How To Read Guitar Tabs

Guitar tabs, also known as guitar tablature, are a form of musical notation that show which strings you should play and which frets you should press to play a particular song on the guitar.  Using how to use them is going to be an important part of your development as a guitar player.  The idea of using guitars tabs might sound intimidating but trust me it really isn’t that difficult to use once you get the hang of it.

Basic Structure of Guitar Tabs

Lines on the tab represent the strings on your guitar. The bottom line represents the lowest (thickest) string, and the top line represents the highest (thinnest) string. So if we are looking at the below you will notice there are 6 lines, each one of those 6 lines represent one of the 6 strings on the guitar.  The bottom line is your thickest string on the guitar.

Numbers on the lines represent the frets you should press down. For example, if a “3” is written on the top line, it means you should press down the third fret of the highest string.  If there is a “0” on a string, it means you should play that string open, without pressing down any frets.

If there are two numbers stacked on top of each other, it means you should play both of those notes at the same time by holding down a chord.

Symbols within Tablature

While reading you may also notice symbols on the tabs. Sometimes you may find these symbols above, on or below the tab lines. These represent techniques or effects you should use when playing the song. For example, a “b” symbol means you should bend the string, and a “h” symbol means you should play a hammer-on. In the below example notice the “b” on the 3rd line down, which means you should bend the 5th fret of the G string.

guitar tab symbols in tabs

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these symbols and techniques before trying to play a song using guitar tabs. Practice playing simple songs and scales using guitar tabs to get a feel for reading and interpreting them. With practice, you’ll be able to read and play guitar tabs with ease.

The Difference Between Standard Notation and Guitar Tabs

Standard notation is a system of musical notation that uses musical symbols such as notes, rests, and time signatures to represent musical pitches and rhythms. It is typically written on a staff of five lines and four spaces, with the pitch of the notes being represented by their position on the staff and the duration of the notes being represented by their shape and position on the staff. Standard notation is the most widely used form of musical notation and is typically used for classical music, jazz, and other genres that require a high level of precision and detail.

Guitar tabs, on the other hand, are a form of musical notation specifically designed for the guitar. Rather than using a staff and traditional musical symbols, guitar tabs use numbers and symbols to represent which strings and frets to play on the guitar. Guitar tabs are generally easier to read and understand than standard notation, making them a popular choice for beginner guitarists and for players who want to learn new songs quickly. However, they do not provide as much detail or precision as standard notation, and are generally not used for classical or jazz music.

Tips For Interpreting and Playing Guitar Tabs Accurately

Interpreting and playing guitar tabs accurately requires a combination of musical skills and attention to detail. Here are some tips for doing so:

  1. Make sure you understand the basic structure and layout of guitar tabs, including the lines and numbers that represent the strings and frets.
  2. Pay attention to the timing and rhythm of the song as you play, and use a metronome or drum track to help keep time if needed.
  3. Familiarize yourself with the symbols and techniques used in guitar tabs, such as bends, slides, and hammer-ons, and practice executing them accurately.
  4. Practice playing the song slowly and gradually increase the tempo as you get more comfortable.
  5. Listen to the original song or a recording of the song as you play to get a sense of the timing and feel of the music.
  6. Use a guitar tuner to ensure that your guitar is in tune, as this can greatly affect the accuracy of your playing.
  7. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments to the guitar tabs if they don’t seem to be working for you or if you find a better way to play a particular part of the song.

The Importance of Listening To The Song While Reading Guitar Tabs

Listening to the song while reading guitar tabs is an essential part of learning and playing music on the guitar. When you listen to the song, you can get a sense of the timing, rhythm, and overall feel of the music, which can help you interpret and play the guitar tabs more accurately. Listening to the song can also help you understand how the different parts of the song fit together and how to play them in a cohesive way. Additionally, listening to the song can give you a better understanding of the emotion and mood of the music, which can help you bring more depth and expression to your playing. Overall, listening to the song while reading guitar tabs is an important way to ensure that you are accurately capturing the essence and intent of the music.

Common Symbols and Techniques Used In Tuitar Tabs, Such as Slides, Vibrato, and Palm Muting

As we have already learned earlier, guitar tabs often use symbols and techniques to indicate how a particular song should be played on the guitar. Some common symbols and techniques used in guitar tabs include:

  • Slides: A forward slash (/) symbol indicates a slide up to the next note, while a backslash () symbol indicates a slide down to the next note.
  • Vibrato: A wavy line ( ~ ) above or below a note indicates that the note should be played with vibrato, which is a rapid, slight variation in pitch.
  • Palm muting: A “P.M.” symbol above or below the tab lines indicates that the notes should be played with palm muting, which is a technique where the guitarist mutes the strings with the palm of their hand while playing.
  • Bends: A caret (^) symbol above or below a note indicates that the note should be bent up to the next note. The number of dots (.) next to the caret indicates how many times the note should be bent.
  • Hammer-ons: A “h” symbol above or below a note indicates that the note should be played by quickly “hammering” onto it with another finger, rather than picking the string.
  • Pull-offs: A “p” symbol above or below a note indicates that the note should be played by quickly “pulling off” of it with another finger, rather than picking the string.
  • Trills: A “tr” symbol above or below a note indicates that the note should be played in rapid alternation with the next note.

Resources For Finding Guitar Tabs For Your Favorite Songs or For Learning New Techniques

There are many resources available online for finding guitar tabs for your favorite songs. Some popular sites for finding guitar tabs include:

  • Ultimate Guitar
  • Songsterr
  • Guitar Pro

These sites often have a wide selection of guitar tabs for a variety of different genres and levels of difficulty, as well as tools and features to help you learn and practice the music.

In addition to these sites, you can also find guitar tabs on music forums, social media groups, and artist websites. It’s a good idea to check out multiple resources and compare the different versions of the guitar tabs to find the one that best suits your needs and abilities.

If you can afford it, learning from a guitar teacher or taking online guitar lessons can be a great way to get personalized guidance and feedback on your playing and to find new techniques and resources for learning and improving your skills.

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