Reading Guitar TAB

By October 7, 2016Guitar, Lessons

Guitar TAB (or “tablature”) is one of the simplest forms of music notation, so you’ll see it very often as you learn songs.
fill 1
e|------------------------------|----------------------||
B|-10p8-10----------------------|-10p8~-10-------------|| x2
G|---------9~-9p7-9-------------|-----------9p7~-9p7---||
D|------------------7~-7p5-7----|--------------------9-||
A|---------------------------7~-|----------------------||
E|------------------------------|----------------------||

Above is the example TAB we’ll be working with in this lesson.

P.S. Guitar TAB is specific to the instrument, so only other guitarists will understand it. It also lacks essential rhythm and timing information. Because of that, it’s essential you learn how to read Standard Notation as well, which is a universal language of music.

Let’s get started!

What String to Play

One of the first things you need to realize is that the horizontal lines represent the strings on your instrument. Looking at the example, you can see that this particular TAB actually has the string names labeled, not all will. On TAB, the thinnest string (e) is always the top line, and the thickest string (E) is always the bottom line.

You can remember this very sensibly by recognizing that the thick E has the lowest pitch and the thinnest e has the highest pitch. Lower the line = lower the pitch of the string. Higher the line = higher the pitch of the string.

What Fret to Play

TAB tells you what notes to play by writing the corresponding fret number on top of the corresponding string. For example, this TAB tells us to play the 10th fret of the B string.

Technique Notation in Guitar TAB

Guitar techniques are often included in TAB, but the thing is, there’s no one standard that everyone uses, so you’ll see some variation in how certain techniques are notated.

In our example above, the “10p8” is telling us to pick the 10th fret of the B string, and then pull off to the 8th fret. Here’s a quick breakdown of techniques:

  • p = pull off
  • h = hammer on
  • / = slide up
  • \ = slide down
  • ^ = bend up to note (10^12 means bend the 10th fret to the pitch of the 12th fret i.e. a whole step bend)
  • wb = (alternative to ^) means whole bend
  • hb = (alternative to ^) means half bend
  • ~ = apply vibrato
  • || = repeat bars (usually followed by “x2” or some other number), repeat everything in between
    • As in: || TAB to repeat || x2

The Downfalls of Guitar TAB

In other words: “why you need to learn how to read standard notation!” Because trust us, sometimes guitar TAB just doesn’t cut it.

Cons of guitar TAB:

  • No way to notate timing. Well, no accurate way to notate timing! Some tabbers will try to put it in (each using their own variation), but it gets so complicated, you might as well be learning standard notation!
  • No set standard. Everyone mixes and matches the different notation rules and creates their own. It can get a bit confusing to figure out when you first start.

You should still learn to read guitar TAB (it just takes a bit of practice), but you should really learn to read standard notation! It’s not as hard as you think

The Biggest PROBLEM With Guitar TAB

Only guitarists read Guitar TAB. The problem?

You just came up with this epic song, and you’ve got all the parts laid out in your head, and you really want to share it with your drummer so he can collaborate with you…but you’ve got it written in guitar TAB, with little or no accurate rhythm notation, and he’s got no idea how to read it.

Man, if only there was a universal way to…oh wait! It’s called Standard Notation!

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