Tabbing Tips For The Beginner

A few tips to help the tabbing process be as painless as possible.

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Ultimate Guitar
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When you want to learn a song, you simply go to www.ultimate-guitar.com and type in the song you are looking for. But... alas, it has not been tabbed, or all you find are measily 1 and 2 star rated tabs from tone-deaf n00bs! Every other site contains even more mediocre tabs! So, there's only one thing left to do...

Before Tabbing

  • Research the artist if you must. A few handy things to know are: do they use power chords? Open chords? How do they tune their guitar? For example, Slash likes to tune his guitar a half step down, while many other hard rock bands use drop D tuning.
  • Learn music theory. Not every artist may follow chord progressions or stay in key, and music is always changing, but for the most part we can rely on the fact that there are set rules, known as music theory. These rules help to make music sound good to our ears, and knowing these rules can only help us in figuring out other people's works of art. Knowing music theory is very important, to say the least, and it's good for your health.
  • Watch any videos the artist may have put out. Live videos are always well-desired, but music videos can give hints too. It will help get that tab exact to the artist's version of the song.

    While Tabbing

  • Power Chords are a great way to start figuring out easier songs. They're simple, and can be easily moved around the fret board. Also, they can be easily altered into a full minor or major chord.
    Power Chord: C5 e----- b----- g--5-- d--5-- a--3-- E----- Full Chord: C major e--3-- b--5-- g--5-- d--5-- a--3-- E-----
    Once you become more familiarized with the song, then applying the full chords may become necessary, or simply use the power chords if the song is composed of them! A variation of this method is to play the note on your guitar that sounds like the root note of the chord you want to figure out. So, if I play the note G (3rd fret, 1st string) on my guitar, and it sounds like the chord in the song, then the chord itself is probably a G major or G minor, or some variation. After finding the note, adjust it accordingly to make it into a full chord, whether it be a minor chord, major chord, or something else.
  • Bass Lines are very helpful. They are usually simpler, and half the time play the root note of the chord. For example, if the bass player plays the note G for several counts, the chord is most likely G major or G minor, or some other variation of G. This method is often useful in punk/pop-punk songs, because of their simple bass lines. Of course, this method may not always work, but it's a very useful one to know, especially for easier songs. This strategy also somewhat ties into the above point.
  • Graphic Equalizers are great because they can isolate sounds. For example, you can use the graphic equalizer on the computer to turn up the bass and lower the treble, thus easily allowing you to tab the bass part of a song. Or, there's a cool riff in the background, but the singer's high pitched, irritating voice gets in the way. You can isolate the guitar by turning down the singer's levels on the equalizer and turning up the guitar part you want to hear. It's harder to isolate guitar parts in comparison to the bass parts, but this tool is very useful if used effectively.
  • Slow Down the song, especially if there's a solo that's ripping so fast, it's done before you know it. The newest version of Windows Media Player is great, because you can slow the song to half its speed, without changing the actual pitch of the song! Normally, if you slow down a song on the tape recorder, the pitch gets lower, and if you speed it up, the singer sounds like a frickin' Chipmunk. Thanks to Windows Media Player, you can speed up or slow down the song without altering the pitch! Sorry Mac users...you're stuck with iTunes.
  • Hum/Sing the notes of the song. This sounds a bit strange, but sing the song to yourself. It will help you find the right chord or note of the song, rather than always playing the song and trying to replicate it on your guitar. If it's a chord, I usually hum the root note of the chord, and then play it on the guitar. I personally use this method a lot, because it saves time pausing and rewinding the song, and it builds your music ear's ability to hear notes and chords. This can be a very handy technique if you get it down.

    After Tabbing

  • Fine Tune your tab by adding in bends, slides, hammer-ons, effects, etc., anything that will bring the tab closer to the song you are tabbing. I personally start with tabbing the verses and chorus of the song, then fine tune the tab by adding in the solos for last.
  • Double Check/Revise your tab, because it's probably wrong. Well, that's a bit harsh, but check to make sure you wrote down what you intended instead of placing a whole line of tablature on the wrong string. Make sure you're numbers in the tab are right, and make sure that it's as neat and organized as you can possibly make it, because it's not you who will be attempting to decipher your tab, it's the rest of us who will be seeing it.
  • Replay your tabbed version to yourself, without the song. It may have sounded great with the song backing up your guitar, but it may sound horribly wrong with it off. If it sounds okay to your own ears, play it to a friend. Half the time, your own ears are biased to your own tab, so it sounds correct because you spent 3 whole hours making it perfect.
  • Submit your tab to a website for it to be carefully scrutinized and flamed by heartless internet users. The few that don't say OMG, (insert band) ARE A BUNCH OF SELLOUTS... may possibly give constructive criticism in their comments, maybe even providing a small tab of their own that they think sounds closer. Watch your tab get rated and take the comments to heart, because it will only make you better at figuring out songs. ...So you finally learned to figure out a song on your own, and submitted it with the works. Don't stop at one tab, keep sending in more to those other helpless tab freeloaders! And to think you were once one of them... The one point that I can not stress enough is to have a good ear. With all the knowledge and theory tucked into your brain cells, they mean nothing without an ear that can pick out the difference between a minor and major chord, or if it's diminished or has a major7 in it...you get the point. So, remember these are only basic tools to help you in the tabbing process...don't expect to figure out Eric Clapton using only these tips (or can you?) And as always, practice makes (near) perfect! Th-That's all folks! -Vanceboy
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    52 comments sorted by best / new / date

