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How to Read Guitar Tabs

Learning how to read guitar tabs will open up a whole new way to learn songs or guitar leads.There are thousands and thousands of songs on the internet in tab form just waiting for you. A good way to learn finger-picking style too.

Learning Guitar tablature isn’t hard and can also be fun. It’s like reading music but much easier. A lot of sheet music today has both notation and tab. Knowing both is to your advantage.

Tab is easier if you know the song or if it’s a simple exercise in Guitar Player magazine. If you don’t know the song the tab will be more of a challenge especially if your new to it, just take your time and “walk” through it until you “got it.”

Types of Tablature

If you are going to be learning guitar you need to be aware of the different types of tab. There are basically two different types of tablature.

One is for written text like instruction books and song books for guitar.

The other is for online use where the writer has to use the standard characters on the computer keyboard.

I just want to let you know in case you run across some tab and it doesn’t seem right to you. You might be looking at tab for another instrument. Tab can be used for any fretted instrument.

You could be looking at tab for a bass guitar, a 7 string guitar, a banjo or any other fretted instrument. I’ve seen some for Harmonica too.

Tab can also be used to showdifferent guitar tunings other than the standard tuning, it could be in an E or G tuning.

Online guitar tablature also has different ways of being written, there isn’t much in the way of a standard as in staff notation also referred to as music notation.

There may also be other ways that I’m not aware of but most are simple to understand. It is limited because it only uses the keys available on a common computer keyboard and not tablature software.

It’s a quick way for learning guitar tabs you will see around the internet so you should know it

Online Guitar Tablature

Below is a common version of internet tab

On the left side are the names of the open guitar strings. The bottom E is the heavier string and the rest just follow from the bottom up but down on your guitar. Each dashed line is one of your guitar strings, easy.

Above is the C major scale written in tab. This could be one or two measures depending on the type of notes, quarter or eighth notes.

Tablature can be vague but you will learn that it has some other good qualities for guitar players. It’s very useful for finger picking or just picking patterns.

Chords in Tab

Here is how a C chord will look written in this style of tab

Here is a C chord in the 1st position, the x means you do not play it or you mute it with one of your fingers or your picking hand palm. This muting happens a lot for different reasons, here the 6th string ringing out wouldn’t sound good. Try it and see what I mean.

Vertical Measure Bar

Sometimes you will see a bar like I put after the chord above showing the end of one measure and the beginning of another. You don’t always see this and you just have to figure out where the measures are, like I said earlier you are better off if you have heard the music before then it’s easier to follow.

Simple Tablature from Software

Here is a sample of what simple tab looks like from a software program. It doesn’t show any timing in the beginning. This is usually used to show small music samples or licks when the music it was from is known to the reader.

Tab with Rhythm

Below is an example of tab from a software program that shows you the rhythm. The 1st measure is quarter notes and the 2nd one is eighth notes. This has more info for learning guitar tabs that you view, more accurate.

Tablature with Musical Notation

This next example is a very good way for writing music for guitar players. It can give very exact rhythm. This isn’t the rhythm of the song, it is the timing of the notes in the measure, their length of time that they are actually heard. This is a good way to show finger picking styles.

I put the note names to help get you started. You notice this also gives you the tempo ¼ note = 100. This means 100 beats per minute, almost 2 per second, this a pretty average speed.

You also have a chord symbol so if you can’t read music or tab you can at least play the chord. This is a good way to learn music notation, the notes will begin to sink in and you will get to know the different note types like whole, half quarter and on, also it will become automatic where the notes are on the guitar neck.

Tab Symbols

Here are some easy symbols you will run across while learning how to read guitar tabs

The time you spend learning guitar tabs will increase your learning ability ten time over.

h = hammer-on to force your finger down to sound a note

p = pull-off lift a finger with a twist making the note sound out

/ = to slide up to a note

\ = to slide down to a note

I hope you found this page useful.