How to Read Guitar Tabs

If you have no previous musical experience, using guitar tabs to learn songs is the ideal option as it allows you to start playing songs without knowing how to read sheet music. In this lesson I’ll teach you how to read guitar tabs, as well as give you some information about guitar tab software and online resources.

The Notation

Tabs, short for tablature is one method of transcribing music. It consists of 6 lines (for guitar) representing the 6 strings. Certain numbers are noted on these 6 lines, which tells the player what fret(s) to play. For example here’s a guitar tab for the opening guitar part of Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses:

Guns N' Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine

This particular tab tells you that you need to play the 12th fret on the D string, then 15th fret on the B string and so on.

Tabs are written as if you were looking down at the guitar that you are playing , i.e. the top line is furthest away from you (top E string, often denoted as ‘e’), and the bottom line is closest (bottom E string, often denoted as ‘E’).

There are many notations that can be added to tablature to increase the amount of information given to the player. For example when to palm mute, vibrato or play harmonics, and these notations are shown throughout the site along side the lessons explaining how to carry out the particular technique.

Tabs have the advantage of being readily available on the internet and being very simple to read, which is great for beginners. It’s actually this advantage that also leads to it’s failture. In most cases tabs don’t give any information concerning the timing and rhythm of the piece. It is then up to the player to make what they will of the tab.

Another problem of using guitar tabs is the fact that most of them are written by the general public, and therefore they often lack the accuracy of normal sheet music.

Guitar Tab Software

As guitar tab is so popular, there are now many guitar tab software available that allow you to write/read/listen to tabs available. Some examples include Guitar Pro, TuxGuitar,¬†Tabledit¬†etc…

Guitar Pro is by far the best/complete tab software that I’ve personally come across. It has RSE (Realistic Sound Engine) built in, which lets you play back tabs in very high quality (rather than MIDI which a lot of competitors use). What I like to do is use Guitar Pro as a backing track by muting the track that contains the guitar part I want to play. It’s a lot of fun!

If you choose to get Guitar Pro, you can use sites such as http://guitarprotabs.org to download tabs of your favourite songs.

Online Guitar Tabs

There’s also sites that offer the ability to read and playback songs online. One great example of this is Songsterr, which has been gaining a lot of popularity due to it’s extensive song list and ability to playback the song.

Considering guitar tabs on the whole, I believe that they are the way to go if you are a beginner learning to play the guitar by yourself. The sheer availability of guitar tabs on the internet, and the ease of reading them give them a large advantage over sheet music.

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