How To Read Guitar Tabs

Want to know how to read guitar tabs? We’re going to show you the essentials of how to read guitar tabs.

How To Read Guitar Tabs

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • The no1 secret to learning guitar tab fast.
  • How to become a tab reading ninja.
  • 6 must-know tab lessons.
  • How learning guitar tabs will accelerate your guitar progress.

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What Is Guitar Tab?

Guitar tab is another form of sheet music.

Tablature; tab for short, is designed for guitarists to be able to read music quickly and effectively.

Often, guitarists treat tab and notated music as two separate forms of sheet music. However, they are EXACTLY the same. Guitar tab and notated music are just two different ways of presenting sheet music.

Why is it useful know?

  • Guitar tab allows you to learn the guitar fast.
  • Learning how to read guitar tabs lets you replicate some of your favourite pieces of music.
  • Reading guitar tabs is FAR easier than learning how to read notated music.

How do you read guitar tabs?

Guitar tabs can be broken up into two different sections :

  • The guitar strings.
  • The frets.

Here’s what a standard guitar tab looks like:

how to read guitar tabs

The horizontal lines represent each guitar string. This is also what the guitar neck looks like from your perspective.

The Frets

The numbers on a tab tell you what fret to play.

Often, you will see a fret number placed on a specific string.

Let’s take a quick look at an example.

how to read guitar tab

From this you can tell that:

  • You MUST play the 2nd fret on the low E string.

Your fret number and string can change, so watch out for that. Sometimes you may see a ‘0’ on your tab. This means that you play an open string.

Here a few mistakes that people make about fret numbers on tabs:

  • The number tells you how many times you need to play the note.
  • The number tells you what fingers to use.

When you read guitar tabs, it ALWAYS refers to the number of the fret.

how to read guitar tabs

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Common Uses Of Guitar Tab

The two main uses of guitar tab are to read:

  • Chords.

Or:

  • Single notes.

How To Read Guitar Chords

Guitar chords are often written out via chord boxes.

You may have seen a guitar chord box which looks like this:

how to read guitar tabs

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

.

Guitar chords can also be written out on a guitar tab.

When you see a guitar chord on tab, it will be displayed in a vertical line.

Like this:

c-chord-tab

Can you see the difference between the two? It’s easier to read a guitar chord box, however it is possible to read a chord via guitar tablature.

How To Read Single Notes On Guitar Tab

Another way of reading guitar tablature is to read single notes. This is very useful if you want to learn a guitar solo or a guitar scale.

This time, the tab notes are spread out horizontally rather than vertically.

Like this:

 

how to read guitar tabs

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again. Click here to download your copy.

Notice how:

  • The strings and frets change.
  • Each note comes after the other.

When you learn single notes on a guitar tab, make sure that you don’t play all of these notes at the same time, play them individually.

The best way to learn guitar tab, is to look at a tab of a full song. Take a look at this tab from Ultimate Guitar: Hotel California Tab

Bonus Tip!

Use your ears! It can be really easy to get overwhelmed by all the numbers on a guitar tab.

It’s worth zooming out from the tab, and checking what you’re actually playing.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Does it sound right?
  • Is there a simpler way to play it?

A common example of when guitarists may get confused is when the notes of a chord are played separately.

Like this:

how to read guitar tabs

 

This looks a little confusing to start with, but if you zoom out.

You can see it’s just a C chord with each note picked separately.

If you’re looking for awesome tabs to learn, go here:Guitar Tabs For Beginners: 20 Easy Songs That Sound Great

Advanced Tab Tips

Now we’ve looked at the basics of guitar tabs. Let’s take a look at some guitar tab symbols. These are important as they tell HOW to play the guitar.

How To Read Guitar Tabs – String Bending

Sometimes it’s unclear on tab whether you should bend a string.

Here is the symbol for string bending:

how to read guitar tabs

Can you see how the arrow is pointing up and has the word ‘full’ after it? This means that you bend up two notes.

You may also see this symbol for a bend:

half-bend-up

Here we have the same ascending arrow, but now we have a ‘1/2’ symbol instead of the word ‘full’. This means that you bend up 1 note.

For more lessons on string bending, go here: How To Play Lead Guitar

How To Read Guitar Tabs – Hammer On’s And Pull Off’s

Hammer on’s and pull off’s are frequently used in lead guitar playing.

Here is what the symbol looks like on guitar tablature:

how to read guitar tabs

Hammer on’s and pull off’s are two separate techniques. However the symbol is the same for both.

If you want to do a hammer on, the fret you hammer on obviously has to be higher than the previous one.

(And if you want to do a pull off, the note has to be lower than the previous one.)

Sometimes you see a hammer on as the letter ‘H’ and a pull off as ‘PO’.

For more lessons on hammer on’s and pull off’s go here: How To Play Lead Guitar

How To Read Guitar Tabs – Muting Strings

Another technique which is commonly used is string muting. This is used in punk and metal and looks like this on a guitar tab:

string-mutes

When you see the ‘x’ symbol, this refers to the strings that you mute with your left hand.

Want awesome free guitar lessons? Go here: Learn Guitar Online: Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced Lesson Programmes

How To Read Guitar Tabs – Palm Muting

Palm muting is a common technique in rock and metal styles, here’s what the symbol for palm muting is on a tab:

how to read guitar tabs

The ‘P.M’ stands for palm muting. Whenever you see this symbol, palm mute your strings!

How To Read Guitar Tabs – Alternate Picking

Alternate picking is a great way of playing the guitar faster. It’s important that your pick strokes are correct, as this can make a song easier to play.

Here are the two symbols which are commonly used in alternate picking, they each represent a down stroke and a up stroke:

how to read guitar tabs

To learn how to alternate pick, go here: How To Play Electric Guitar: A Beginner’s Guide

How To Read Guitar Tabs – Vibrato

A technique which is used all the time in guitar solos and riffs is vibrato. Without vibrato some guitar riffs can sound stale and boring, vibrato adds character.

Here’s what the tab symbol for vibrato is:

how to read guitar tabs

For more information on vibrato, check out this article: How To Play Lead Guitar

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

We made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. We hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

Want free guitar tips and video lessons delivered to your inbox?

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We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

NGAEM

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