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How To Read Tabs Quickly And Easily

A GuitarTips mini-lesson for PJs Guitar Chords and Lyrics

Many e-mails come into my office asking how to read & write tabs.

I've written about this before -- but I'm going to cover it again to make sure we're all singing from the same song book!

I'll also include a few advanced symbols and meanings as it's important you know what they mean in case you get stuck!

Now -- tabs are not proper music notation. They are an easy way to learn your favourite songs.

If proper music notation is what you want -- check out: http://datadragon.com/education/reading/

...as they provide a great tutorial. But if all you want to do is learn your favourite song quickly and easily -- tabs are the way to go!

Here's how they work....(you'll pick this up in 2 seconds!)

Tablature is a way of indicating the positioning of notes and fingering on the guitar fretboard.

There are 6 tab lines representing 6 strings on the guitar. (The 1st string is the thinnest, and the 6th string is the thickest) They are as follows:

E----------------------------- String 1
B----------------------------- String 2
G----------------------------- String 3
D----------------------------- String 4
A----------------------------- String 5
E----------------------------- String 6

When a number is placed on one of the lines, it indicates the fret location of note for example,

E----------------------------- String 1
B------4---------------------- String 2
G----------------------------- String 3
D----------------------------- String 4
A----------------------------- String 5
E----------------------------- String 6

This means to play the 4th Fret on the 2nd string

E----------------------------- String 1
B----------------------------- String 2
G----------------------------- String 3
D----------------------------- String 4
A------0---------------------- String 5
E----------------------------- String 6

This indicates an open 5th string

E---1------------------------- String 1
B-----------8----------------- String 2
G-------7--------------------- String 3
D---------------2------------- String 4
A----------------------------- String 5
E------------------------12--- String 6

This indicates:
1st Fret, 1st string then
7th Fret, 3rd string, then
8th Fret, 2nd string, then
2nd Fret, 4th string, then
12th Fret, 6th string.

Further Points To Remember...

Other letters / symbols used in tabs.

h - hammer on
p - pull off
b - bend string up
r - release bend
/ - slide up
\ - slide down
v - vibrato (sometimes written as ~)
t - right hand tap
x - play 'note' with heavy damping

When you see all numbers in a line one after another

E---3------------------------- String 1
B---3------------------------- String 2
G---4------------------------- String 3
D---5------------------------- String 4
A---5------------------------- String 5
E---3------------------------- String 6

...it means you play the entire chord using all strings

When you see tabs that have "h"


E--------------------------------String 1
B--------------------------------String 2
G--------------------------------String 3
D--------------------------------String 4
A---------7h9-----------10h12----String 5
E---0--0----------0--0-----------String 6

....it means to do a "Hammer On" from the 7th fret to the 9th fret and again for the 10th fret to the 12th fret

When you see other tabs that have "p"


E--------------------------------String 1
B--------------------------------String 2
G--------------------------------String 3
D--------------------------------String 4
A---------9p7-----------12p10----String 5
E---0--0----------0--0-----------String 6

....it means to do a "Pull Off" from the 9th fret to the 7th fret and again for the 12th fret to the 10th fret

When you see other tabs that have "b"


E--------------------------------String 1
B--------------------------------String 2
G--------------------------------String 3
D--------------------------------String 4
A---------7b9-----------10b12----String 5
E--------------------------------String 6

...it means strike the string 5 on the 7th fret, then bend the note up so that it sounds the same as the note played on the 9th fret.

Here's a quick tablature legend to keep on file...

Tablature Legend

 h - hammer-on
 p - pull-off
 b - bend
 pb - pre-bend
 r - bend release (release immediately if no number after r)
 /\ - slide into or out of (from/to "nowhere")
 s - legato slide
 S - shift slide
<n> - natural harmonic
[n] - artificial harmonic
n(n) - tapped harmonic
 ~ - vibrato
 tr - trill
 T - tap
 TP - trem. picking
 PM - palm muting
\n/ - tremolo bar dip; n = amount to dip
 \n - tremolo bar down
 n/ - tremolo bar up
/n\ - tremolo bar inverted dip
 = - hold bend; also acts as connecting device for hammers/pulls
 <> - volume swell (louder/softer)
 x - on rhythm slash represents muted slash
 o - on rhythm slash represents single note slash





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