Learn How To Read Guitar Tablature

Author: Ed Cupler

Guitar tablature, commonly known as “guitar tab” or simply “tab,” is an alternative to standard musical notation designed for fretted instruments like the guitar. Guitar Tablature provides a visual representation of the guitar fretboard, allowing players to quickly learn the notes without needing to read standard notation. Unlike musical notation tablature does not provide timing so you must already to know the song’s timing to learn it properly. Guitar tablature tends to come in two forms. The first is printed tablature like you would find in a guitar magazine or music book. The second I refer to as online guitar tablature. This is text based tablature and is written using standard keyboard characters. They achieve the same result, although, if you’re only familiar with one, you may find the other a bit confusing.

How to read guitar tablature

In guitar tablature, each line corresponds to a string on the guitar, from top to bottom the order is (High E, B, G, D, A, Low E) or numbered as (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th,5th, 6th). The numbers on those lines indicate which fret to press down. The horizontal placement of the numbers on the lines represents very basic idea for the timing of the notes. For example, if the number “3” appears on the second line, it means you should press down the third fret on the second (B) string. If numbers are stacked vertically, it indicates that those notes are played simultaneously as a chord.

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Guitar tablature is widely used in various musical genres and is particularly popular among beginner and amateur guitarists. It provides a straightforward and accessible way for players to learn songs, solos, and riffs by visually representing the finger positions on the fretboard. While guitar tab lacks some of the details found in standard notation, it is an efficient and practical tool for many guitarists to quickly grasp and play music.

Whole step bend – note is struck at the 15th fret of the 2nd (B) string and bent a full step as shown.

Half step bend – note is struck at the 15th fret of the 2nd (B) string and bent a half step as shown.

Whole + half step bend – note is struck at the 15th fret of the 2nd (B) string and bent three half step as shown.

Tablature - Whole step bend and release

Whole step bend and release – note is struck at the 15th fret of the 2nd (B) string and bent a full step as shown then released to its original pitch.

Tablature - Ghost bend

Ghost bend – note is first bent at the 15th fret of the 2nd (B) string and then picked.

Ghost bend and release - tablature

Ghost bend and release – note is first bent at the 15th fret of the 2nd (B) string and then picked and released to the original unbent note.

Fret slide - tablature

Fret slide – note is struck at 15th fret of the 2nd (B) string and slides up to the 17th fret.

Pull-off hammer-on - tablature

Pull-off and Hammer-on – first fret the 2nd (B) string at the 12th fret with you index finger while also fretting the 2nd string at the 15th fret with your ring finger. Pick the string and pull your ring finger off of the 15th fret thus sounding the lower note on the 12th fret, then tap on the 15th fret with your ring finger so that the higher note is played again.

Fretboard tapping - tablature

Fretboard tapping – the highest note on the 2nd (B) string 17th fret is played by tapping the fretboard with the right hand index finger and then releasing to the lower note at the 15th fret and pulling off to the note on the 12th fret.

String vibrato - tablature

String vibrato – the note is struck at the 15th fret of the 2nd (B) string and the guitar string is bent and released quickly causing the pitch to vary rapidly.

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