A Guide To Guitar Chords

How To Read Guitar Tabs

For the next lesson about fingerpicking it is important that you know how to read tabs (or tablature).

Guitar tablature (tabs or tab) is an ancient form of music notation. Tabs are mainly used for guitar, but they are also used for drums, lute and other instruments.

Here's an example of a blank tablature staff for guitar:

How to read guitar tabs

You see 6 horizontal lines, that are the 6 guitar strings. The bottom of the tablature staff starts with the low E string (the thickest string), then come strings A, D, G, B and the high E string (the skinniest) is on top of the staff.

Next we are going to put numbers on the tablature lines. The numbers tell you what frets you have to place your finger on. 1 means you have to put your finger on the first fret of the appropriate string, 2 means the second fret, 3 the third one, ... A 0 on a guitar tab means and open string.

Here's an example to make it more clear for you: the guitar tab for the C chord:

Guitar tabs

The guitar tab gives you the same information as this chord diagram:

Chord diagram

In this example all numbers are on top of each other. This means that all notes should be played at the same time (strummed).

In the next example all numbers follow one another. This means the notes follow each other in time, should be played after each other:

Guitar tab

You start by playing the 5th fret on the low E string, then the 3rd fret on the same string, again the 5th, then you go to the 3rd fret on the A string, ...

Now you know more or less how to play guitar tabs, but there are still a few symbols that need some explaining:

This first one is a hammer on. You play the second note of the tab, not by using your pick, but by hammering your finger onto it.

Hammer on

The next example is a technique called pull off. You play the second note of the tab, not by picking it, but by pulling off your finger of the 7th fret while there's another finger on the 5th fret.

Pull off

We go on with a guitar technique called a slide. Here you slide your finger from the 5th fret to the 7th without lifting your finger.

Slide

These are the guitar techniques that are the most important to know for reading guitar chords. There are more techniques, but they are not important to us now.

Sometimes guitar tabs are combined with standard note script in one big staff. This is handy because you can see how to play your guitar part on the tabs and you can see the rhythm on the standard notation (you can't read rhythm on a tablature). Here's an example:

Guitar tablature

Now that you know how to read guitar tabs, let's go on the the next tutorial: finger picking.