How To Read Guitar Tabs

Being a guitar player you will have to learn how to read guitar tabs. Guitar tablature also known as Guitar Tab is one type of music notation, particularly for guitar players. It is a very useful tool and is like a simplified traditional musical notation. It tells you which frets to press, which strings to play, how long to play them, and what technique to use. Here is the exact place if you are a guitar beginner and want to learn easily and fast. I’m going to show you step by step with pictures and videos. Enjoy 🙂

What Are Guitar Tabs?

Guitar tabs, or tablature, are a popular and simple method of notating music for the guitar. Tabs use a system of horizontal lines to represent each of the guitar strings, with numbers placed on the lines to indicate which frets should be played on each string. 

It consists of six horizontal lines. The top line means the high E 1st string(the thinnest string), then followed by lines indicating B, G, D, A, and low E 6th string(the thickest string). It is basically like looking down while you holding the guitar. The numbers on different lines represent which frets on which strings you have to press and play. For example, a ‘3” on the bottom line means to press the 3rd fret of the low E (6th string) and play the note. If the number is 0, then play it open string without pressing it.

Different Types of Guitar Tabs

There are a few different types of Guitar Tab you might have seen on the internet. Some are simplified easy to read and write while some are more specific.

1) Simplified Text-based Guitar Tab

This type of Guitar Tab is only written in simple text as shown above. A lot of websites still contain this type of Guitar Tab as they are easy to write. The best font for this type of Guitar Tab is Courier New since it has the same font space.

Furthermore, simplified text-based guitar tabs are not limited to just beginners. Even experienced guitar players often use them to quickly learn new songs or to share their own compositions with others. Due to their simplicity, text-based tabs can be easily shared and exchanged online, making them a popular format for guitar enthusiasts to collaborate and learn from each other.

In addition to the basic symbols used to represent notes and chords, text-based tabs often include annotations to provide additional information about how to play the music. For example, a “h” may indicate a hammer-on, while an “s” may indicate a slide. These annotations can help to convey the nuances of the music, even in the absence of traditional sheet music.

While simplified text-based guitar tabs may not provide the same level of precision as sheet music, they offer a more accessible and intuitive way for beginners to get started with the guitar. With a little practice, anyone can quickly learn to read and understand text-based tabs, opening up a world of musical possibilities. And with the vast array of tabs available online, there’s no shortage of songs to learn and explore. So whether you’re a beginner or an experienced guitarist, text-based tabs can be a valuable tool for expanding your musical repertoire and honing your skills.

2) Tablature with Traditional Notation

A Guitar Tab book usually contains traditional notation on the top of the guitar tab. This is very useful since it gives you the most information on how to play, particularly the Note Values.

How to create your own Guitar Tab? You can simply do that with Guitar Pro 8.

Guitar Pro is a powerful score player really helpful to learn how to play, improving your technique, reproducing your favorite songs or accompanying yourself. Guitar Pro allows you to compose and read music scores using the musical notation of your favorite instrument. Display the tablature notation to learn guitar riffs or use the standard notation to read music scores for piano, drums, brass and many other instruments.

With Guitar Pro, creating your own tablature with traditional notation is a breeze. You can input notes using a virtual guitar fretboard, keyboard, or even a MIDI device. The software also allows you to add annotations, such as bends, slides, and vibratos, to make your tablature more expressive and accurate.

The ability to combine traditional notation with guitar tablature is especially useful for more advanced guitar players who need to understand the note values and rhythms of a piece of music. It also allows for easier communication between guitar players and other musicians who may not be familiar with guitar tablature.

In addition to creating your own tablature, Guitar Pro also provides access to a vast library of tabs from popular songs and artists. This can be a great resource for learning new songs and expanding your repertoire.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced guitar player, incorporating traditional notation into your guitar tablature can greatly enhance your understanding of music and improve your overall playing ability. And with tools like Guitar Pro, creating and sharing your own tablature with notation has never been easier.

3) Interactive Guitar Tab

Some websites such as Ultimate Guitar Tab or Songsterr use an Interactive Guitar Tab which allows you to playback and play along with the tab. You can even slow the tab down to practice with a metronome. Most of the tabs on those websites have all the notation including drums and bass. You can turn each tab on or off to play along like a backing track.

Interactive guitar tabs are becoming increasingly popular among guitar players of all levels. They provide a unique and engaging learning experience by allowing you to listen to and play along with the music directly within the tab itself.

One of the key features of interactive guitar tabs is the ability to playback the music at various speeds. This is particularly useful for beginners who may need to practice at a slower tempo before gradually increasing the speed. Additionally, many interactive tabs also include a metronome, which can help you stay on beat and improve your timing.

