Curious about how guitar tabs translate to piano chords? Learn how to convert your favorite songs in this guest post by Greeley, CO teacher Andy W...
Why should guitarists have all the fun playing classics like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California”? Just because a song is written in TABS doesn’t mean that piano players can’t read it also. So, here’s how to translate guitar tabs so you can play piano chords!
First, let’s establish a basic understanding of the guitar. The notes of the open strings from thickest to thinnest are E, A, D, G, B, and E. Also, each fret on guitar is a half step. This means that you can find any note by starting from the open string that the note is played on and count up in half steps, one fret at a time, until you arrive at the desired note.
What you need to know about TABS is that there are six lines that represent the six guitar strings. The bottom line represents the thickest string, while the top represents the thinnest. The numbers you’ll see on each line indicate the number of fret that is played on that string. As far as reading rhythms, TABS usually only approximate rhythms. But as you read the fret numbers from left to right, more or less spaces between numbers indicate note values and rests. So, more space between two numbers means that you’ll either hold the note or rest until the next one is played. If numbers are stacked on top of each other vertically, that means those notes are played at the same time.
Alright piano players, let’s finally sink our teeth into one of the most wonderfully cliché guitar-based songs ever made, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. Take a look at the video below that provides the TABS:
Now it’s time to figure out the right piano notes, and from there the appropriate piano chords to play! We’ll just focus on the first measure for now. To find the first note, we look at which string it’s played on. The number 7 is on the third line from the bottom, which indicates the D string. Since the fret number is 7, we’re going to count up 7 half steps from the open D string. Feel free to use your piano to help you do this. When we count up we get these notes: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A. So, A is the first note.
Next, let’s look at the second note. It’s played on the third thinnest string, which is a G. Since the number is 5, we count up 5 half steps from the open G string, giving us these notes: G, G#, A, A#, B, C. So, our second note is C. Keep using this same process to find the next notes.
When we get to beat 3 of this measure, there is a 7 and a 6 stacked on top of each other. This means that both notes are played at the same time. The 7 is on the thinnest string, E, while the 6 is on the third from the bottom string, D. Starting with the thinnest string, E, let’s count up 7 half steps: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B. Now, count up 6 half steps from D: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#. So you’ll play B and G# at the same time.
And that’s the basic idea for translating guitar tabs to piano! Using this method of counting up in half steps from an open string, you can effectively steal all the guitarists’ favorite songs!
Andy W. teaches guitar, singing, piano, and more in Greeley, CO. He specializes in jazz, and has played guitar for 12 years. Learn more about Andy here!
Photo by angelocesare