A Beginner's Guide To Making Tabs And Chords

A questions of what is tab, how to tab a song, how to submit tab for UG have been asked a dozen times during the years, and now they will be settled once for all.

Ultimate Guitar
The question of how to transcribe songs and write them out as tabs has been asked many times before and here is the answer to the question. I'm about to take you through the basics of tabs with a few helpful tips and pointers along the way. Whether you are a new guitarist or have been having difficulty with tablature, this article will help you become more familiar with tablature and will provide some helpful guidelines for writing out your own tabs.

Transcribing By Ear

Transcribing a song yourself can be difficult, especially if it is one of your first few attempts. But it will get easier as you progress and get to know the fretboard better. To transcribe a song, basically what you do is listen to the song and try to match up the notes played as best as you can. You can rewind, go back to certain parts, and continue to try until you get it close to what the song sounds like. If you get frustrated or tired, you can always stop at any time and resume transcribing it at another time. Learning the basics of bass and guitar will make transcribing a lot easier. Learning basic chord shapes, scales, modes, keys, and becoming more familiar with different time signatures and keys will make tabbing suddenly seem quick more effortless. For example, if you know that a song is in the key of E minor and you've learned what chords and scales are commonly used in that key, you won't be trying to guess every note that comes next. The different sounds will become familiar and more easily recognized in songs. Instead of guessing what notes come next, you'll have a better understanding of the guitar or bass and will be able to rule out certain chords and notes.

Writing Out Tabs

Here I will be taking you through some of the basics of writing out tabs. For those of you who don't know, a tab (aka tablature) is a way of reading music for certain stringed instruments such as guitar and bass. This is what the basic structure of a guitar tab should look like:
Those six lines represent the six strings on your guitar. These lines are in order from thinnest to thickest string on your guitar. The line on top represents the thinnest string, going all the way down to the bottom line, which is the thickest. Bass tabs are basically the same thing, but with four strings instead of six. You'll notice the letters to the far left of the lines. Those are the open notes of each of the individual strings. That means, if you play an open string (without using any of the frets), that's the note you are going to get from that string if your guitar is in standard tuning. So, you have a blank tab and now it's time to add the notes that are played. To add the notes, you replace the dashes in the tab with the number of the fret you're holding down. The frets should be added on the correct string. That means that if you're holding down the 2nd fret on the thinnest string you will type 2 on that first line instead of the others. Tabs are read from left to right, so be sure to insert the notes in the correct order. Take these tabs for example...
e|--2--------|        e|--2--|
B|----3------|        B|--3--|
G|------2----|        G|--2--|
D|--------0--|        D|--0--|
A|-----------|        A|-----|
E|-----------|        E|-----|
First of all, ignore the second example. Look at the first one here. This first tab indicates that the first note to be played should be the 2nd fret on the thinnest string. The following note will be played on the third fret on the 2nd thinnest strin. The next note to be played will be the 2nd fret on the 3rd thinnest string. You'll notice that the last note in the tab is a 0 on the third thickest string. A 0 means that no frets are held down at all. That string is played openly. That's the order in which the tab indicates it should be played. I'm hoping that makes sense. You'll notice that the second example shows all the notes exactly lined up with another. This indicates that these notes should be played all at the same time, not one after another. Click here to learn more about reading tabs.

