How to Read Guitar Tabs


By Ted Halpeart

One of the most exciting parts of learning how to play guitar is being able to play your favorite songs.

Most beginners, when they start out, dream of being able to shred their favorite songs by their favorite bands. While the ultimate goal should be to learn how to read music, the best way for beginners to learn songs quickly is to learn how to read guitar tabs.

Guitar tablature is very similar to sheet music, only you don’t necessarily have to know the notes and values of traditional sheet music to read tablature. One of the biggest differences there is between sheet music and tabs is that sheet music has only five lines, while guitar tabs have six lines, each representing a string on the guitar.

Reading Guitar Tabs: Step 1 – Learning the Strings

One of the first things you’ll need to know in order to learn how to read guitar tabs is how the strings (the six lines) are arranged in the tablature. The high E (thinnest string) will be the very top line, followed by the B string, the G string, the D string, the A string, and finally the very bottom string will be the low E.

Step 2- Learning the Frets

The next step in learning how to read guitar tabs is to learn what all the numbers mean that are on the various lines (strings) of the tablature.

The numbers located on the lines represent frets on your guitar. Frets are the spaces between the little metal bars on the fingerboard of your guitar. If there is a number 5 on the line that represents the low E string, this means you press the low E string down on the fifth fret and play that note. If there is a 0 on the line, this means you play that particular string open.

Step 3 – Learning the Symbols

It’s also extremely important when learning how to read guitar tabs that you know what the symbols on the lines represent. If there is an “x” on the line, that means that string isn’t played at all.

Sometimes when a particular guitar chord is tabbed out, there will be a few strings with the “x” on it in between some of the notes of the chord. This means that those strings are not to be played as part of the chord. If you see a “b”, this means the note bends; if you see an “r”, it means to release the bend. If you see an “h”, this stands for hammer-on, and if you see a “p”, this stands for pull-off. “PM” stands for palm mute, and “t” stands for tap. If you see a “/”, this is indicating a slide. (Consult your favorite “how to play guitar” guide for detailed explanations of how to play what those symbols are indicating. Check out my favorite list of resources right below this article!)

Learning how to read guitar tabs is one of the most crucial skills a beginner can learn. Once you’ve acquired this valuable skill, you’ll be able to start learning some of your favorite songs, and your practice time will become a whole lot more fun. Learning how to read guitar tabs will put the wind in your sails as you endeavor to become a true guitar hero.

Have fun!

There are three resources I’d suggest you check out to learn more about guitar tablature. See my [ ]how to read guitar tabs blog entry at GuitarHack, this [ ]how to read guitar tabs page on Squidoo, and this [ ]how to read guitar tabs article on Hubpages. You’ll be glad you did!

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