You may have seen or heard about “guitar tabs” as a way of learning how to play the guitar. Well what is it? Tablature or tab for short, is a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical notes on a traditional musical staff.

If you’ve learnt other musical instruments before you’ll know that learning how to read music is like learning another language, it takes a lot of practice with consideration for timing, pitch and tempo. It can often take years for pianists to be able to sight read sheet music (being able to play a piece by reading it straight off the sheet music). Translate this over to a guitar neck where there are several ways to play the same note, and things can get very confusing. Thankfully the creation of tablature is an extremely intuitive and easy way to learn how to play guitar.

Standard guitar tablature is typically presented by 6 lines to represent the 6 strings of the guitar.
A blank standard form of online guitar tabs is shown below.

e|--------------------------|   -Thinnest String
B|--------------------------|
G|--------------------------|
D|--------------------------|
A|--------------------------|
E|--------------------------|   -Thickest String

The top line will represent the high e string (the thinnest string on your guitar) whilst the bottom line will represent the low e string (the thickest string on your guitar). You may wonder “why is the thickest string shown on the bottom here when it’s actually the upper most string when I look directly at a guitar?”

Well, that’s because the tablature is presented to as if we were looking at the guitar from a playing point of view  like the picture below. Makes sense now doesn’t it!

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The rest is fairly intuitive and straight forward. Any number presented on a line of the tab will mean that you will need to pluck that particular string at the numbered fret. If 2 or more numbers are displayed vertically along the same column, this means you’ll need to hit all these notes at the same time.

e|--------------------------|   
B|--------------------------|
G|--------------------------|
D|--------------------------|
A|---2----------------------|   (Play the second fret of the A string)
E|--------------------------|
e|--------------------------|   
B|--------------------------|
G|--------------------------|
D|--2-----------------------|  (Play the second fret for both
A|--2-----------------------|   the A & D string at the SAME time)
E|--------------------------|

The numbers presented on a tab are shown in chronological order from left to right. Perhaps the biggest downside to tablature is that there is no definite way to indicate how long a note needs to be played. Generally, the further apart the notes, the longer they are played. This is where you will need to listen to the song for timing.

You will also generally see some other characters on tabs that aren’t numbers. These will generally represent guitar techniques, like slides from one fret to another or muted notes. The most common of these are shown below.

| /  slide up
| \  slide down
| h  hammer-on
| p  pull-off
| ~  vibrato
| +  harmonic
| x  Mute note

So there you have it! You now know how to read tablature, an incredibly easy and simple way of learning and notating guitar parts without any musical theory of knowledge. It’s almost like playing the video game Guitar Hero!

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2017-05-21T00:52:09+00:00