How To Read Guitar Tab

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Traditional music notation is better suited to show what happens on a piano, not a guitar. The guitar’s fretboard is drastically different than a piano’s keyboard and requires a different sort of notation called tablature (or tab for short). Unlike traditional music notation, tablature doesn’t take years to master, it only takes minutes. Tablature gives us a visual representation of the fretboard and tells you precisely where to play on the fretboard.

How To Read Guitar Tab

Looking at a line of tablature is like looking down at your fretboard. The
six lines represent the strings:

Blank Guitar Tablature Staff

The high string is on the top and the lowest string is on the bottom like
in the picture of the fretboard below:

Empty Guitar Fretboard

Lay your guitar down in front of you so that the headstock is on your left
and the body is on your right. This is the “view” that a tablature
staff gives us.

Numbers Are Notes

The open strings are represented by a zero. In the tab example below is a
zero on the bottom string. This means to play the bottom string open.

Guitar Tab

A fret to be played is represented by a number. The frets are numbered like

Guitar Tab Example

To play the example below you would 1st pick the note on 1st fret of the 6th
string, then the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th frets.

Guitar Tab

Look at the picture of the fretboard below. The red dots show the frets the
tab above is instructing you to play.

Guitar tabs example

If you see notes stacked on top of each other, as in the example below, you
are to play these notes at the same time.

Guitar Tab

guitar tablature example

  • Fingerings (which fingers to use) are not shown in tablature, so
    most times you’ll have to figure them out yourself.
  • Tablature is sometimes called “tab” for short