Reading Tablature for Guitar

Tablature is a type of notation for guitar and other stringed instruments. Tab is read left to right, just like standard notation. Tabs show the note order, and where the notes are played.

Tabs show the specific strings and frets used to play a part, so that you can use the same positions and fingerings that the original artist used.

Most of the tabs in this series don’t show how to play rhythms. (A few have rhythm markings.) Once you know the note order and the fingerings, you can sound out the rhythms from the recording.

Tab uses 6 lines to represent the 6 strings of the guitar. Tab is based on standard notation with the low string at the bottom and the high string at the top. This makes tab appear to be ‘upside down’ if you compare it to a photo of a guitar, or to how you hold the guitar when you play it.

The string with the highest pitch is called the ‘first’ string. The string with the lowest pitch is called ‘sixth’ string

Numbers written on the strings tell you which frets to play, on what string and in what order.

‘O’ means ‘Open String.’ ‘1’ means to fret a note at the 1st fret, ‘2’ means fret at the 2nd fret, and so on.

Every number means to play a note. ‘Play’ usually means a pick-stroke, but it can also mean a hammer, pull, or slide. Click here to see an explanation of Guitar Techniques.

The easiest way to learn this notation is by seeing examples. Compare each of the following tabs with the video examples beneath them.

Example 1:

This tab shows the High Open E String is picked four times. ‘O’ means ‘Open String.’

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Example 2:

This tab shows alternating between two notes on the High E String.

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Example 3:

This tab shows a single note sequence. The sequence starts on the lowest string, then moves to the 5th string, then to the 4th.

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Example 4:

When numbers are written above one another, it means to play them at the same time. This tab shows a strum on an open E Minor chord.

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Reading Tablature

Copyright 2001 by Greg Varhaug. All Rights Reserved.