How to Read Guitar Tabs

Learning how to read guitar tabs is crucial for any beginning guitarist. Tabs are like a musical shorthand for guitarists, making sheet music easy to read and interpret. So, if you're learning guitar or taking guitar lessons, tabs are an exceptionally useful tool. Let's take a look at how they work.

Lines And Numbers
You may have noticed that a guitar tab looks much like a musical staff, except tabs have six lines instead of five. This is because each line of the staff corresponds to a string on the guitar, since standard guitars have six strings. So, for example, the lowest line on a tab corresponds to the low E string on the guitar. The next line up corresponds to the A string and so on until you reach the high E string.

You may have also noticed that, instead of musical notes neatly arranged on the page, there are numbers. These numbers correspond to the frets on the guitar. Numbers that are aligned vertically on top of each other signify a chord. Individual numbers signify a single note.

So, how does it all fit together? Let's say you're looking at a tab that has a number 3 on the fourth line. Since the fourth line corresponds to the G string, this means you'll want to pick the G string on the third fret. That's all there is to it.

Other Tab Symbols
Guitar tabs aren't standardized, so some symbols might be used differently on different tabs. Nearly all tabs come with a key at the top to tell you what the symbols mean. Some common ones are the letters "H" and "P," which signify a hammer-on (hammering a finger onto a string already making a note) and a pull-off (lifting a finger from a string already making a note); a forward or backslash signifies a slide up or down the fretboard; and an up carrot signifies a note bend.

If you're viewing tabs on the Web, you'll need to listen to the song you're practicing. Tabs don't usually show the duration of each note, so it's nearly impossible to get a feeling for the rhythm without hearing it first. Tablature books provide the best of both worlds because they show the musical staff along with the tab, giving you all the information you need to shred.

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