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Lesson 5:

Understanding Guitar Tab

TABLATURE, or Tab for short, is a simplified form of reading written music. Knowing how to read music is a valuable skill, but can take years to develop. The purpose of tablature is to get you playing right away. With tablature, you can read music without having to know how to read musical notation. Tablature is used specifically for stringed instruments.

The Standard Music Staff has 5 lines and 4 spaces.
The Tab Staff has 6 lines that represent the 6 guitar strings, and we don't use any of the spaces.

Print out blank tab sheets.

guitar tab reading

Single note Tab reading.
Single note playing, as the name suggests, is just playing single notes or strings instead of chords. In the following easy to play tab exercise. Each number is the fret to press for that string.

'0' represents that string as 'open' so we don't press any frets for that string, we just play the open string. If there is no number on a string, then you will not play that string. This exercise uses the 6th string only. Try playing the exercise.


Pick each note one after another using a down stroke.

Playing Tips:
Use the one finger per fret rule that we learned in lesson 2. Notice that there is a note on the fifth fret and a note on the second fret. This would be played best from the second position (1st finger over the second fret). So the first finger will fret the (2) and the 4th finger will fret the (5).


Lets dig a little deeper and see how the chords are written using Tab. The image below shows chords written in standard notation (top staff) and Tab form (bottom staff).

Notice that on the Tab section, the notes are stacked upon each other the same way as in the standard notation, except that they use the fret numbers instead of the note symbol. These numbers are the frets that you will press to play the note or chord.

chord building notes

Something to keep in mind:
Some Tab music may include the suggested fingers to use, but usually will not. Sometimes it will be obvious which finger to use, but other times you may have to figure out which finger would be best to use. There are a lot of tab reading symbols that I have not included in these lesson in order to keep it simple. You will learn more as you progress as a guitarist.

Lesson 5

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