Interactive guitar tabs also often include multiple tracks, such as drums and bass, which can be turned on or off to create a customized backing track to play along with. This allows guitar players to practice playing in a band setting, even when they may not have access to other musicians.

Another advantage of interactive guitar tabs is that they are often crowd-sourced, meaning that they are created and maintained by a community of guitar players who are passionate about sharing their knowledge and expertise. This can provide access to a wide range of tabs, including obscure and hard-to-find songs, as well as different versions and arrangements of popular songs.

Overall, interactive guitar tabs provide a fun and engaging way for guitar players to learn and play their favorite songs. With the ability to playback, slow down, and customize the music, as well as access a vast library of tabs, they are a valuable resource for guitar players of all levels.

Symbols for Different Techniques

As a guitarist, it’s important to understand the various symbols and notations used to indicate different techniques in guitar tablature. Here are some of the most common symbols used for different techniques:

  • Hammer-ons: “h” – This symbol indicates that you should use your fretting hand to hammer onto a note, creating a smooth transition between two notes without picking again.
  • Pull-offs: “p” – This symbol indicates that you should use your fretting hand to pull off from a note to create a smooth transition between two notes without picking again.
  • Slide: “sl.”, “/” – These symbols indicate that you should slide your finger up or down the fretboard to transition between notes. “sl.” can also be used to indicate a slide.
  • Bends and Releases: “½”, “full”, “b”, “r”, “pb” – These symbols indicate that you should bend a note up or down to a specific pitch and then release it. “½” indicates a half bend, “full” indicates a full bend, “b” indicates a bend, “r” indicates a release, and “pb” indicates a pre-bend.
  • Vibrato: “~~~” – This symbol indicates that you should use your fretting hand to create a slight vibrato on the note.
  • Muted Hit: “x” – This symbol indicates that you should mute the string while hitting it to create a percussive sound.
  • Palm Muting: “PM—-“ – This symbol indicates that you should use your picking hand to lightly touch the strings to create a muted sound.
  • Tapping: “T” – This symbol indicates that you should use your fretting hand to tap the string instead of using your picking hand.
  • Harmonic: “< >” – This symbol indicates that you should create a harmonic on the string by lightly touching it at a specific point.
  • Tapped Harmonic: “n< >” – This symbol indicates that you should use your fretting hand to tap the string at a specific point to create a harmonic.
  • Ghost Note or Ring Out: “( )” – These symbols indicate that you should play a note softly or let it ring out for a specific duration.
  • Legato: The legato symbol in guitar notation is typically a curved line that is placed over a series of notes. This symbol indicates to the player that the notes should be played smoothly and connected, without any noticeable gaps or breaks in the sound.
  • Let Ring: “let ring—–“ This symbol indicates that you should let the note ring out for as long as possible, without any damping or muting.

Note Values – Duration of Notes

In music notation, note values are used to indicate the duration or length of a note. Understanding note values is essential for reading and writing music, as it helps to convey the rhythm and timing of a piece of music.

The most common note values include whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes. A whole note is the longest note value, and it typically lasts for four beats. A half note lasts for two beats, a quarter note lasts for one beat, an eighth note lasts for half a beat, and a sixteenth note lasts for a quarter of a beat.

In addition to these basic note values, there are also variations, such as dotted notes, which add half the value of the note to its duration, and ties, which combine the duration of two or more notes into a single note.

By combining different note values, composers can create complex rhythms and time signatures that add depth and interest to a piece of music. As a guitar player, understanding note values is important for playing in time and staying in sync with other musicians.

When reading guitar tablature, note values are often indicated by the length of the dashes or lines used to represent the notes. While this can provide a basic understanding of the rhythm, it is still important to understand traditional music notation and note values in order to fully grasp the rhythm and timing of a piece of music.

Overall, understanding note values is an essential skill for any musician, as it helps to convey the rhythm and timing of a piece of music and allows for effective communication and collaboration with other musicians.

What to do next?

You should be able to play some beginner songs after practicing the above guitar chords. I’ve chosen some reasonably easy songs for beginners. Please check the article Easy Guitar Songs.

Here is another article about Ultimate Guitar Tabs(coming soon) which contains plenty of free guitar tabs or chords.

Photo of author


Gavin W has been mastering several types of music instruments like guitar, drum, bass, and audio mixing tools for over 15 years. He has participated in many rock shows such as Hajin Chan and Super Junior concerts. He was the guitarist of a pop-rock band called Pendular, which has won some significant awards like Asian Beat, Champion in Warehouse Youth Band Competition, and No Drug Music Contest. He is also active in the music education sector and has been a music tutor in schools and music learning centres since 2008.

1 thought on “How To Read Guitar Tabs”

  1. I do not even know how I ended up here but I thought this post was great I dont know who you are but definitely youre going to a famous blogger if you arent already Cheers.


Leave a Comment