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Read Guitar Tabs

Because there are many ways to play any given note on the guitar (on any string, different frets), most guitar music is often provided in Tablature format (guitar tab). The guitar tab provides a tabular grid showing which fingers to use on frets. As most guitar music is written in a format that makes it easy to switch fingers between notes, the guitar tab makes it very easy to play virtually any piece of music. Click for Basic Guitar Notes information if you need a reminder.

guitar tab
Guitar tab is provided on ruled paper (or on your computer screen), with 6 horizontal lines that indicate the six guitar strings. Note the orientation of the strings in the tab diagram above, it appears to be upside down - but look down at your guitar fretboard while you are playing your guitar - the High E (fattest string) is closest to your face and the Low E (thinnest string) is furthest away. Treat the tab sheets the same way, the line closest to you (High E) is at the bottom of the sheet. All music is broken into chunks called Measures, in the example above there are 5 measures. Each measure in turn is broken into Beats, in the example above there are four beats for each measure. Beats are usually even numbers, either 4, 6, 8 or 12 beats per measure (for normal music) - in our examples we will stick with the simplest 4 beat format. Each beat is indicated with a number on a string, in the above example the first beat of the first measure is "0" which indicates no frets (open string). The number indicates the fret that you have to press (remember, just ahead of the fret toward the headstock, as close to the fret as your fingers allow without actually climbing the fret, click for a basic guitar lesson reminder).

Print out this page so you have the above picture front of you as a reference, then play the notes as shown. Leaving your fingers OFF the frets pick just the high E string (fattest string nearest your face), the open (unfretted) position shown as 0. The next beat has a 1 on the same string, so lower your index finger onto the first fret and pick the sixth string again. The next beat has a 3 so lower your third finger (middle finger) onto the 3rd fret and pick the sixth string, the next beat has a 4 so lower your pinky finger on the 4th fret and pick the same sixth string again. Measure 2 switches to the fifth string, again pick the open position (0) then lower your middle finger on the 2nd fret and pick, then lower your ring finger on the 3rd fret and pick, the last beat in this measure has a 0 so lift all fingers and pick the fifth string again in the open position.

The third measure has different strings being picked. The first beat is 0 on the 4th string (open), then 0 on the 3rd string (open), then 0 on the 2nd string (open), the last beat is 1 on the same 2nd string - so lower your index finger on the 1st fret. Remember to pick the appropriate string for each beat, use your metronome so your mental timing gets trained at the same time as your fingers are learning. The fourth measure starts with 3 on the 1st string, so lower your ring finger on the 3rd fret and pick the 1st string, then raise that finger and lower your index finger on the same 1st string and pick again. Then raise that finger and pick the open 1st string for the third beat (0), and the last beat jumps to the 2nd string so lower your ring finger on the 3rd fret on the SECOND string and pick that string. Similarly, the final fifth measure has fret 1 followed by open position on the 2nd string, then fret 1 and fret 3 on the first string.

One problem with guitar tablature is that is does not properly indicate timing. While simple beats can be displayed, advanced music often uses variations in timing that cannot be properly displayed in guitar tab format. Additionally, "rest" periods (of silence, no notes being picked) are difficult to distinguish from "held" notes (where you allow a note to continue to ring out for the next beat or beats). However, for learning to play the guitar - this tab format makes life much easier. The next section teaches the basics of reading Guitar Sheet Music. More advanced tab notation can be found in the Guitar Techniques section.

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Guitar Chords<<<Previous Next>>>Guitar Sheet Music






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