How To Read Guitar Tabs

Guitar tabs, also called tablature, is an easy to understand form of song notation or writing music, so guitar players can easily recognize the notes and music. They are being used for many other instruments along with the guitar, such as banjo, bass and a selection of others.

The reason it’s good to learn to read guitar tabs, is that it will enable you to read and write music yourself.

To begin with, we are going to take a look at this empty guitar tablature.

A empty guitar tab – Image 1

Blank guitar tabs.

In this image (1) you will notice the six horizontal lines, this is the six guitar strings. The bottom line in a tab begins with the low E string (the thickest string), after that come strings A, D, G, B and then the high E string (the thinnest string), which is on top of the staff, as noted with a small “e” in image 1 above.

Now we’re gonna place numbers over the tablature lines.

The numbers let you know what frets you are required to place your fingers at. The number “1” shows you are required to place your current finger on top of the first fret of the suitable string, 2 means the 2nd fret, 3 the 3rd… A “0” on the guitar tab means an open string (lose string).

Here are some easy guitar riffs written in tablature you can use to practice when learning guitar tabs for beginners.

This is representing the Strum on your guitar

Below you see a regular chord diagram seen below.

c chord guitar diagram
C Chord represented with a chord diagram.

The picture below is the C Chord notated using guitar tabs.

c chord guitar tab
C Chord represented with tablature

Within the above notations the images represents a Strum. All the numbers/(notes) have been written on top of each other. Whenever you see that, it means all the indicated notes should be played together at the same time. This is known as a strum since they are strummed together in a downward or upward motion.

One note after another

In the next example (image below), you will see the numbers follow each other. Because of that the notes follow one another in time, and should be played after each other as you play.

scales of notes
One after another.

In the example above, you pick the 5th fret on the low E (6th) string first. After that the 3rd fret on the same string, and now the 5th again, then move to the 3rd fret on the A (5th) string and so on.

Now this is the actual theory of understanding tabs at its most fundamental. Let us look at a couple examples of some more sophisticated components in understanding tablature.

The Pull off

Here you play the second note of the tab by pulling your finger of the 7th fret, and keep the other finger on the 5th fret. It’s this movement as you pull your finger off that makes the sound.  The pull off is shown on the tabs with a little ‘p’, as you can see on the tab below. Check the video above which will explain it much better.

pull off
This is the pull off.

The Slide

The next guitar technique is called the slide. You do this by sliding your finger from the 5th fret to the 7th fret without lifting your finger. This is shown on the tab by a sloping line between the numbers and a little “s” beneath that line.

slide note
This is the Slide.

Some guitar tabs does not notate rhythm in any manner, therefore in the event you have not listened how a guitar piece for the music you might be playing goes, you don’t have any method to knowing how to exactly carry every note.

Better written guitar tablatures will make an effort to add in the rhythm by placing stems of standard notation at every note.

Learn more about reading guitar tabs in this video

Below are a couple of cool guitar riffs you can start practicing your tab reading skills on.

Pretty Woman Guitar Riff

This is an easy riff to play, and the tab is also easy to read since all notes are of the same length.


Breaking the Law Guitar Riff

Another great riff, it’s a bit harder to play, but if you have trouble getting the rhythm, you can find the video on YouTube.

Breaking The Law tab Riff

If want to try out a couple more riffs check out these guitar riffs

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