Guitar Tabs For Beginners

How To Read Guitar Tablature

Guitar tablature was created for guitarists as an easier method than standard notation to read music. It’s easy to learn guitar tab. Each string is represented by a horizontal line and a number on a line is the fret number being played. Guitar tabs can be used as an alternative to neck diagrams to display chords and scales as well as notes.

There isn’t a recognised standard for the symbols used, but there are common ones in use. The most simplest type of tab is the ASCII tab. This is just a text file created from typing characters on the keyboard. Hyphens are used to represent the strings and numbers the frets played.

This is how an E major chord would look using ASCII tab:

e |-----0------|
B |-----0------|
G |-----1------|
D |-----2------|
A |-----2------|
E |-----0------|

The top line is the first string, high E string. The next line down is the second string, B string, and so on down to the sixth string, low E string, at the bottom. The first, second, and sixth strings are played open. The third string is played at the first fret. The fourth and fifth strings are played at the second fret. Because the numbers are in a vertical line, the notes are all played at the same time. The chord name can be written above it.

And this is a G minor pentatonic scale:

e |----------------|----------------|--------3---6---|
B |----------------|----------------|3---6-----------|
G |----------------|--------3---5---|----------------|
D |----------------|3---5-----------|----------------|
A |--------3---5---|----------------|----------------|
E |3---6-----------|----------------|----------------|

The principle here is the same. Each note played is indicated by a number, the fret, on each string. Here, the numbers don’t form a vertical line so they are played one at a time.

Here are some common symbols used:

  • h – hammer on – 6h8 – the string is played at the sixth fret and then a finger is hammered on at the eighth fret
  • p – pull off – 8p6 – the string is first played at the eighth fret and the finger is pulled off to the sixth fret
  • b – bend – 6b8 – the string is played at the sixth fret and bent up to the note at the eighth fret
  • r – release bend – 8r6 – the string is bent at the sixth fret up to the eighth fret, played, and then released
  • / – slide up 6/8 – the string is played at the sixth fret and then the finger slides up to the eighth fret
  • \ – slide down – 8\6 – the string is played at the eighth fret and the finger slides down to the sixth fret
  • v or ~ – vibrato – 8v or 8~

Here’s a short lick demonstrating some of those symbols:

e |-----------------------------------------------------10-------------------|
B |------10--12b14r12--10h12------------7--------10b12------12r10--8h10v-----|
G |7/11-----------------------11v--7h9-----7---------------------------------|
D |-------------------------------------------8------------------------------|
A |--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E |--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

The problem with this type of tab is that there isn’t any sense of timing or rhythm. If you don’t know what song the tab is for, you don’t know how long the notes last. This is rectified in the next type of tablature we look at.