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Note: This section is still under construction, and may be lacking content (or some inaccuracies); It may be better to check back at a later date. Thank you.


The Basics

Tablature (or tab for short) is much like reading music, but it is a lot easier. Most Guitar notation you will find will be written in tab. Music notation, rather than tab, denotes what note you have to play, leaving you to figure out where that note is on the fretboard and on which string. But tab tells you exactly which fret and string to play. Tab has six lines (as opposed to five in music), each one denoting a string on the guitar. The first line is the thinnest string on the guitar, also known as the 1st string or thin E. This is the highest pitched string. Each string below represents the next on the guitar, and the last obviously representing the thickest string (6th string or thick E). This is the lowest pitched string:

Thin E String
↓ [1]--------
↓ [2]--------
↓ [3]--------
↓ [4]--------
↓ [5]--------
↓ [6]--------
Thick E String

So if we want to play a G chord using tab we would write it like this:


In case you don't know what a G chord is, you play like so:

  1. Put your middle finger on the 3rd fret on the fat E string
  2. Put your second finger on the 2rd fret on the next string down (the A string)
  3. Finally you put you fourth finger on the 3rd on the thin E string

So now look at the tab of the G chord above and compare it to the position you fingers are in.

But tab is used for more than just chords (we can use chord windows just for chords), we can also use tab for single note work as well, such as scales:


This example shows that you start on the fat E string in an open position (no fret held down) and then move you fingers up the frets from 1 to 4. You then move your hand down to the next string and play the same as above. And this pattern can go on until the last string (with the exception of the G string which leaves out the note on the 4th fret). The sound you should hear is a chromatic (all the notes) scale going up in pitch.

Just like normal writting, can break down to another line if it can not fit on one line. The example above is rewritten below, spanning over two lines:



Variations Between Tabs

One last thing to mention before moving on is that tabs can vary. Is not usually written with the string numbers down the side, (although I will continue with this notation just to make it a little easier on you). If you are really lucky some tabs are printed with thicker lines to represent the thicker strings, getting thinner to represent that thinner strings. And you occasionally come across tab that prints the numbers in-between the lines - that is quite confusing.


This is when you spice up the sound by using techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, etc. Below is listed some different techniques you can use, how to play them and how they are written in tab:

This is when you pick a note and then, with your left hand (assuming you are right handed), changing the note by putting another finger on a different fret. So, for example, put your first finger on the second fret on the thin E string. Now pick that note and (after a short pause) put your third finger onto the fourth fret (without picking it):
[1]-----2 ^ 4----
So when we see the ^ symbol , it means that we hammer on from the last note.
These are essentially the opposite of hammer-ons, in that we pick the first note and pull our finger off to a note behind it on the fret board. So using the respective example as above, put your third finger on the fourth fret on the thin E string, and your third finger on the second fret, thin E. Now pick the Thin E string and (after another short pause) pull your third finger off, leaving your first finger sounding the note:
[1]-----4 ^ 2----
This time the symbol is used to indicate a Pull-Off.
This is like a hammer-on/pull-off except that you slide up/down to the second note.
Sliding down
Put your third finger on the fourth fret on the thin E string. Now pick the Thin E string and (after another short pause) slide your finger up to the fourth fret:
[1]-----4 \ 2----
Sliding up
This time start on the second fret and slide up to the fourth fret:
[1]-----2 / 4----
So for slides the symbol / is used to indicate a slide up the neck, and the symbol \ is used to indicate a slide down the neck. You may also see a small S over the top off one of these symbols, or the abbreviation gliss., which is short for glissando and means to slide.
Bend-ups & Let-downs
Bends are when you pick a note and then bend the string up to raise the pitch. In the example below, you put your third finger on the B/2nd string at fret 9, pick the note and then bend it up until it is the same as if you were to play at fret 10 without bending:
[2]-----9 ? (10)----
The symbol ? is used to indicate a bend (the BU stands for Bend Up).
But we can also do the opposite of this, and start with a bent note, then pick it and then let it down to its normal pitch:
[2]-----(10) ? 9---
The Let Down symbol is ?. When reading Bends and Let-Downs from tab you may find the amount to bend above it expressed a fraction (instead of the fret number in brackets as above). You may see ¼, ½, 1 or 2 (or more if required). This tells the number of steps you must bend up. ½ a step is equal to one fret, 1 step equals two frets, etc. So when you see a ¼, you must bend in between an in-between note.

Example Decorations

An example of all of these decoration is given below, and is a sort of blues riff. It's pretty tricky but give you an idea of how to use these decorations:

[2]------------------- HO--PO--PO------5------------------------
[3]------------5--7--7 ^ 8 ^ 7 ^ 5-----5-------BU-----LD--------
[4]-----6 / 7-----------------------7-----7--9 ? (10) ? 9--7----

All tutorials and content written by Rick Bull unless otherwise stated
Page's last update: Friday, 15th January 2010; 12:52:23 GMT +0000
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