How to Read Guitar Tabs

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If you play guitar, you are going to need to learn how to read music. Guitarists have their own system of music notation called guitar tablature, or "guitar tabs" for short. It is not a perfect system, but it is relatively easy to learn.


  1. Look at the tab in the same way you look at your guitar. There are six lines in a tab, each corresponding with a string on the guitar.
  1. E----------------------------------||(Thinnest string)B----------------------------------||G----------------------------------||D----------------------------------||A----------------------------------||E----------------------------------||(Thickest string)
  2. Refer to the number on each line to put your finger on the correct fret. If it is 0, then you pluck the open string. If it is a number greater than 0, such as 1, 2, 3, 4, etc, then press your finger on that fret when you play(one being the fret closest to the stock, numbers going up as they get closer to the body).
  3. Play vertically stacked numbers at the same time. As youre reading and playing the tab from left to right, many times youll come across numbers that are aligned vertically. These are chords that should be played at the same time. You might see the chord name written as well. See Example 2 below.
  4. Look for additional symbols that tell you how the note is played:
    • Hammer on - An "h" is inserted between the original fret and the hammered on fret (e.g. 7h9). Sometimes "^" is used instead (e.g. 7^9).
    • Pull off - A "p" is inserted between the original fret and the pulled off fret (e.g. 9p7). Sometimes "^" is used instead (e.g. 9^7).
    • String bends - A "b" is inserted between the original fret and the fret that that it should be bent to sound like (e.g. 7b9). Sometimes the second number is in parentheses, and occasionally the "b" is omitted altogether. If there is an "r" it denotes what the note should be released to (e.g. 7b9r7).
    • Slides - An ascending slide is marked by a forward slash "/" and a descending slide is marked by a backwards slash "" (e.g. 7/97). Sometimes the letter "s" is used, but it doesnt indicate whether to slide up or down to the note (e.g. s9).
      • / - tremolo bar dip; n = amount to dip
      • - tremolo bar down
      • n/ - tremolo bar up
      • /n - tremolo bar inverted dip
    • Vibrato - Look for "~" or "v".
    • String mute - Indicated by "x" or a dot below the number. Several of them in a row, on adjacent strings, indicates a rake.
    • Right hand tapping - Represented by a "t" conjunction with the pull off and hammer on techniques (e.g. 2h5t12p5p2).
    • Harmonics - The fret is surrounded by "< >" (e.g. <7>).
    • Artificial harmonics - [n]
    • Tapped harmonics - n(n)
    • Legato slide - "s"
    • Shift slide - "S"
    • Trill - "tr"
    • Trem. picking - "TP"
    • Palm muting - "PM"



Example 1E---------------3-0--------------------||B-------------------3-0----------------||G---7-7-7---------------2-0------------||D-2-7-7-7-7-7-7------------------------||A-2-5-5-5-7-7-7------------------------||E-0-------5-5-5------------------------||

  1. You play the notes/chords in order from left to right, so first you would play a power chord in E (Middle finger/Finger 2 on the second fret on the A string, ring finger/Finger 3 on the second fret on the D string, and no finger on the low E string) strumming those first 3 strings (E,A,D) once.
  2. The next chord you would play would be a power chord on the fifth fret of A three times. So you would play with your index finger on the fifth fret of A, your middle finger on the seventh fret of D, and your ring finger on the seventh fret of G. That is how you read chords on frets now for the single notes.
  3. After the first 3 chords we have on the example, you would play the single notes, any finger on the third fret of the high E string, pluck once, then the open high E string, and so on.

Example 2In the example below, youd play only the strings in parenthesis.First you would play:E-------------3-0-----------------||B----------------3-0--------------||G-----777-----------2-0-----------||D-(2)-777--777--------------------||A-(2)-555--777--------------------||E-(0)------555--------------------||Then you would play:E-------------3-0-----------------||B----------------3-0--------------||G----(7)77----------2-0-----------||D-2--(7)77--777-------------------||A-2--(5)55--777-------------------||E-0---------555-------------------||And then:E---------------3-0---------------||B------------------3-0------------||G----7(7)7------------2-0---------||D-2--7(7)7--777-------------------||A-2--5(5)5--777-------------------||E-0---------555-------------------||


  • Start off with reading guitar tabs for simple songs that youve already heard, so you know what theyre supposed to sound like.
  • Read all tablature carefully. Some people have special symbols for slides, bends, pull-offs, and the like. However, they will usually tell you at the top of a page.


  • Some musicians do not want their works published without permission, so be careful with what you write and post on the internet.
  • Guitar tab will not aid you in the process of learning and understanding music theory, as it only tells you where to position your fingers. In many printed books you may see guitar tab alongside standard notation. While useful for guitarists of any experience level, guitar tab is perfect for the casual player.
  • One of the major shortcomings of guitar tabs is that they do not tell you exactly when to play the notes. If youre having a hard time playing the music to a good rhythm, try another piece or consider learning to read standard music notation.
  • In addition to providing no rhythmic information, tabs are also limited compared to standard music notation in that they do not communicate musical information such as chord voicing, separating melody from accompaniment, showing melodic contour, or any other intricate musical detail.[1]
  • Some tabs on the internet are user submitted and arent always accurate.
  • Many tab sites on the internet use artists works without permission. Using a legal tab site (such as or ensures that the tabs you are using are hosted with the artists permission. The artists often work out deals with the sites to get part of the ad revenue.

Things You Will Need

  • A guitar
  • A pick (optional)
  • Patience to learn step by step
  • Desire to learn music

Sources and Citations


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