How to Read Guitar Tab

How to read Tab (Tablature)

Tabs tell you how a song is played on the guitar. Its different from traditional notation as it uses a series of numbers instead of symbols to tell you the notes to play.

Guitars usually have six strings. The first thing you have to know is the name of the six strings.

The names of the strings from the thinnest string at the bottom of the guitar to the thickest string at the top of the guitar go in this order…

E B G D A E

One way to remember this is to memorise a saying such as…

Every Bunny Gets Drunk At Easter

or the more child friendly version…

Every Bunny Goes Dancing At Easter

You will need to have tuned your guitar strings to these notes before commencing to play a song using a digital tuner or tuned piano.

The top string is the thickest string, and it is called the 6th string or E-string because when played on its own (when you don’t hold down any frets and just pick the string) it will resonate an E note. The next string is called 5th string or A string. The other string in order are 4th or D string, 3rd or G string, 2nd or B string and 1st or e-string (thinnest string). As the 1st and 6th string are both E notes.

Tabs are written on six lines that represent the six strings of the guitar. That look like this:

The names of each string are written next to the lines from thinnest E at the top to the thickest E at the bottom. This is the standard way in which guitar tabs are written.

Numbers placed on these lines represent frets. 1 means 1st fret, 2 means second fret and so on.  A 0 (zero) means open string (play the string without holding it down). You place your finger between the metal bars on the fretboard to play the notes. So the area before the first metal bar will be represented as a 1 for the first fret. You do not place your fingers directly on top of the metal bars.

Below is an example of written Tab:

The tab is read from left to right. So, this tab means, first you play D string at open fret, then G string at 2nd Fret, then B string and 3rd fret and so on.

When numbers are written in sequence you simply play them one after another creating a riff / melody / solo.

However if the numbers are written one above each other in a line as shown below…

You need to play all the written notes at the same time making a Chord.

Tabs will not show or tell you which fingers to use to play these chords but will simply tell you the notes that have to be played at the same time.

To play a Chord you typically strum the marked strings to play in unison.

If an X appears on the Tab you do not pick or strum this string.

If a chord needs to be played multiple times it will simply be written multiple times.

Tabs will also not tell you the rhythm of a piece of music therefore you will typically need an audio track for reference.

And that is how you read tab! If you have any questions or wish to add to the article please comment below or email the site.

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