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How to Read Guitar Tabs

Here you will learn how to read guitar tabs in seconds.

A Guitar Tab (or tablature/tabulature) is a system of music notation involving symbols and letters to show how a series of notes is to be played.

Six horizontal lines represent the six guitar strings, from top to bottom starting with the 1st string, then the 2nd, down to the 6th. While the lines represent the strings, the numbers indicate on which fret you should press or fret the string. Guitar tabs are read from left to right.

When learning how to read guitar tabs you only need to remember the basic 4 or 5 symbols to get started. For clarification of any term on this guitar tabs reading section, visit our Glossary.

These are:
Hammer on: h
Pull of: p
Bending: b
Release Bending: r
Slide: / and \ (slide to a higher or lower note, respectively)
Vibrato: v or ~
Tap: t

Review the following examples before downloading any guitar tab.

Example 1:

E ------------------ (1st String)
B ------------------ (2nd String)
G ------------------ (3rd String)
D ----------7------- (4th String)
A -------7---------- (5th String)
E ----5------------- (6th String)

EX 1 and EX 2: The above example means pressing the 6th string on the 5th fret, then the 5th string on the 7th fret and lastly the 4th string on the 7th fret. If the numbers were aligned vertically, it would indicate that the notes be played simultaneously as guitar chords are played (see example 2). This would form an A chord.

Example 2:

E -------------- (1st String)
B -------------- (2nd String)
G -------------- (3rd String)
D ----7--------- (4th String)
A ----7--------- (5th String)
E ----5--------- (6th String)

The following examples (3, 4 and 5) show you step by step how the most common symbols and letters are placed in a guitar tablature and how to interpret them.

Example 3:

E ---------------------------------------- (1st String)
B ---------------------------------------- (2nd String)
G -----5h7p5------------5----7/9\7------- (3rd String)
D ---------------7------------------------ (4th String)
A ---------------------------------------- (5th String)
E ---------------------------------------- (6th String)

EX 3: The first action is to hit the 3rd string at the 5th fret and hammer on the 7th fret, then go back to the 5th fret with a pull of motion (without hitting the string again). Hit the 4th string at the 7th fret. Hit the 3rd string at the 5th fret. Then perform a slide on the 3rd string from the 7th fret to the 9th and go back using a slide from the 9th fret to the 7th without picking the string again.

Example 4:

E -----------12---------------------------- (1st String)
B ---15b17-------15--14--12h14p12-------- (2nd String)
G -----------------------------------14v--- (3rd String)
D ----------------------------------------- (4th String)
A ----------------------------------------- (5th String)
E ----------------------------------------- (6th String)

EX 4: First hit the 2nd string at the 15th fret and make a bending up to the 17th fret. Then hit the 1st string at the 12th fret. Hit the 15th and 14th frets on the 2nd string. Make a hammer on from the 12th to the 14th fret and go back with a pull of from the 14th to the 12th fret. Finally, play the 3rd string at the 14th fret and apply a vibrato.

Example 5:

E --------------------------------- (1st String)
B --------------------------------- (2nd String)
G --------------------------------- (3rd String)
D -----5------5------7------2----- (4th String)
A -----5------5------7------2----- (5th String)
E -----3------3------5------0----- (6th String)

Remember, when the notes are vertically aligned they should be played simultaneously with a single stroke.

EX 5: First play a G chord, pressing the 6th string at the 3rd fret while playing the 5th and 4th strings on the 5th fret at the same time. Repeat this twice. Then play an A chord, pressing the 6th string at the 5th fret while playing the 5th and 4th strings on the 7th fret at the same time. Lastly, play an open E string, while playing the 5th and 4th strings on the 2nd fret at the same time.

Note: in some cases, when chords are being tabbed, the letter of the chord is placed below or above to help you interpret the tablature faster. Also upward and downward arrows are sometimes used to indicate if you should hit the strings in an upward or downward motion.

Most guitar tabs websites now let you download music in guitar pro tab format. It’s an amazing resource. I personally use it to quickly learn fast guitar solos or parts of songs where the guitar is not clearly heard. To use this type of tab, you need a Guitar Pro Software which plays the notes of the song while moving through the tablature so you can follow the timing of the notes. Download a free trial version here. Regarding free guitar tablature websites, to me the best guitar tabs website is Ultimate Guitar.

If you are interested in writing your own guitar tabs you can download a free software called Tux Guitar. It's the one I use at the moment. Another option is Power Tab Editor. Check out which works best for you.

Although a guitar tablature has several weaknesses when compared to reading music from a pentagram, the learning curve is way faster. One basic weakness of guitar tabs is that there is no time reference between notes. You need to listen to the music to get a feel of the rhythm and tempo. That’s why every exercise, lick, song, scale and solo on this website is explained using video.


That's it for the "how to read guitar tabs" basics.

Now you’re all set! Continue with the guitar lessons and practice the Exercises and Licks slowly, gradually moving them up to a higher tempo. Don’t try to play at super high speeds right away. Master the licks and techniques slowly and be a clean player. When you feel confident with your playing and have mastered the basic techniques (bending, vibrato, slide...etc.) download the Guitar Pro Software and start downloading your favorite guitar tab songs. If you haven't tuned yet, go here to tune your guitar online.

Download here a PDF file of the How to Read Guitar Tabs explanations to practice while offline. If the file opens in your browser select "FILE" then "SAVE PAGE AS". Print this PDF document and use it as a guide while reading your first few tablatures.

Also, download the Blank Printable Guitar Tabs Sheet to write your own guitar tabs.

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