw, sorry for my bad engelish I'm Dutch.
    yankees717
    When your playing the hammer on you should keep one finger on the 3rd fret while at the same time placing another onto the 5th. As for your lack of sound hammer on's and pull off's are primarily used on electric guitars although they aren't uncommon on acoustic. If your playing accoustic you simply need to pluck the sting harder on your first note in order to hear the hammer on
    maletramp69
    You need to add all the symbols for people who are just staring out. I been playing a long time and believe me it helps new people. Tramp