How To Read Guitar Tablature Online

Author: Ed Cupler

I have been playing the guitar and learning guitar for some time now, and I’ve seen quite a few changes in the educational materials available to students. Guitar tablature is probably has been the most effective tools in learning guitar that I’ve seen. Before tablature, any songbook you could buy only contained the written sheet music, which was more difficult to understand for beginners. Often times you would buy the songbook for your favorite band, get it home and start trying to learn your favorite song. As you struggled through the written music and tried to make the chords as they were written you kept thinking, this doesn’t sound like the song I wanted to learn. After many hours of frustration you give up altogether. The problem was that the sheet music you bought was usually for piano and if chord charts were included, they were open position chords more suited to folk guitar than rock & roll guitar.

Back in those days, you had to find someone to show you how to play barre chords. You weren’t going to find barre chords in a Mel Bay learning guitar book. Then something happened, I stumbled across an ad for Metal Method guitar lessons in a guitar magazine. I ordered the lessons and when I received them, to my surprise, they worked! The big difference was that Doug Marks was using tablature and real world experience to teach guitar. These were lessons that focused on rock and roll, the way it’s really played. He wasn’t forcing you to struggle through weeks of music theory before learning Mary Had a Little Lamb. His guitar lessons cut through the BS and I was learning Ozzy, Van Halen etc. Granted, it took some work to play it well but without the nonsense I was able to play and understand more in one week than I was able to learn in a year the old way.

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Now in these days of the Internet, guitar tablature has been adapted to use the basic characters available on every keyboard. So if you’re used to the printed guitar tablature like that found in guitar magazines and music books, things might look a bit different. If you’re new to tablature altogether, it’s not that difficult to understand (which is the reason for it in the first place), so don’t worry, you will get there.

Guitar tablature uses 6 lines, the first line is the high E string, (the thinnest string on your guitar). The last line is the low E string (the thickest sting on your guitar). Just remember the first line is the highest pitch string and the last (6th) line is the lowest pitch string. As another way of understanding this concept, as you stand or sit there with your guitar, pretend you’re Jimi Hendrix and bring the guitar up to your face as if you’re going to play it with your teeth. Don’t play it with your teeth once you have it in front of your face, stop and look at the strings. They are now laid out just as they are in guitar tablature.

Example #1

E----High E----high E string, (the thinnest string on your guitar)-----|
B----------------------------------------------------------------------|
G----------------------------------------------------------------------|
D----------------------------------------------------------------------|
A----------------------------------------------------------------------|
E-----Low E string (the thickest sting on your guitar)-----------------|

 

Here is what a Chord should look like, the numbers represent the fret number you want your finger behind on that string, if all the numbers are stacked on top of each other that means play them all at the same time:

Example #2

An A Minor Chord

E --0--------Open High E string
B --1--------use your 1st finger, your index finger
G --2--------use your 3rd finger, ring finger left hand
D --2--------use your 2nd finger, middle left hand finger
A --0--------Open A string
E -----------String not played

 

An E Minor Chord

E --0--------Open High E string
B --0--------Open B string
G --0--------Open G string
D --2--------Fret at the second fret
A --2--------Fret at the second fret
E --0--------Open Low E string

 

Strummed Chords are written as in Example #3

Example #3

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

 

The one limitation of guitar tablature compared to musical notation, is it lacks the ability communicate timing. I would suggest using tab only as a guide to the right notes. Listen to the music to understand the timing of the notes. Most tablature tries to compensate for the lack of timing by using sensible spacing. If the notes are evenly spaced, then the probably have similar length (Example #4). If however some notes are farther apart this may suggest they are farther apart in the actual song (Example #5).

Example #4

E---------------------------------0--3---------------------------
B---------------------------0--3---------------------------------
G---------------------0--2---------------------------------------
D---------------0--2---------------------------------------------
A---------0--2---------------------------------------------------
E---0--3---------------------------------------------------------

 

Example #5

E---------------0--3---------------------------------------------
B--0--3----------------------------------------------------------
G----------------------------------------------------------------
D----------------------------------------------------------------
A----------------------------------------------------------------
E----------------------------------------------------------------

 

Common Guitar Tablature Characters

/ – Slide up – note is struck at fret and slides up to the next note.
\ – Slide down – note is struck at fret and slides down to the next note.
h – hammer on – note is created by tapping down with the fretboard hand finger instead of picking.
p – pull off – note is created by pulling your finger off of a ringing note to sound a fretted note below it

b – bend string up
r – release bend
v – vibrato (sometimes written as ~)
t – right hand is used for hammer-ons and pull-offs

Hammer on and pull off

In Example #6, Pick the first note on the G string at the 7th fret with your index finger then use you ring finger to hammer on at the 9th fret then pull off with your ring finger to sound the note at the 7th fret again without picking it.

Example #6

E-----------------------------------------------------------------
B-----------------------------------------------------------------
G--7-h9-p7--------------------------------------------------------
D-----------------------------------------------------------------
A-----------------------------------------------------------------
E-----------------------------------------------------------------

 

Bends

Bends are when you pick the first note and bend the string up to a higher pitch. In Example #7, you would pick the note on the B string at the 15th fret and then bend the string to the pitch of the 17th fret. The 17th fret is not used in this example. The b17 only means bend to what the pitch would be if you had played a note at the 17th fret.

Example #7

E----------------------------------------------------------------
B------15-b17----------------------------------------------------
G----------------------------------------------------------------
D----------------------------------------------------------------
A----------------------------------------------------------------
E----------------------------------------------------------------

 

Release

“r” means release. In Example #8, you bend the 15th fret up to sound like the 17th fret, and then release the bend to return to the original pitch of the 15th fret.

Example #8

E-----------------------------------------------------------------
B------15-b17 r15-------------------------------------------------
G-----------------------------------------------------------------
D-----------------------------------------------------------------
A-----------------------------------------------------------------
E-----------------------------------------------------------------

 

Slides

Slides are used to pick the first note, then keep pressing down and move your finger to the next note. Slides can go either up “/” or down “\”. In Example #9, pick the G string 5th fret and slide up to the 7th fret.

Example #9

E------------------------------------------------------------------
B------------------------------------------------------------------
G---5/7------------------------------------------------------------
D------------------------------------------------------------------
A------------------------------------------------------------------
E------------------------------------------------------------------

In Example #10 pick the G string 7th fret and slide down to the 5th fret

Example #10

E------------------------------------------------------------------
B------------------------------------------------------------------
G---7\5------------------------------------------------------------
D------------------------------------------------------------------
A------------------------------------------------------------------
E------------------------------------------------------------------

In Example #11, if no note is specified before the slide the slide starts already in motion.

Example #11

E------------------------------------------------------------------
B------------------------------------------------------------------
G---/5---7\--------------------------------------------------------
D------------------------------------------------------------------
A------------------------------------------------------------------
E------------------------------------------------------------------

 

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