How to Learn to Read Guitar Tabs

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When you first learn to play guitar, you must learn the proper technique, chords and how to play songs. But one thing that is commonly overlooked--and yet, is very important--is how to read guitar tablature. Guitar tablature is like another language, and is something guitarists use to communicate how to play songs with other guitarists. You'll be learning how to read guitar tablature (also known as guitar tab) here.

1 Pick up your guitar

Pick up your guitar and look closely at the neck--specifically, the fretboard. You'll notice that there are pieces of wire. This wire separates each fret. On a traditional guitar, there are 24 frets and six strings (EADGBE).

2 Play the first

Play the first fret of the low E string. In guitar tablature, this would be represented as E:--1--. This is because every fret is represented by a number in guitar tab. In this case, since it is the first fret, the number is 1.

3 Play the second

Play the second fret of the A string, which would be represented as A:--2-- in guitar tablature. This is also known as the B note, because every fret on the fretboard represents a half note.

4 The third

Play the third fret of the D string, also represented as D:--3-- in guitar tablature. Anytime you see the number 3 in guitar tablature, whether it's on the D string or the B string, it means you play the third fret of that string.

5 Now play a hammer

You'll now play a hammer-on from the fifth fret to the sixth fret of the G string. In guitar tablature, this is represented as G: --5h6--. You will commonly see things like 6p5, 7h8, 6b8. This means you'll be playing the 6th fret, pulling off to the 5th fret, doing a hammer-on from the 7th to 8th fret and then playing the 6th fret and bending the string so that it sounds as if it's from the 8th fret.

6 Play the high e string openly

Play the high e string openly, which is e: --0-- in guitar tablature. Anytime you see 0 in guitar tablature, that means to play the note without any hands on the fretboard.

7 Practice this guitar tablature :

Practice this guitar tablature:

8 E

E: |------------4---- B: |----------3------ G: |--------4------- D: |------3--------- A: |----0----------- E: |--1-------------

9 Read guitar tablature from left to right

Because you read guitar tablature from left to right, you'll first be playing the 1st fret of the E string, then the A string openly, then the 3rd fret of the D string, then the 4th fret of the G string followed by the 3rd fret of the B string and finally, the 4th fret of the high e string.

  • Don't forget to read from left to right. Many people make this mistake and find that the songs don't sound right when played.
  • Don't get discouraged if you are slow at first. Like sight reading, tablature reading takes a lot of practice before you become fast at it.
  • Pick a song in guitar tablature and take your time in learning how to read it. You can't expect to be able to read guitar tab fast right away, so you need to spend some time studying various guitar tabs in order to get good at it.

Michelle Carvo has been writing professionally since 2006, contributing to a variety of websites. She is also a technical writer with extensive experience in Android/iPhone development and PC repair. Carvo holds a Bachelor of Science in computer information systems from the University of Michigan-Flint and works as an IT SEO project manager.