How To Read Guitar Tab (Tablature)

Learning how to read guitar tab is an absolute must forbeginner guitar players these days. You will, no doubt, turn to the Internet at some point in the game looking to learn a little guitar riff, lick or lead and come across six lines (solid or dotted) running left to right across the page with random numbers on them. Reading guitar tablature isn’t hard, but if you’ve never seen it before, odds are, you might find it a little confusing right off the bat.
The easy part is this, the six lines represent the strings of your guitar and the numbers represent the frets on your guitar. Easy enough. However, the part that usually confuses people in the beginning is that most people in the beginning, including myself, want to look at the strings on the page as if we were looking at a mirror..the top string on the top and the bottom string on the bottom. But it’s actually opposite of that, which is confusing. The top string on the page is your first string on the guitar, which is the bottom string. So looking at the page, the strings from top to bottom are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. When looking down at your guitar, the strings are 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 from top to bottom.

The easiest way to be sure you are reading the tab correctly, is to lay your guitar flat on your lap, then lay your tab print-up on top of the guitar. You will notice how the strings on the sheet match up to the guitar. The strings will line up in exactly the order they should.

The next part is the numbers on the strings. As I said before, the numbers on a string represent the fret that is to be played on that string. The tab should be read from left to right as a whole. It may or may not be obvious that all six strings are a part of a single tab line and should be read together. So a person should not read one string then the next, but go from one number or set of stacked numbers, to the next, from left to right and play that fret on whatever string the tab has it placed.

Finger placement is a whole different issue. Deciding which fingers to use will be tough as a beginner. Playing guitar is all about shapes. Different shapes and fingerings for notes, scales, chords and licks are used to make something easier and sound smooth. There are far too many to discuss in a single blog, as all the different shapes can take years and years to learn for most. However, an experienced player or teacher will always be able to show you the most appropriate shape(s) for playing whatever the tab indicates. And as always, the longer you’ve been playing, the more questions you’ve asked, and the more familiar with shapes you become, the less you will need to ask questions like this. Having a teacher will always help you grow faster than you would without one…after all, kids wouldn’t learn to read very quickly without a teacher, probably not at all actually. So if you’re serious about learning guitar and not wasting time doodling around with a few songs, I strongly recommend finding a teacher with a solid learning plan that will continue to challenge you, answer your questions, and keep you learning new things. I’m here to help anyway I can, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment or ask any questions.

Here’s a quick video to give you a visual perspective and to help you read guitar tab easier. Stay tuned for the last part of this series on reading chord diagrams.

Let’s get rockin!



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