The Secret to Reading Guitar Tabs

By Belle Arzadon

If you have neither the time nor the inclination to learn how to read guitar scales, don’t let that stop you from exploring your new found passion for playing the guitar. Guitar tablatures, or tabs, provide interested individuals a simple, no-fuss method for reading and playing guitar pieces. Give it a try and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll be able to play the more advanced works in no time.

One Line per String
That’s the beauty of guitar tabs. You can easily visualize the lines as your guitar strings because they’re arranged the exact same way. Tabs, like strings, are composed of six lines. The topmost line serves as the E string – the thinnest of your guitar strings. It moves on to B, G, D, A, and finally ends with the second E string, which is the thickest of all.



Left to Right
Read tabs the way you normally read books and not like when you’re reading manga (Japanese comics) or Chinese works. Guitar tabs are read and written left to right, from top to bottom. That’s not so difficult to remember, right?

Understanding Numerical Values
The numbers written on guitar tabs represent which fret you should place your finger on. If there’s a zero (0) on the line, that simply means you have to play it on your guitar’s open string. As the numbers go up, the frets they correspond to are located closer and closer to the body.

Vertical Rows or Stacks

Everything’s simple so far, isn’t it?

Don’t worry because the rest of the lesson is guaranteed to be just as quick and easy to master. Now, there will be times when you see numbers written on tabs positioned to form a vertical row or stack. When you see this type of tab, you just have to play all the notes they represent simultaneously.

This group of numbers collectively represents a guitar chord. In some guitar tabs, the actual chord name may also be indicated. If it’s not and you want to know what exact chord you’re playing, you can use the Internet to search for guitar charts or guitar chord websites.

Memorize Other Symbols

As you proceed, you’ll encounter many other symbols but all of them are alphanumeric, which is again easier to remember and write down rather than the illustrated symbols used in musical notation. Special characters may possibly be used but these are typically something you’re already well familiar with such as “/” or “”.

Okay, that’s it. You’re on your way to playing the guitar with tabs!

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