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How To Read Guitar Tablature

By Rich Freeman

Guitar tablature (tab) is the guitarist's way around learning how to read musical notation.  For most guitarist's, tablature seems to be a simpler method for understanding and playing pieces of music, as opposed to musical notation. In this article, I will explain how to read guitar tablature on a beginner level. Guitarist's should learn how to read both tablature and standard musical notation because both systems have unique ways of delivering beneficial information to the guitarist.

Above you see a combination of numbers & lines. What does it mean???

  • Numbers - The numbers represent which fret you need to put your finger on. 
  • Lines - There are 6 horizontal lines in tablature, each line represents one of the 6 strings on the guitar.
    • Listed below is exactly how the string names are written in tablature. It may seem odd at first, but the thinnest string is shown as the top string in tablature. The lines are arranged from thinnest (highest pitched) to thickest (lowest pitched). The picture to the right is how your guitar strings line up with the tablature. 
*Note that tablature is written with the thinnest string on top and the thickest string on the bottom. This often confuses beginning tablature readers.

*Note that tablature is written with the thinnest string on top and the thickest string on the bottom. This often confuses beginning tablature readers.

Now Let's Look At Our Example Below

To make sure you understand how to read the tablature, I have explained how the first 4 notes are read and which strings they correspond to. 

The first note would be played on the 7th fret of the “D” string. The second note would be played on the 5th fret of the “G” string. The third note would be played on the 5th fret of the “B” string. The fourth note would be played on the 5th fret of the “E” string. 

The first note would be played on the 7th fret of the “D” string.

The second note would be played on the 5th fret of the “G” string.

The third note would be played on the 5th fret of the “B” string.

The fourth note would be played on the 5th fret of the “E” string. 

*Notice that where the arrows are, there are two notes that are stacked upon each other. This means that you must play both of those notes at the same time. Sometimes there may be more than 2 notes stacked, and you need to play all of them.

*Notice that where the arrows are, there are two notes that are stacked upon each other. This means that you must play both of those notes at the same time. Sometimes there may be more than 2 notes stacked, and you need to play all of them.

Hear The Tab Sample Below

In conclusion, I hope that you have benefited from this article and will begin to understand guitar tablature much clearer. Try to search for one of your favorite songs and then implement the tips taught in this lesson and see if you can start playing some music! Good Luck!