How to Read Guitar Tabs

When you first learn how to play the guitar, there are a number of tools that can make the learning process easier. One of these tools is tablature (tabs.) You have probably heard of tabs before but perhaps you do not realize what they are or how to read them. In short, they are an easy and simple way of reading music/notation.

Guitar Tabs

by Helldiran (

The concept is really simple. In fact, it is so simple that even a very young student can learn how to read guitar tabs. I am a full time guitar teacher and musician, and I have taught tabs to students as young as 5 years old. The great thing about tab is the fact that you do not need to know about notes or standard notation. It is a super fast way to learn your favorite riff, songs or melody. In addition, you can also write your own tabs thus creating and immortalizing your very own songs and riffs.

Reading Guitar Tabs for Beginners

All tabs do, is show you on which string to put your finger, and on what string.

Let us say that you are playing a song where you need play a specific note. Tabs will show you exactly how to do this.

Let us now assume that you are playing a song, melody or riff that requires you to play specific note on one of the guitars strings. The tab will indicate exactly which string to play and also which fret number to hold down. For instance, it could tell you to play the low e string holding down the third fret. (This would produce a g note.)

Or, it may tell you to pluck the A string while holding down the 2nd fret (This would produce a B note.)

Sometimes you will be shown to hold down two or more strings at the same time. This is how chords are written in tablature. However, the concept is exactly the same. Again, all you have to do is to hold down the notes, indicated by the numbers written, and play the strings on which the numbers are on.

Some of my students have had to get used to visualizing/comprehending which string is which on the tab music staff. This may take a while to get used to. But once this is understood, tabs are super easy.

In fact, you can learn how to play any simple melody with tabs whether it’s a Christmas song or even a Rock riff.

When I started out playing guitar I used tabs to learn my favorite Metallica and Guns N’ Roses riffs. The great thing about tab is that is has a way of giving you instant gratification because it is so easy to master. You do not have to learn about notes, and theory or anything super complicated. All you need to do is follow the instructions and put the finger/fingers on the indicated strings and you are ready to rock!

Start With a Little Tab Exercise

Here is a little tab exercise for all you beginners:

  1. Locate the high e string (The thin one.)
  2. Now, go ahead and play the 3rd fret and hold that note. After that, go ahead and play the 5th fret (of the same string) and hold that note.
  3. Finally, play the open string (no fretted notes) and let that string ring out.

What you have played in terms of tablature is:

3 5 0 on the e string and reading tablature is no more difficult than this. Actually, you have played the notes G, A and E. However, since they are in tab format, there is no indication of what the note is. This is the “downside” of tablature.

However, if you take an exercise such as the one we went through, and start committing the numbers on the fret board to memory in terms of notes, learning tab can actually serve as note learning practicing as well (Not musical notation, but notes upon the guitar fretboard.) How is this? Well, in addition to having learned to locate 3 5 and 0, you have also learned that:

  • 3=G
  • 5=A
  • 0=E

In this way, you have actually doubled the efficiency of your learning. Not only are you learning how to read guitar tabs, you are learning what note you are playing. And since these numbers appear time and time again, so will the notes, and you will be able to know what note you are actually playing besides knowing what fret the tabs are asking you to hold down (fret)



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