Want to learn how to read guitar tabs? You’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we will show you how to read tabs, so you can start playing your favorite riffs today.
The traditional method of learning guitar involves scales, reading music, and other music theory skills. It’s a time-honored process that takes practice and intense study. However, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to dive right into playing the guitar, you may want to turn to tablature. Tablature, or tabs, is a popular alternative way for guitar players to read music.
You can think of guitar tabs as the Cliffs Notes version of guitar playing. They offer a fast way to learn how to play songs. Neither method of guitar playing (traditional or tablature) is wrong. However, if there is a song you need to know quickly, then learning how to read and understand guitar tabs is the fastest way to learn it. So, let’s get to it!
How Do You Read Guitar Tabs?
Let’s start with the basics of how to read guitar tabs. What is a tab, and how do you interpret it? There are six strings on a guitar, and a tab is written using six horizontal lines, each representing a string.
The bottom line represents your thickest string (low E), and the top line is your thinnest string (high E). The lines in between are the rest of your strings. The six horizontal lines are top to bottom: high E, B, G, D, A, low E.
Prefer to watch a video? Check out this guitar class where you learn how to read guitar tabs and play simple melodies:
The Basic of Reading Guitar Tabs
To learn how to read and understand guitar tabs, you’ll need first to become familiar with your guitar parts and the basic numbering system.
- Frets: These are the metal strips that run along the neck of your guitar. The fret closest to the headstock will be 1. The frets are numbered 1,2,3,4 and so on as you move toward the body.
- Fingers: You’ll match your fingers the number for the frets – your index finger is for 1, your middle finger is for 2, and so forth.
- Strings: An easy way to remember this is that the first string is the thinnest, and the sixth string is the thickest.
Here are a few key pointers for reading and playing guitar tabs.
- Read tabs from left to right, just like you would read a book. Once you’ve gotten to the end of the “line,” you’ll move to the next line, starting again left to right.
- Single notes will be represented by one number on one string. If you see stacked numbers, you’ll play them simultaneously—it’s a chord.
- You can find complete guides to guitar tabs using apps like Songsterr, or by searching the web. As you advance, you’ll need guidance for terminology and keys to decoding guitar tab symbols.
Now, let’s take a look at the most common techniques for how to read guitar tabs…
When you start to read guitar tabs, you might see the letter H pop up between two numbers, something like this: 5-H-7. This represents a technique known as a “hammer-on.”
For this example, you would play the fifth fret note and while it is still ringing out, use another finger to press down the seventh fret on the same string. This technique results in a quick change between notes and is popular in guitar solos.
Like a hammer on, a pull-off is notated with a P between two notes, like this: 7-P-5. To play the pull-off in the example, play a note on the seventh fret.
While you play the seventh fret, place another finger on the fifth fret and pull your finger off the seventh fret.
Slides are represented with a forward-slash or backslash between two notes, like this: 5/7 or 75. Basically, you hold down a note with one finger and while you’re playing the note, slide your finger up or down the neck of your guitar to the other note. A forward slash indicates that you need to slide up the neck, while a backslash represents a slide down.
Bends are another popular technique used in many guitar solos. They are represented in guitar tabs like this: 5-B-7. To play a bend, hold the note on the fifth fret, and as you play, push with your left-hand finger to bend the string until the pitch changes to match the pitch the same string normally has on the seventh fret.
Vibrato, or a quivering effect, is achieved by rapidly bending and releasing the bend, a kind of vibration of your finger on the fret. When a piece calls for vibrato, you’ll see this symbol on the tab: ~
When you’re learning how to read guitar tabs, know that when you see an x over a string, this indicates a muted note. To get this sound, hold your finger on the string without pressing down a fret. This creates a soft, “muted” sound.
Apps to Help You Learn How to Read Guitar Tabs
To make sure you can confidently answer your original question, how do you read guitar tabs, it helps to use as many helpful resources as you can.
Check out these useful apps for learning how to read and understand guitar tabs:
- Ultimate Guitar Tabs – Often considered the number one app for guitar tabs, Ultimate Guitar Tabs stands out with its option to go “pro.” The app is easy to navigate, and users can search for songs. There’s also a large community of people who upload and correct songs. There are also interesting features, like tempo control, audio track accompaniment, and scrolling playback.
- GuitarTab – GuitarTab allows you to search for videos, filter by guitar tablature style, query band and song info, and have access to more than 500,000 guitar tabs and chords.
- Guitar Pro – One unique part of Guitar Pro is having traditional notation along with the tabs. It’s straightforward, with tabs played in real-time as it moves across the screen.
- Guitar Chords and Tabs – Easy to search and free, this is a popular Android app that offers an extensive library of songs for learning how to read guitar tabs.
- Songsterr – This app has a selection of 500,000 tabs, and the tempo feature for Songsterr is among the best. It also has an appealing interface that’s popular with users. Getting a monthly subscription is a worthwhile investment.
Enjoy Learning How to Read Guitar Tabs!
Aside from dabbling with guitar tabs on your own, nothing beats taking guitar lessons. You’ll receive the tools you need to take your guitar playing to the next level. You can even choose between online or in-person classes with TakeLessons!