#1. WHAT GUITAR TAB WILL TELL YOU.
TAB will tell you what notes to play – it will tell you which string to hit
and which fret to fret it at.
TAB will tell you where hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, slides, harmonics and
vibrato are used.
TAB will tell you what tuning the piece is in. If this isn’t given
explicitly, assume normal tuning. TAB should also give you information
on use of capos etc.
TAB will give you an indication of the ryhthm of the piece – i.e it will tell
you which are the long notes and which are the short notes.
However it will not tell you exactly how long or how short they are.
This leads me on to …
#2. WHAT TAB WILL NOT TELL YOU
TAB will (usually) not tell you the note lengths of the notes – so in most
cases you will *have* to listen to the song yourself, with the TAB in front
of you to work out the ryhthm of the notes.
TAB will not tell you which fingers you use to fret which note.
TAB will (usually) not tell you anything about picking and strumming -
you will have to decide for yourself where to use upstrokes/downstrokes
and so on.
#3. TAB NOTATION – THE BASICS
TAB is simple to read, and should be simple to write if you want to submit
a song you have worked out yourself. The idea is this :
You start out with 6 lines (or four for bass). These correspond to the strings
of the instrument. The top line is the highest pitch string, and the bottom
line is the lowest pitch string. Below is a blank bit of TAB with the string
names at the left.
Numbers are written on the lines to show you where to fret the string
with the left hand. If a zero appears , this means play the open string.
Like standard musical notation, you read from left to right to find
out what order to play the notes. The following piece of TAB would mean
play the sequence of notes (E F F# G G# A) on the bottom E string by
moving up a fret at a time, starting with the open string.
OK so far ?
Here we have notes being played one at a time. If two or more notes
are to be played together, they are written on top of one another,
again just like standard notation.
In the next example we have a G bar chord.
So this means play all these notes together as a chord.
You might see the same chord written like this :
Which would mean strum the same shape starting at the bottom string, so
that each string is hit slightly later than the last string, but all notes
will ring together. Below is am example of the same shape again, but now
the gaps between the notes are bigger – so you would probably pick the
strings separately instead of slowly strumming the shape.
You might ask – How do I know how fast or slow to play this ?
Are all the notes supposed to be the same length ?
This is where TAB differs from standard notation. Most often TAB
will *not* give you any information on the note lengths. It is usually
left up to you to listen to the song to pick up the rhythm.
However – don’t despair. TAB should give you some indications of
timing. In the example above all the notes are evenly spaced so you
can reasonably assume that the notes are the same length (maybe all
eighth notes or quavers) but this may not always be true – it depends on
who wrote the TAB.
As a general rule, the spacing of the notes on the TAB should tell you
which notes are the long ones, and which are the short and fast ones, but
obviously it won’t tell you if a note is a triplet or anything like
that. Again, this will depend strongly on the person who wrote the
As an example, here are the first few notes of the American National
Anthem in TAB. You should see fairly clearly that the different spacing
corresponds to the different note lengths.
Obviously it will be a lot easier to play the TAB for a song you
know well than for a song you’ve never heard of because you will
already be familiar with the rhythms of the familiar song.
These are the main steps and methods of familiarizing yourself with guitar tabs, or tablature as it is formally called. I hope this makes sense. Got any questions, please ask? There is plenty more to say on this subject. Enjoy a free subscription if you want to get more articles in your email. GuitarPlayersCenter.com by Howard.Wright@ed.ac.uk