Symbols Commonly Used In Tabs

Most tabs will have their own legend included that will tell you what the symbols in that tab mean. Different people may use different symbols to represent different techniques used in the song. This will be a description of some of the most commonly used symbols in a tab. Slide:
e|-------|      e|-------|
B|-------|      B|-------|
G|--3/5--|      G|--/-5--|
D|-------|      D|-------|
A|-------|      A|-------|
E|-------|      E|-------|
A slide is usually symbolized by a slash (/). Sliding is when you hold down a note, pick it once, and then slide up to the next note indicated. In this case, you hold down the 3rd fret, pick the string once, and then slide up to the next note, which is the 5th fret in this tab. The second example is a little bit different from the first. There is no note to start on unlike the first example where you hold down the 3rd fret. Since it doesn't specify where to start sliding from, so you'll have to do whatever feels comfortable and sounds right to you. Hammer on:
A hammer on is usually symbolized by an h between two notes. A hammer on is when you pick one note one and quickly slam onto another fret. You don't need to slam it hard, but just enough so that you can hear the new note. In this case, you're going to be taking your first finger and playing the 3rd fret on the G string, then taking your ring finger on your fretting hand and slamming it onto the 5th fret. Pull-off:
A pull-off is usually symbolized by a p between two notes. A pull-off is when you pick one note once, then remove your finger from that note while holding another fret underneath it. This tab shows that you should have your ring finger on the 5th fret and your first finger on the 3rd fret. Pick the 5th fret once, remove your ring finger from the 5th fret while sort of pulling the string. But, keep your first finger on the 3rd fret so that when you pull off you hit the note that's indicated by the tab. Bend:
A bend is usually symbolized by a b between two notes. Bending a string means that you are pushing the string up (or pulling the lower strings down) which creates a higher pitch. In this tab, you are going to put your ring finger on the 3rd fret and push the string up until it has the pitch of the 5th fret. Muted note:
An x on the string you are muting normally symbolizes a muted note. Muted notes are executed by placing the side of the picking hand below the little finger across all of the strings while picking. That adds a dampening effect to the note. This tab indicates that the 3rd thinnest string (G string) is going to be picked while the note is muted. Click here to learn more about simbols used in tabs.


Chords can usually be simpler and less tasking to write out than tabs. All you'll need to do is type out the lyrics to a song and include the proper chord above the proper lyric. Space them out accordingly so that the right chord matches up with the right lyric and doesn't get misplaced. This is a good example of what chords should look like when writing them out...
C D So, so you think you can tell, Am G Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain. D C Am Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail, a smile from a veil, G Do you think you can tell?
Here are a few examples of what good chords look like. These are all very highly rated and have been helpful to many:
  • The Raconteurs : "Carolina Drama"
  • James Taylor : "Sweet Baby James"
  • Bob Dylan : "Like A Rolling Stone"
  • Janis Joplin : "Me And Bobby Mc Gee"
  • George Harrison : "My Sweet Lord"
  • Flogging Molly : "Drunken Lullabies"
  • Aerosmith : "Crazy"
  • Eagles : "Desperado" As you can see, the chords' symbols are highlighted. When you place a cursor over the chord - a layer with finger positions (the way to play this chord) appears. NOTE: You don't need to fill out any additional forms when you submit your tab. The chords will be highlighted automatically when the tab is approved and posted on the site!

