The guitar tablature, commonly known as “tab,” helps guitar beginners to quickly and easily learn the tune.  

The guitar remains one of the most loved and sought after instruments to learn. However, a lot of beginners get confused because they’re unsure of how to get started. Thankfully, it isn’t as hard to learn how to shake strings as one might think – thanks to guitar tabs.

You’ve come to the right spot if you’re interested to hear what guitar tabs are! This article is going to discuss what they are and what they can do.

Now let’s get started on how to read guitar tabs!

What Are Guitar Tabs?

Guitar tablature reflects the notes in a song visually. Six horizontal lines consist of the regular guitar key, with six chords on each line. 

The top line represents the strongest E (thinnest string), followed by lines that represent B, G, D, A and low E (the thickest string) when looking at the guitar tab from top to bottom.

That often represents the vision of your guitar when you look down. This is why using the guitar tablature as a guide to learn songs is the easiest place.

You’ll also see numbers on the tab panel. These numbers are the frets that are found on the fretboards of your guitar. The frets measure 0-24, beginning with a nut, then going the whole length of the guitar neck (the section that is next to the headstock).

For example, if the string is 0, this means that you’re playing the ‘open’ string, also known as playing without your fretting hand. If the string has a 1, you have to play the first fret. 

It’s necessary to understand when learning how to read guitar tabs, that 1 is the first fret, 2 is the second fret, 3 are the third fret, etc.

The 3 Basic Numbering Systems

Let us make sure you learn the three simple numbering systems that all guitar players need to have learned before we can get to reading Tabs.

Frets

The metal bands that run along the guitar’s neck are Frets. The farthest left is the first fret, that’s if you’re right-handed. The second is to the right of the first and so forth. This is really basic, but when you start studying chords and scaling, it’s important to remember this.

Fingers

The finger counting method is really basic, but still essential for your fretting hand. Your first finger is your index finger, the middle finger is the second finger, and the ring finger is your third. Again, super-simple but necessary for learning where to place your fingers on the chords.

Strings/Chords

The last system of numbering is for the open guitar strings. The first chord is the thinnest, the sixth chord is the thickest. It’s pretty simple to recall.

How to Read Guitar TabsHow to Read Guitar Tabs

The guitar tab is read in chronological order, from left to right. When the numbers are vertically oriented, they represent a string. All the stated strings are played together by strumming a chord. 

Guitar tabs are easier than regular notes for beginners, as they tell you what notes to play to create a chord and where to find them on the guitar.

Reading Chord Boxes

What you need to remember first is how to decipher chord boxes. This teaches you where to play chords on your fingerboard. The six vertical rows represent the six strings. The thickest string (E) is the string at the farthest left.

The two lines at the top of the body represent the nut (the rubber, bone, or metal portion in which the strings are positioned on the headstock). The majority of the horizontal lines are the frets.

The dots reflect the positions where your left fingers are located and are counted to indicate the finger you’re using. Number 1 is your index finger, two is your middle finger, three is your ring finger, and four is your pinky. 

If you play the piano, make sure that you don’t get confused; the counting of the piano finger is entirely different as guitar players normally don’t use the left-hand thumb.

Please note the X or O above any line. This indicates whether or not the string will be played for that chord. The O means you play the ‘open’ string.

Notes and Chords

The numbers on a tablature show the frets the fingertips will be placed on. Like you’d read a book, you read these numbers from left to right.

Notes 

Single numbers from left to right are a line of melody, or solo that one might play.

Chords

In music, a chord is three or more single pitches heard simultaneously. The chords may be true, inferred or dissonant, and may suggest resolution of and by another chord, depending on the harmonic form.

There are various types of chords. Each type of chord has a special tone. These examples include major chords, minor chords, and diminished chords.

One note called the root note is lined up to the chords. If one states that a chord is a C chord, this means that it has a “C” as its root note. 

Palm Muting and Muted Notes

Now that we’ve gone through the Tab’s simple interface, let’s take a look at some of the more popular things you’ll see when you first start to play your favorite songs.

Palm Muting

Palm-muting is the first thing I want to talk about with you. A ‘P.M. —’ marker stands for palm muting. The slight stirring indicates how long you should quiet the sounds.

Muted Notes 

Dead notes or muted notes on a single string are identified by an X. You should mute the sound with your left or right hand when you see a dead sound and play the note so that the pitch is totally silenced.

In strumming models and raked sections of lead lines, this happens quite a lot.

Bending

Bending is a pretty ordinary Tab feature. You could tell that you should bend a note to one or more numbers when indicated with an upwards arrow. 

A signal next to the arrow shall signify the distance you have to bend the note. That could be a ‘complete’ curve or a ‘1/2’ curve. You’ll get the hang of it once you play a couple of bends several times.

Other Symbols in Guitar Tabs

Other than palm muting, muted notes, and bending, there are other symbols one needs to know in order to correctly play the guitar. Learning these definitely has an impact on how a person performs. 

Sliding

A fret number, a line, and then another fret number is represented by “sliding” the guitar. Depending on the moment, you slant from a higher to a lower pitch or vice versa, this line is slanted up and down.

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs

A slight slur or arc between two or more neighboring notes may distinguish hammer-ons and pull-offs. It may take a while to get to where you can understand this soon, but you’ll be able to understand quite easily once you’re faced with a musical situation that requires it.  

Vibrato

When you repeatedly bend and release notes for an emotional vocal effect, Vibrato is what happens. Typically, this is represented by a blunt or a squiggly line over a note. The thickness or boldness of the squiggly line will indicate how strong or long the vibrato will be.

Downstrokes and Upstrokes

Downstroke markers look like an upside-down ‘U’ and upstrokes look like an arrow facing down. These are called picking markers. If you’re playing a song and the composer identified a specific picking style, the picking markers used can be then identified. 

Otherwise, each player just makes their own picking pattern.

Conclusion

There is plenty to learn while reading and playing guitar tabs, but I hope this guide was a terrific way to get started.

All the symbols and elements of a tab are very important and you must understand them all to be able to correctly play the guitar. But with some practice, you’ll be able to read tabs easily and efficiently.