How To Read Guitar Tabs For Dummies

For music to be played, a lot of sounds need to be produced and these sounds have to be in a symphony. To create this symphony, there needs to be a written guide everyone can follow. For guitarists, it’s the guitar tab. So today, we’ll be looking at how to read guitar tabs for dummies. 

Photo by David Aymond on Unsplash

What Is A Guitar Tab?

Guitar tablature or tab is a method of writing music using numbers instead of the usual music notes. It is an easy notation system that tells one what string or fret to play.  

Knowing how to read guitar tabs make it very easy to play chords and make music with the guitar.

How To Read Guitar Tabs For Dummies

To read guitar tabs it is important to know the strings and frets as they are a vital part of guitar tablature. 

There are usually six strings on a guitar and these strings, starting from the sixth are tuned E-A-D- G- B –e with the first string ‘e’ being the thinnest and sixth string ‘E’ being the thickest.

Popular mnemonics for this include:

Eat A Dog, Get Big Ears

Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually

Every Apple Does Get Bitten Eventually

Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually

Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears

e |———————————————-|

B |———————————————-|

G |———————————————-|

D |———————————————-|

A |———————————————-|

E |———————————————-|

Above is what a guitar tab looks like with each line indicating each of the six strings. It is important to note once again that the thinnest string ‘e’ is the first string while the thickest ‘E’ is the 6th string. 

Photo by Stefany Andrade on Unsplash

Numbers In Guitar Tabs

e |———————————————-|

B |————2-0————2-1————-|

G |-0-0-3-0——-0-0-3-0——————-|

D |———————————————-|

A |———————————————-|

D |———————————————-|

Numbers show which frets of a particular string needs to be played. 0 means an open string meaning you don’t get to touch the string.

1 means first fret, 2 means second fret, 3 means third fret, and so on.

The tab above goes thus, you start by playing the open third string (G string) twice then the note on the third fret then back to an open string. Then the B string second fret then an open B string.

Asides numbers there are other signs and symbols that are present in guitar tabs, these include:

Major Signs In Guitar Tab

h – hammer-on: a hammer-on occurs when you pick a note without releasing it. And then, without picking another note again, hammer another finger on another fret. This then creates a new sound.

p – pull off:  a pull off is basically the opposite of the hammer on. To perform the pull off, a note is picked and then pulled off leaving a new note in its place.

b – bend: Bending notes on a guitar is interesting as it adds flair when playing the guitar. It helps one to move easily from one note to another. 

for example

B |————2b3r2————————–|

Here you bend the 2nd fret so its sounds like the 3rd then release it back to the 2nd

pb – prebend: this involves bending a note first and then striking it

/ – slide up: using the example below for the slide up technique, you start by picking the note on the 8th fret on the G string then slide up to the 11th fret while maintaining the pressure on the string.

e |———————————————-|

B |———————————————-|

G |——-8/11———————————|

D |———————————————-|

A |———————————————-|

E |———————————————-|

/ – slide down: the opposite of the slide up technique, you start by picking the note on the 7th fret on the G string then slide down to the 5th fret while maintaining pressure on the string 

e |———————————————-|

B |———————————————-|

G |——-7/5———————————–|

D |———————————————-|

A |———————————————-|

E |———————————————-|

v- Vibrato: this involves quick rhythmic bending of the string up and down to produce sound. Vibrato is represented by the letter ‘v’(sometimes written as ~)

e |———————————————-|

B |———————————————-|

G |——-7v————————————|

D |———————————————-|

A |———————————————-|

E |———————————————-|

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Other Guitar Tab Symbols

t — right-hand tap

s — legato slide

S — shift slide

– natural harmonic

[n] — artificial harmonics

n(n) — tapped harmonic

tr — trill

T — tap

TP — trem. picking

PM — palm muting

n/ — tremolo bar dip; n = amount to dip

n — tremolo bar down

n/ — tremolo bar up

/n — tremolo bar inverted dip

= — hold bend; also acts as a connecting device for hammers/pulls

<> — volume swell (louder/softer)

x — on rhythm slash represents muted slash

o — on rhythm slash represents single note slash


Well, that is it for how to read guitar tabs. We hope you found this insightful. Practice makes perfect so it is best you keep practicing to be the best you can be.

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