    Checking Your Tabs

    After finishing your tab, it is a good idea to check it thoroughly and make sure that there are no mistakes. On the tab submission page, there is a button on the bottom that says "preview tab" (screenshot). Clicking that will show you what the tab will look like after being submitted. Check to make sure everything is aligned properly, there are no extra spaces where they are not needed, all the ends are evened out, all the notes are correct and there are no typos, etc. Checking to make sure that everything is alright is an important step before submitting your tab. Here are a few examples of what to look out for when you check your tabs... Alignment: "Smoke On the Water" (Bad example #1)
    e|------------------------------------------------------------------------- B|------------------------------------------------------------------------- G|-----3----5------------3----6-----5------3----5---3------------ D|--5---3------5--------5----3-----6-----5------5------3----5---3------5----- A|--5-----------------5-----------------------5--------------------5----- E|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
    "Smoke On the Water" (Bad example #2)
    e|----------------------------------------------- B|----------------------------------------------- G|-----3--5-------3--6--5-------3--5----3-------- D|--5--3--5----5--3--6--5----5--3--5----3----5--- A|--5----------5-------------5---------------5--- E|-----------------------------------------------
    "Smoke On the Water" (Bad example #3)
    G|-----3--5-------3--6--5-------3--5----3-------| D|--5--3--5----5--3--6--5----5--3--5----3----5--| A|--5----------5-------------5---------------5--|
    "Smoke On the Water" (Good example)
    In the first bad example you may notice how the notes are not aligned properly with one another and that the ends of the tab are choppy. This is a good example of what a tab shouldn't look like. In the second bad example you'll notice how the there are extra spaces where they are not needed. Tabs do not need a space between every string. The strings should be closer together. It is easier for some to read that way and does not take up and unnecessary amount of space. In the third bad example you'll notice how only the three strings that are used are included. Even if the other strings are un-used and left blank, they should still be included in the tab. The final example is a good example of what a tab should look like. Everything is aligned properly, there are no extra spaces, everything is included. It looks neat, is very legible, and makes perfect sense. Here are a few examples of what a good tab looks like. These are all very highly rated and have been helpful to many:
  • Led Zeppelin : "Stairway To Heaven"
  • The Beatles : "Blackbird"
  • Pink Floyd : "Is There Anybody Out There"
  • Metallica : "Fade To Black"
  • Jimi Hendrix : Hey Joe
  • Aerosmith : "Dream On"
  • Eric Clapton : "Tears In Heaven"
  • The White Stripes : "Fell In Love With A Girl"
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd : "That Smell"

    Searching Tabs On UG

    It is recommended that before you submit a tab to UG, you search the archive to see if there are already similar versions of the same tab that exist. If there are many similar versions, there's much less of a chance of another tab for that song getting through. It would not be of much use to have more than one tab that is virtually the same. If you want to do a quick, standard search, all you'll need to do is select "song names" and type the name of the song into the search bar (screenshot). It's as simple as that. If there are any tabs for that song, it will pull them up organized alphabetically by band name. You also have the option of doing a more advanced search for a tab. The UG Team has recently implemented a helpful new "advanced search" option located to the right of the search bar (screenshot). It allows you to be more specific with what tabs you are looking for. There are 5 different search options along with the band and song name. You can choose to use any combination of the 5 you'd like. You can select more than one option in each category by simply pressing Ctrl and clicking the ones you're interested in finding. To deselect, press Ctrl once more and click the one you don't want.

    Submitting Your Tabs

    To the left of the search bar on the home page, there are different buttons that allow you to submit your contributions (screenshot). The one on top that says "Submit your tab" will take you to the tab submission page. You'll need to fill out all the necessary information about your tab such as band name, song name, type of tab, and part of the tab is included (screenshot). When filling this out, DO NOT put "VER 2" or "EASY WAY" or "CORRECT VERSION." Just type the appropriate name of the song and the version number will automatically be added if and when your tab is accepted. Underneath all the basic information about the tab is the box you will need to use to type out your tab (screenshot). If you are still uncertain about formatting after reading this, then UG provides 2 different templates (guitar and bass) to use for submitting tabs. These can be found by clicking one of the links on the submission page where it says "Please use these templates for your tabs: guitar tab, bass tab" (screenshot). After writing out the tab, there are 2 "optional" buttons for tab difficulty and tuning (screenshot). You may use the tab difficulty if you'd like to, but you must be objective when using it. We don't want to give anyone the wrong idea about a tab. The "tuning" option is really only used if your tab is using an alternate tuning. You don't have to select "standard" every time you submit a tab that has standard tuning. Like it was mentioned before, when you are done you can preview your tab before submitting it. It's a good way to pick out any mistakes you may have made and see what the tab will look like after being submitted. When you feel that there's nothing else that needs to be changed, then just submit your tab and wait a little while for it to be reviewed. Obviously, no one wants to lose their information after they've put work into typing it all out. It is recommended that you save your tab as a document on your computer before submitting it UG in case the tab does not make it on to the site. Notepad is a good program to use to save it. You may also use Microsoft Word. If using Microsoft Word, certain fonts may make your tab look disorganized. UG uses the font Courier New and font size 12 for the tabs that go in the archive. It would be best if you typed up the tabs you plan on submitting in that font and size.