      black_sabbath85
      Daisy_Ramirez: On e quick question: I want to get Powertab, but I cant find the site. My friends have said it, but they dont work. If someone could please give me the link it would be much appreciated
      Try www.cracks.am, type in powertab in the search field. Warning: Beaware of all the porn popups. 18+
      the_seagull
      Great article! Will definitely help some... It's the exect same thing I started doing when I began tabbing songs...
      the_seagull
      Great article! Will definitely help some... It's the exect same thing I started doing when I began tabbing songs...
      tubab0y
      a tip for tabbing bass lines if theyre hard to hear: mess with the equalizer, turn the bass up and the treble down. it works.
      Zwack09
      hey i think its a good start to try with especially for my age thanks
      jutila91
      very helpful, i just applied these techniques to a Vandals song and i was able to get a relative idea of what the bass line was. thanks!
      Daisy_Ramirez
      One quick question: I want to get Powertab, but I cant find the site. My friends have said it, but they dont work. If someone could please give me the link it would be much appreciated
      RENEGADE8
      Rockn_Clay wrote: umm as u mentioned at the beggining we should know the musical theory... can u teach us this musical theory?
      Lol yeh, I second that, I know no theory on guitar at all, and I'm eager to learn it. At least basic chords and time signatures.
      Rockn_Clay
      umm as u mentioned at the beggining we should know the musical theory... can u teach us this musical theory?
      DROUGE1
      B.B.K wrote: Awsome article. But my tabs keep getting rejected. Can you help me?
      the tab you are sending probly already exists or the title or name is wrong
      ledzepprules09
      RENEGADE8 wrote: Rockn_Clay wrote: umm as u mentioned at the beggining we should know the musical theory... can u teach us this musical theory? Lol yeh, I second that, I know no theory on guitar at all, and I'm eager to learn it. At least basic chords and time signatures.
      You're playing guitar and you dont even know any of the time signatures? you should work on that. Take lessons or something
      domesticllama
      RENEGADE8: Rockn_ Clay wrote: umm as u mentioned at the beggining we should know the musical theory... can u teach us this musical theory? Lol yeh, I second that, I know no theory on guitar at all, and I'm eager to learn it. At least basic chords and time signatures.
      If you've been playing guitar for any amount of time, you probably know more theory than you think. Hopefully you know what chords sound well together and all that jazz. It's a term that sounds scary, but really isn't all that complicated (at least simple theory)
      domesticllama
      RENEGADE8: Rockn_ Clay wrote: umm as u mentioned at the beggining we should know the musical theory... can u teach us this musical theory? Lol yeh, I second that, I know no theory on guitar at all, and I'm eager to learn it. At least basic chords and time signatures.
      If you've been playing guitar for any amount of time, you probably know more theory than you think. Hopefully you know what chords sound well together and all that jazz. It's a term that sounds scary, but really isn't all that complicated (at least simple theory)
      We_Wont_Die
      Awesome. I just posted a tab night, I think it's right though. I wish I came here first though...
      samanvay
      I have just composed a song.Can anyone help me in tabbing that,Its extremely urgent.
      kate777
      hey..great article.been teaching myself how to play an i know that this is gonna help me alot.shot
      n0e
      for mac, download audacity and transcribe. use audacity to slow down the song or use transcribe to tell u what notes are in that part of the song.
      PjX71
      good article for beginners.. for all us others you should know how to tab
      guywithguitar
      Another thing that seems to help me is that if there's a relatively fast part in a song, and I'm trying to figure out a note, I pause the song right after the note is played, so it's the last thing I hear, and in turn the most prominent one note in my memory.
      ArdoRamone
      i need help with powertab... how do u get guitar 1 and guitar 2 to play at the same time?????
      Metallica12_12
      Hell-sinki wrote: u an slow the song down with mac u just haft to use gargeband
      do u accually know what this is?
      guns n rex
      [b]Metallica12_12[ /b] wrote: Hell-sinki wrote: u an slow the song down with mac u just haft to use gargeband do u accually know what this is?
      Gumbi89
      seekdestroy83 wrote: can you write a similar one for bass plz
      I believe if you read that it basically tells you what to do for the bass.