How to Read Guitar TAB
Your first guitar is going to have a story. What's yours going to be?
Imagine going back to the 3rd grade now. You'd kill it, wouldn't you?
Adding, got it.
Maps, got 'em.
Each day's a piece of cake.
Coming to the guitar world can feel like you're a third grader amongst adults - and the material is all the same. It just all seems so easy for them.
I get that. I was there too once. Afraid I'd pee my pants in front of the whole class. Watching the older kids throw down solos while I was still getting my fingers to actually play a C chord.
But then I came across tabs.
And suddenly it was like holy shit, the third grade is easy. Really, really easy. No wonder everyone's got this down so well.
Tabs are a wonderful system that links third graders to rocket scientists. At least their guitar-playing equivalents.
Riffin' On Numbers: The Real Schoolhouse ROCK
Reading tabs is easy because tabs rely on numbers. Numbers never change. You'll understand 1 as 1 and only 1. This ain't no Matrix, keep it simple.
These numbers correspond to the frets on your guitar. You play the fret that corresponds to that tab note you're reading.
Any tablature will have six lines drawn and numbers placed on them. These six lines refer to your guitar, just flipped. Top line of tab is bottom string on guitar, and vice versa.
See the picture? That will show which string is which - and you can follow along on a sheet of tabs.
Third up from the bottom on the tab is the third string from the top on your guitar. Sounds like it may mess with your mind, but it really doesn't. Just remember which fret lines go with which strings and that the numbers are for frets.
And that's it.
Well, I mean that's the theory behind it. You'll want to read the more in-depth instructions here [LINK TO LONGER TAB ARTICLE] - but it's not really more complicated.
Sure there are a few letters that make their way in. A few rules too. But nothing too crazy. What you see is what you get.
Numbers are frets, frets are numbers.
All that's left really is matching the numbers to the frets. See our diagram and you'll see how to do the match. The "C" on the tablature matches the "C" on your guitar, and the "6" on the tab matches the 6th fret.
Now That You Know, You May Not Actually Know
Of course, learning tabs opens a million doors. Well, a door for each song out there. So what like twenty million? I don't even know!
Anyway, what I want to tell is that it opens doors both good and bad. This you'll have to be careful with. With great gifts come great responsibilities, right?
Knowing tabs will save you SO much. You're going to want to get them down pat. And lucky for you, that's easy.
BUT, you have to know that tabs can have their dark side. We wrote an article about that here. It's something you HAVE to know if you're going to be a real guitarist.
We created StringNinja and ZenTabs to show you not just how to read tabs, but how to use them effectively. Get the best bang for your buck. And since that buck is really like 8 cents (because tabs can be so simple), the bang is going to be incredible!
But if you don't want to commit to that yet, you can learn some tabs on your own. Just make sure to read about THE DARK SIDE. And after that, you'll be a tab-expert.
Well, almost. You'll need to know what you're talking about too!
Once you learn tabs, you'll pick up the jargon real fast.
You'll want to learn the other symbols that go in tabs - the hammer-on, pull-off, etc. If you want to get to those now, you can learn them here [LINK]. If not, save the link for later.
And from there on you'll start talking in "tab slang". "Slide" will be a major expression. You'll say, "play 3, 5, 7" instead of 3rd fret, 5th fret, 7th fret. You'll call the strings by their letter names.
And you'll be one step closer to playing your favorite songs. A step closer to kicking out those jams.
Course you'll want to know what to do with those tabs - check out our Learning Guitar Fast guide and put that learning to good use. It's the best 3rd-grade-level stuff you'll ever learn. Well that and multiplication, maybe.
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