How to read TAB


What is TAB?

The leading medium of written music is Musical Notation, in various so-called clefs, which is used for all instruments, including guitar.


For guitar and bassguitar, however, there is another notation that developed over the years, called TAB.


The advantage of TAB over musical notation is that TAB is immediately translatable into notes, because those notes are written in TAB as numbers on 6 horizontal lines, corresponding to fret numbers on a certain string. This also eliminates the problem of choosing playing position and string choice.


The disadvantage of TAB when compared to musical notation, is that there is no real notation possible of the rhythmical values of the notes that are to be played. In other words, you will either need to LISTEN to, or be familiar with the piece/song you are about to play, before attempting to play from the TAB. Without rhythm, it is not possible to play something resembling the original music directly from a TAB guitar part.


How is TAB read?


String lines


A tab consists of six horizontal lines, corresponding to the 6 strings of the guitar )or 4 strings if it is a bassguitar tab). These lines represent the strings EBGDAE from top to bottom, so compared to your guitar, the strings are actually upside down! Keep this in mind at all times until you are used to it.


Other tunings are also possible, in those cases the names of notes that the strings have to be tuned to will be written on top of the piece or at the beginning of the string lines of the TAB system. Often used guitar tunings are the Eb of E flat tuning, where all the strings are tuned a half tone (one fret) lower than the normal EADGBE tuning. Eb tuning is used, and has been used, by artists such as Slash, Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.


Other common tunings are the 'drop' tunings, for instance the drop D tuning, where the fat E-string is tuned one whole tone down, so two frets down. This makes it possible to play power chords with just one finger.



On the 6 lines, notes are written in succession. The notes are written as numbers, representing the frets on the guitar fretboard.


Numbers written above each other are played simultaneously. This can be done with a pick if the notes are on adjiecent strings, and have to picked with the right hand fingers if they are not on adjiecent strings. If however you want to play everything with a pick, you'll have to find a way to mute strings that should not be played.


Muting unplayed strings is especially important when using distortion or overdrive, as strings that are left unmuted can cause unwanted ringing, noise and overtones.

guitarhow lesson - how to read TAB - legend


Note articulation/techniques Articulation, this is HOW the notes on the TAB have to be played, is written above and behind the numbers, using various symbols. In some TABS these symbols are explained in a legend.


Some symbols are very common. These incorporate the hammer-on, written H behind the note that comes before the hammer-on, the pull-off, written P behind the note that has to pulled off, and slide, written as S \ or S / before the note you have to slide to. Or important articulations are vibrato, written vibr......, and of course the bend, written sometimes as B/ or b^, and release, written as R or by putting the number in between brackets. X means mute the string by gently touching it with the left hand, and pick. This is called a percussion stroke.


Parts that are in between repetition marks, e.g. ||: and :|| have to be played twice. '|' written vertically across the TAB string lines most often means the beginning of a new bar.



- FINGERING. When playing one smaller section of a tab part, look at the lowest number that occurs and the highest number. The lowest number has to be played using your index finger, the highest number using the ring finger or the pinky of the left hand. If lowest and highest number or only 4-5 frets apart, this is called position playing, making it possible the leave the lefthand in one place on the guitar neck.


- RHYTHM. Listen to each phrase of the piece of music, on Youtube for instance, seperately before attempting to play it from TAB. Only then can you make sense of the written notes and play the phrase using the correct timing, rhythmical values and phrasing. This is even more important when you play guitar solos from TAB. -


Play and practice a TAB one line at a time. If you do not solve little difficulties, and practice harder parts slowly in the beginning, you are likely to get frustrated and stop. Use these three tips at all times, and you will be able to play almost any tab.


Good luck!


Wait, one last thing. As you become a better player, and also a better musician, you will not have to read TABs forever, hopefully: Ear Training can make it possible for any guitar player to play guitar parts, riffs and solos, by ear after a few listens. You will not need any TABs or musical notation to be able to play your favorite tracks if you have done sufficient Ear training!


guitarhow lesson - how to read tab