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How to Read Guitar Tablature




Learning how to read guitar tab is very important for the beginning guitarist. Once you master this easy task, your guitar playing will accelerate ten-fold. You don’t need to know how to read music to learn how to read guitar tab. Guitar tab is much easier to grasp then learning to read musical staffs, etc. I’m not saying that learning how to read music is bad or anything. By all means learn all you can about playing your craft. However, learning how to read guitar tab will cut you your learning curve immensely. I guarantee it! The reason for this you ask? Almost everything that‘s been recorded has been tabbed for guitarist now days. Can you imagine have to tab Steve Vai’s work? Whew!!! You can find tab all over the internet. However, I’ve found if you really want to get to the meat of a song and work it out note for note, buy the tab from a reputable source. Also, you can find a lot of free lessons in tab all over the internet, including Guitarz Forever.com. If you can read tab, you can learn any kind of genre music instantly. Of course it’s always nice to have the accompanist’s music. Homespun Tapes and other sources have made tons of guitar lessons using this platform. Everything… from learning how to flat-pick, to how to play acoustic guitar like Blind Boy Fuller. Hal Leonard has a library of these books in tab form and Musical Notation form. So if you are just starting out… please, please, please learn how to read guitar tab. You could play like Steve Vai in a very short period of time. - Riffmaster

Guitar Tab

Reading Tablature

Tablature provides an easy way to read and write music as it is played on the guitar. It has similarities to regular written music (standard notation), but there are many differences also, which make tablature much easier to understand. The tablature staff looks much the same as in standard notation, but instead of each line representing a particular note, each line represents a string on the guitar. With a little practice, this method provides a clear and immediate mental image of what you need to do on the guitar. Below is a section of tablature, and instructions on how to read it follow.



Alfred 21st Century Guitar Tablature Paper Book

Alfred 21st Century Guitar Tablature Paper Book

Convenient tear-out pages of high-quality manuscript paper containing tablature staves without standard notation. Informative reference pages cover topics such as music and tab notation, chord construction, and rhythm notation.


Alfred 21st Century Guitar Neck Diagram Book

Alfred 21st Century Guitar Neck Diagram Book

Provides full-neck diagrams featuring convenient tear-out pages of professional-quality manuscript paper containing standard notation staves and chord frames. Informative reference pages cover topics such as music and tab notation, chord construction, and rhythm notation. 52 pages.










The illustration above show four measures of tablature. The measures are separated by a bar that goes all the way from the top to the bottom of the tablature. The most common timing is 4/4 time, and this is noted at the beginning of the tablature. The letters on the far left side of the 1st measure (EBGDAE) designate the tuning of the guitar. This is the most commonly used tuning.

Alfred Basix TAB Guitar Method #1 CD

Alfred Basix TAB Guitar Method #1 CD

Both easy-to-understand tablature and standard music notation are featured, along with photos and chord diagrams. It includes rock, blues, country and folk styles, and music theory for beginners. The Enhanced CD includes accompaniments for songs and exercises. 48 pages.


The six lines of the tablature staff each represent a string on the guitar. The 1st string is the thinnest, highest pitched string. The 6th string is the thickest, lowest pitched string. When holding the guitar in the playing position, the 1st string is nearest to the floor.

The letters G and C in the example above represent the chords that you should be playing. In this example you play the G chord for 2 measures followed by the C chord for 2 measures. These chords also show a chord diagram along with the chord name. Reading chord diagrams is explained in another lesson.

Alfred Basix TAB Guitar Method #2 Book/CD

Alfred Basix TAB Guitar Method #2 Book/CD

This easy-to-understand method book picks up where book one leaves off. You'll learn to decipher key signatures, read dotted note rhythms, understand accidentals, and play techniques like bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs, palm-muting. As with book one, it features both tablature and standard notation to assist you in learning the latter. Comes with an enhanced CD that includes accompaniments and examples. 48 pages.


The numbers shown below the tablature above represent the count of each measure. In each measure of 4/4 time there is a count of 1 - 2 - 3 - 4. All of the notes in the 1st measure above are quarter notes. In the second measure, however, the first note is a quarter note but the six notes that follow it are all eighth notes. This is easy to see because the quarter notes all have a single stem going to the bottom of the tablature. The eighth notes are connected in pairs, thus making the count in the 2nd measure: 1 - 2 & 3 & 4 &. An eighth note only takes up half as much time as a quarter note (1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4). Please note that the count is not ordinarily written under the tablature, but is done here for instructional purposes.

A number on a line represents the fret on which you should be holding with your left hand (most of the time it will be the same finger position that the chord calls for, but not always. For example, in the 1st measure above the 1st note to be played (count of 1) is the 6th string, 3rd fret. You know it is the 6th string because the number is written on the 6th line, and you know it is the 3rd fret because the number is a 3. The second notes played (count of 2) are the 1st string 3rd fret, 2nd string open, and 3rd string open. This represents a strum of the first 3 strings.

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Guitar Tab Explained

No Music Reading Skills Needed - Traditional music notation was created to show what happens on a piano, not a guitar. The guitar's fretboard is drastically different than a piano's keyboard and requires a different sort of notation called tablature or "tab" for short. Unlike traditional music notation, guitar tab doesn't take years to master, it only takes minutes. Guitar tab gives us a visual representation of the fretboard and tells you precisely where to play on the fretboard.

How To Read Tablature





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Updated: 2/18/07