    What Is The TPA?

    TPA stands for Tabs Pending Approval. After you submit your tab, it goes directly into the TPA to be reviewed by other tabbers before it is given the final decision to either be removed or accepted. The TPA is a place where only users who have submitted 3 or more tabs have access. Those users have the ability to vote to either accept or reject tabs. They're not actually accepting or rejecting them, but their votes serve more as a guideline for our tab master and tab moderators. If a tab has more good votes than bad, then that tells them that the users think it would be a good tab to put in the archive. If it has more bad votes, then it tells them that it would not be a useful tab on UG.

    Updating Your Tabs

    While you're waiting for your tab to be reviewed and accepted/rejected, perhaps you come across a mistake after you submitted it? There's no need to worry if you do. You are able to edit and update your tab while it's still waiting. Go into your profile user menu and click "My Contributions." Look under where it says "Showing all your contributions for the past month." Next to the title of the tab you've just submitted, there should be a blue button that says [ edit ] (screenshot). That should take you to see what your tab looks like in the TPA. On the right side of the screen, there is a box with 2 options in it (screenshot). One is "Put on hold." I'll get further into that in the next paragraph. The second button says, "Update tab!" Clicking that will take you back to the submission page to make your corrections. You'll need to re-submit the tab when you're done and all the changes will appear. Putting a tab on hold basically means that you are taking it out of the TPA for a certain amount of time either to make necessary changes or because you're not sure if it's ready to be reviewed yet. Once you put a tab on hold, you have approximately 72 hours (3 days) to make the changes and re-submit before it is counted as a rejected tab. To make changes in tabs that have already been approved and posted on the site you will once again go into your profile user menu and go into "My Contributions." Find where it says "Tabs" and click it. On the far right side of the tab you want to edit, there is a blue [ u! ] link (screenshot). Clicking that will take you back to the tab submission page to make any needed changes. You will once again need to re-submit it and wait for the changes to be reviewed and appear on the tab.

