How To Read Guitar Tabs

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Learn How To Read Guitar Tabs In This Guitar Lesson!

This guitar lesson is going to be all about tablature. Tablature or TAB is a system that graphically tells you where to put your fingers on the fretboard in order to play a specific song or musical idea. It is nice to be able to read tablature because it takes much less time and effort to learn how to read TAB than it does to learn how to read standard musical notation. The main drawback to tablature is that most TAB does not really have way to communicate the time value of the notes. We will start by looking at the basic layout of TAB and then look at some of the common symbols that you will see in some TABs.

If you look at a line of TAB you will see six horizontal lines that represent the six strings of the guitar. The bottom line represents the low E string and the top line represents the high E string. The numbers that you will see on the lines represent the fret number that you should play on that particular string.

Let’s take a look at what a chord looks like on TAB. If you were looking at some TAB and you saw some numbers stacked up vertically, you would be looking at a cord. For example, if you saw a 0, 2, 3 and 2 stacked up on the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings, you would be looking at a D chord. To contrast this, if you saw a sequence of single numbers from left to right you would be looking at a scale, lick or lead line of some kind.

Great, now you know the basic layout of TAB but there are still a few basic symbols that you need to be familiar with before you dig into some full songs. If you see an X on a string that simply means that you should either mute the string or not play it at all. An arrow that is curving upward indicates a string bend. There are two basic kinds of bends, a full step bend and half step bend. A full step bend will be indicated by the word “full” after the arrow. A half step bend will be indicated by the fraction “1/2” after the arrow.

Learning how to read TAB can be slow at first but if you stick with it you can get pretty good at it fairly quickly. Reading TAB is great. It is a fun skill to have and it can help you to figure out songs very quickly. I would encourage you to learn how to read standard notation as well. There are not a lot of guitar players out there who can read music. If you want to give yourself an advantage and make yourself stand out as guitarist, you should really put some effort in to learning how to read music. If your goal is to just enjoy yourself and learn some cool songs, then TAB will be just what you need.

This Lesson Has 22 Comments

  • INDEERA says:

    Wow great….I was searching this lesson for a long time

  • duvexy says:

    Thanks that was a great lesson. I was reading the tabs backwards. When I first saw it I thought the bottem E was for the bottem E. I did not know it was the opposite. I am glad you had this lesson.
    I learned something new today. :)
    I have been practising some tremelo too here lately.

  • esperance says:

    what is a bend???? :-s

  • Felicitas P. Calicdan says:

    im Confused

  • arska vaan says:

    Actually, the timing is no problem at all. One can simply put a note symbol to the top of the D chord (for example), indicating how long the D is supposed to be. Also mark the tempo to the beginning of the tab, and there you go.

  • leo says:

    i knew how to play the guitar a few years ago and i was pretty good. then my brother,who lives with my grandma,used my guitar for about 3 or 4 months and during that time i forgot how to play guitar and didnt try to learn again because of school. now that im in 7th grade i dont have homework so i have time to relearn. this video really helped because i thought the strings were the same on the tabs as on the guitar!!! LOL how stupid of me!!!

  • loki says:

    ok well that kinda helped but i need help with this

    E |-7-what do—- 12–10–9~—10–7—–10–9—5–|
    B |—i do here——————————-|
    F#|-5-in between these0– 8—7~—8—5—- 8—7—3–|
    B |—notes–0———————————–|

    i dont understand is it muted or what but i really wanna learn this song if you could please get back to me that would be nice

    • Cheyanne says:

      where the words are? if so, the lenght of the space kinda gives you an idea of how long to wait befor you change your finger position.
      like this:
      wait ’bout 2 beats or whatever you want to go by

    • Cheyanne says:

      go figure, that didnt work. what i was trying to say was that it usually means u wait however long your supposed to

  • pramod says:

    can you please teach me how to play hotel california, the full song with cords and lead

  • hakan says:

    I have a question. In many tabs there are no rythms (up down )
    How can i play that tab?

    For example:

    Verse 1:

    [Am]Did you see the [F]lights
    As [G]they fell all [Am]around you
    Did you hear the [F]music
    Ser[G]enade from the [Am]stars

    [Am]Wake up, wake up[F]
    Wake [G]up and look all around [Am]you
    We’re lost in [F]space
    And the [G]time is our [Am]own


    [G]Whoa, w[Am]hoa
    [G]Whoa, w[Am]hoa [F] [G] [Am]

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  • shyam says:

    i want to learn notation

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  • Kelviin says:

    Goddamn…! I dont stil know how to read sheet music :’(

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  • José Antonio says:

    Its great!

  • Danielle says:

    This was stuff I already knew…..because I’ve been researching a lot lately. I have like 5 books on guitar. And to remember this stuff I’m kinda making my own little binder of info. I wanted to learn follow me by uncle kracker….I got most of it down but the solo has Puke 12b and 12bp10 I’m confused

  • Michelle says:

    I don’t understand what a bend is… does it exist in acoustic guitars too?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Sure Michelle, bends do exist on the acoustic guitar. They are just a usually quite a bit harder to perform on the acoustic because the strings are usually thicker on an acoustic.


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