Learn How to Read Guitar Tab
So You Can Learn to Play Your Favorite Songs
You can easily learn how to read guitar tab without any knowledge of music notation. After all, when guitarists are learning the chords and notes for a song, they need to know where to stick their fingers.
We’ll start with a few beginner guitar tabs to get you familiar with the tab diagrams. By the way, the tab is short for tablature!
How to Read Guitar Tab – Part 1
This is the freeboard position that tab diagrams mimic. It’s the alignment of the strings we’re interested in – skinny string at the top, the fat string at the bottom.
In addition, here’s the incredibly exciting blank tab diagram.
We ignore the frets on the actual tab diagram because numbers added on each string to tell you who fret your fingers should sit.
How to Read Guitar Tab – Part 2
Now let’s be a bit more practical. The number on the diagram below indicates which fret the string should be “pressed”
Fret “0” is another way of noting just playing the open string, as it is, without fretting it.
This “0” applies to all strings and when noted on the tab diagram, it simply means you do not need to fret that particular string.
So in this example, we’re fretting the D string at fret number 3. No biggy!
Notice how no fret wires are drawn on the diagram – we do not need them because of those numbers!
Ok, so that was easy stuff – let’s take things a little further.
Learn How to Read Guitar Tab – Part 3
We’re going to look at part of a lead guitar scale (actually, the first 4 notes of the G Major Scale – not important right now!)
In the same way as the diagrams before, look at the one below and play on your guitar this sequence of notes, fretting the appropriate string one after the other.
You will notice I’ve put “finger” numbers below the diagram – these are the fingers you should use on the relating note, based on this diagram:
I’ve done this because it’s important to use the correct fingers for comfort and efficiency reasons – your fingering in this example should make it so that you’re actual hand barely moves (your fingers will though, obviously!)
Play it slow to start with, speed isn’t an issue here, we just want to nail these notes in the order they’re shown.
Here’s how it should have sounded…
Did you get it? Ah, I knew you would.
Onwards and Upwards…
How to Read Guitar Tab – Part 4
Guitar tabs are used for lead guitar and representing chords. You’ve just followed a simple lead guitar tab, so now let’s look at reading chords.
The tab above represents a chord I want you to play. Same as before – position your fingers (as they feel comfortable) on the frets accordingly.
The “X” means you should not play that string at all, the “0” means to play the string, but do not fret it and the “2” means to fret the string on fret number.
Here’s how it should have sounded…
Incidentally, that was the A Major chord in tab form!
Nice one, let’s put this into real-world use in the form you might see a tab of a song you want to play…
How to Read Guitar Tab – Part 5
When you look at a song tab, the chords and lead will be played out in a sort of timeline of music (just like traditional notation).
The diagram below shows this timeline separated by a vertical line, which represents the end of a “bar” of 4 beats and the start of another. This helps you keep track of the rhythm (“1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, etc.”)
The two dots tell you to repeat the tab from the beginning of the timeline (there isn’t any chord change in this one to start off with).
I’ve put the downstroke indicators below the diagram to help you keep that 1 2 3 4 counts.
When reading tab, you will need to look out for chord changes with the fret numbers changing. If you know, the song you are learning in your head (likely!) then you will be able to anticipate the chord change in the rhythm.
Remember; view it as a timeline of musical events.
That’s It For Now!
Hopefully, now you should have learned how to read guitar tab. The tab is very versatile and lead guitarists have many symbols to refer to for special characteristics of their playing (such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, etc.)
Keep practicing, and check out the other lesson rooms in the beginner guitar lessons.