How To Read Guitar Tabs In 5 Easy Steps

What are guitar tabs?

In this lesson, we are going to learn how to read guitar tabs in 5 easy steps.  Guitar tabs are the universal way that guitar players read sheet music.  It is a simplified version of standard notation (regular sheet music you’re normally used to looking at in music books) and resembles a framework that is specific to the guitar.

Is learning to read guitar tabs important?

Yes!  The reason why it is important to read guitar tabs is that it allows you to discover musical passages that you otherwise might not of learned.  Watching someone play guitar on video is fine, but when you’re looking at the written page, your brain processes this information quite different.  If you can learn how to read tabs, they are not only going to open your eyes to something more, but also allow you to be able to remember what you are playing.

How to understand guitar tabs.



As you can see from the pictures above, guitar tabs are the same thing as regular notes.  They’re just written differently.  Look at the chart above and see clearly at the top you have regular notes, and on the bottom you have numbers. In the guitar picture, you can see that the numbers represent the frets & strings.

These numbers represent the notes, just presented in a different way to make it easier to read.  The only thing that’s confusing about tabs, is that your biggest string is on the bottom, but the top of your guitar fretboard.  So when reading tabs you must remember this.  The reason for this is because, in sheet music, the lowest note is always on the bottom.

The lines above are on what’s called a musical staff that is made up of five lines.  The tab below represents the 6 strings of the guitar, and the numbers represent where to put your fingers on the fretboard.  So basically, we’ve converted hard to understand notes, into easy to understand numbers.

This is great for kids (because they understand numbers) and great for adults because they do too.  Also If you notice. the numbers are in the same location as the notes above, meaning they are the same.  Just written differently.

What do the numbers mean?

The numbers mean that’s, where you’re going to place your fingers on the guitar fretboard to play the written music.  In this example above, the 2 represents the 2nd fret, the 3 represents the 3rd fret and the 0 represents no fret (open)  This means you pick the string without putting a finger down on the fretboard.

In this example, there is no staff line above, just the guitar strings and the numbers.  This makes it even easier to read, and how it’s now commonly written.  As you can see, this is a musical passage that uses all 6 strings and 1-4 frets.  The vertical lines in between, represent the measures or break up of the beats of music.

You know, 1 2 3 4.  In some books you’ll see the count underneath, but not always.  In this example, you have 8 beats per measure (1-8) 0r 4 (1&2&3&4&) depending on how you count it.

So in remembering how to read guitar tabs, I recommend these 5 easy steps.

Step #1.  Guitar tabs are written like standard notation (just simplified)

Step #2.  They don’t give every bit of information (but enough to get you started)

Step#3.  The numbers represent what frets to play on the guitar fretboard.

Step#4.  0 = Open (pick the string without putting a finger on the guitar fretboard)

Step#5.  Horizontal lines represent the 6 strings of the guitar (biggest on the bottom, thinnest on the top)

So there you have it.  5 easy steps to learning how to read guitar tabs.  Follow these steps and you can’t go wrong.   If you want to learn standard notation, great it’ll just make you better.  But start with tabs first.  You’ll get to playing faster with much less frustration.  And if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

And if you haven’t already.  I recommend you grab my FREE action-guide “Beginner Guitar Secrets”  to help you excel in your learning.

Until our next lesson, take care.

Dwayne Jenkins

Dwayne Jenkins
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