How to read guitar tabs (tablature)

The basics

Guitar tabs, or tablature is a great form of notation that tells you where to play the notes on the guitar. It is very easy to learn compared to regular notation.

E|-----------|--0------------|
B|-----------|--0------------|
G|-----------|--0------------|
D|-----------|--2------------|
A|--2-0------|--2------------|
E|------3-0--|--0------------|

The tab staff represents a guitar laying down with the head to the left. Each horizontal line represents a string on the guitar. The bottom line represents the thick E-string and the top line represents the thin E-string. The numbers tell you which fret you should play. 0 means open string. 1 means you should play the first fret and so on. The notes are always played in the same order as they are written.

In the example above, you start at the 2nd fret of the A-string, followed by an open A-string and so on. When the numbers are placed on top of each other, they are to be played at the same time. So this example ends with an Em chord. The vertical line in the middle separates two bars.

The problem with regular tabs is that there is no really good way to notate the rythm. In my lessons though, I will use a special kind of tabs that accually gives you the rythmic value of the notes as well. There is an example of this at the bottom of the page.


Well that's the basics of reading guitar tabs!


More tab symbols and techniques

But there are a lot of other symbols used in tabs, to explain different ways to play the notes.
Here are the most common ones:

h = hammer-on
p = pull-off
/ = slide up
= slide down
s = slide
b = bend
r = release bend
t = right hand tap ( can also be written as +)
v = vibrato (can also be written as ~)
x = muted string
Some of them might need some explanation:

Hammer-ons and pull-offs

E|--5h7--7p5-----------------|
B|---------------------------|
G|---------------------------|
D|---------------------------|
A|---------------------------|
E|---------------------------|

First hit the high E-string at the 5th fret with a pick or finger and then hammer on to the 7th fret.
Then play the 7th fret with a pick or finger and pull of to the 5th fret.

So the note before the "h" or "p" is played using your right hand to pick it, but the note after h or p is suppose to sound by using your left hand alone. Sometimes hammer-ons and pull-offs will also be described with a ^ symbol betwen the notes.

Slide up and down

E|--5/7--75-----------------|
B|---------------------------|
G|---------------------------|
D|---------------------------|
A|---------------------------|
E|---------------------------|

The same principle is used when it comes to slides, but after picking the first note you slide with the same finger up to the 7th fret. Then you play the note on the 7th fret and slide back to the 5th fret with the same finger. Sometimes an "s" is used to describe slides.

Bends and release bends

E|--5b7--7r5-----------------|
B|---------------------------|
G|---------------------------|
D|---------------------------|
A|---------------------------|
E|---------------------------|

Play the note and bend it untill it sounds like the note on the 7th fret. Then play the note allready bended and release it. Sometimes there is no number after the "b". This means a small bend but there is no real indication on how far to bend it.

Right hand tap

E|--t12p8p5------------------|
B|---------------------------|
G|---------------------------|
D|---------------------------|
A|---------------------------|
E|---------------------------|

Tap the note on the 12th fret with your right hand, while allready holding the 8th fret with your left hand. Then pull off, first your right hand, so that the note on the 8th fret sounds and then from the 8th to 5th fret, so that the note on the 5th fret sounds. Tapping can also be notated with a "+" over the tapped note.

Vibrato

E|---5v--or--5~~~------------|
B|---------------------------|
G|---------------------------|
D|---------------------------|
A|---------------------------|
E|---------------------------|

Simply play the note with a vibrato. There is no indication on how the vibrato should be played.

Muted strings

E|--x-------------------------|
B|--3-------------------------|
G|--2-------------------------|
D|--0-------------------------|
A|--x-------------------------|
E|--2-------------------------|

The "x" means that the string should be muted with your left hand. Don't confuse it with written chords when an "x" can mean that the string should not be played at all. Here is another way to use muted strings:

E|--5-5-x-x-5-5-x-x------------|
B|--5-5-x-x-5-5-x-x------------|
G|--6-6-x-x-6-6-x-x------------|
D|-----------------------------|
A|-----------------------------|
E|-----------------------------|
First play the chord two times and then lift your fingers so that the strings are muted and play the same three strings again twice. This gives a rythmic effect when you play chords.

My tabs

For many of my lessons I use a kind of guitar tab that will show you the rythm, pauses and so on. One might say it is a combination of guitar tabs and regular notation. We will go through reading rythm in another lesson. Here is an example of what my tabs look like:


Let's try reading some easy tab riffs!

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