    Ratings And Comments/Corrections Feature

    Every registered user has the ability to rate and comment on any tab. This is a feature that is very helpful to tabbers who are looking to improve their work, but it should not be abused. That means don't rate tabs poorly because you don't like the song, the band, the user who tabbed, etc. You can get a warning or a ban for abusing the rating system. You can see what a tab has been rated by looking to the right of the song title.
    1 star = Poor tab 2 stars = Nothing special 3 stars = Average 4 stars = Good tab 5 stars = Excellent!
    While rating a tab, you may also want to leave a comment or correction. If you click "comments" underneath the song title while viewing a tab, it will take you to the bottom of the page where you are able to say what you feel about the tab (screenshot). Leaving a comment is optional with tabs rated 3 stars or above, but a correction or reason must be given anything under 3 stars. This helps encourage users to rate fairly instead of giving bad ratings for no reason. It also helps the tabbers correct any mistakes that they may have made. The comments and corrections are a good way of seeing how reliable a tab is and what parts could use work. You may also check if anyone rated/commented any of your tabs recently by going into your profile user menu and clicking on "My Contributions." On the bottom of the Stats page it will give you a list of who rated/commented which tab. You can click on the name of the tab and it will take you the page to see what it was rated and what was said about your tab (screenshot). If you are searching for tabs on UG and come across a tab that is partially incorrect, please do not submit an entirely new tab because you think that a couple parts should be played differently than what the current tab says. You can use correction box to type up a correction for the tabber. Your correction will be visible to everyone who views the comments left for the tab including the tabber himself. There is really no need for another new tab that is only different in a couple small places (screenshot). I hope that this was of help to someone. If there are any more questions regarding tablature and contributions then you are more than welcome to ask me by sending me a message on UG and I will help out to the best of my abilities.
  • 81 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Great article. Well written, and a very helpful guide to beginners looking to transcribe music.
      st anger
      its a great lesson. I write tabs myself but I learned a few new important things about it. thx
      THis was and is very informative . It makes sense and its easy for us beginners to understand. I have one other question . While people tab songs and most are very well done. Most however do not show or speak of a strumming pattern to some of the songs that require a strum pattern . Its hard especially for us beginners to hear while listening to a song to always get the pattern correct .Is it up up down? up down up down up? down down?..Is it always down stroke? etc etc etc This to would be of Great help to some of us who are still musically illiterate . BUt desire to learn from those who's gifts and hard work has paved the way for us to learn.Thank You Aig91 it was great lesson on tabs.
      thanks for your comments i find them really helpful as i am just learning all about tabs
      Or you could use Guitar Pro. I find it to be hundreds of times easier than notepad tabs.
      I think your good example versus bad examples bit would be better if you explained why they were good or bad directly after presenting them in the article, not after you had showed them all already.
      lol the chord song example is wish you were here by pink floyd. good song choice for that buddy . i already knew this stuff, but i showed my newbie buddy this and he knows a lot now
      axeslash wrote: Seems like a decent article, although it would be more helpful if it wentinto more depth, maybe a little bit more on some of the more complex parts of tabbing.
      I don't think it would have helped much if he did. Some things you have to learn on your own.
      Great guide, thank for very much for posting this on UG. I've got a situation question: Should the last string (thinnest one) always be written in lower case, or only if it shares a string letter with another string in the same tab?
      It doesn't usually matter. People only write it in lowercase to differentiate it from low E. 
      Okay thanks for the answer. I've noticed it's a prevalent convention here on UG.
      Great Article! I was googling around to try to figure out how long it would take for my tabs to finish pending when I came across this. I didn't realize it wasn't something Ultimate-Guitar staff wrote until I started reading the comments. My only issue is that it didn't completely address the issue I was searching for. But it did at least give me some insight.
      I don't suppose there is any way to edit a correction made to a tab to save posting a correction of the correction?
      When creating a lyrics/chords sheet do I simply delete the TAB lines from the sample and put in the lyrics and chords? I think it would be helpful to clearly state how to use the guitar TAB sample fo lyrics/chords submissions. Thank you...excellent article.
      awsome atricle, kinda confusing though. maybe needs to get into more depth or explained more simply. but otherwise it helped alot.
      stella the fell
      thank you for using beginner language, makes it easy to understand learn + improve, sk8blind4life8 u havent read the article properly it tells u how to edit tabs after they r posted
      aww the thing that sucks is that you cant edit your tabs once posted which bugs me cause i found mistakes in my tabs nice article tho
      Any tips on how to speed it up? There's some songs that I know how to play, but when it comes to getting the tabs actually types up it's taking ages. YJ
      SaiNt adEL #13
      When, I first started playing, I knida figured it out on my own, because I didnt know this guide existed. But it definately made some things easier for me. Thanx!
      man i cant beleive its taken someone this long to write a good article about this. stuff like this is always overlooked. 5 stars from me
      i wish this was written when i first joined UG cos it pretty much re-explained all those points that it took my ages to find out myself very well done
      me too
      Hoodoo Child
      axeslash wrote: Seems like a decent article, although it would be more helpful if it wentinto more depth, maybe a little bit more on some of the more complex parts of tabbing.
      it does say beginners though..walk before you can run and all that..
      If only you wrote this when I first joined this website. I confused myself so much during the first few months getting used to how tabs are meant to be written etc. on here and now I know how it's done properly it makes this a bit useless for me Although I never noticed the Templates bit for some reason. Oh well, I submit Guitar Pro tabs for everything these days so it doesn't really matter for me.
      Great article Annie. Really well written. This will be very helpful to many new UGers. See I read it anyways!
      Great in depth article on how to tab properly. Hopefuly now the site wont be over run by poorly formated tabs on the approvals page. cheers.