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How to Read Guitar Tabs to Master the Guitar

Jul 3, 2008
Once you have decided to learn how to play the guitar, you are very likely brimming over with excitement; you have your brand new guitar, some accessories and even some guitar tabs to get you off to a good start. You're excited; at least until you look at those tabs and realize you haven't a clue how to read guitar tabs! Luckily, reading guitar tabs is not terribly difficult. Once you learn how to read guitar tabs, you'll be playing from tabs in no time! They are easier than sheet music and are designed specifically with beginning players in mind.

Once you have learned how the tabs are laid out, you'll find it incredibly easy to read guitar tabs. For the beginner, these are the method of choice, since it is a musical notation which is guitar-specific, letting you begin to learn to play guitar long before you have learned to read sheet music.

There are some similarities between traditional sheet music and guitar tabs; the most important difference is the layout of the tabs. Unlike sheet music, guitar tabs indicate the placement of your fingers while playing.

There are six strings on a guitar, E, B, G, D, A, and E again. The first E, is a high E, with the last E being the low. When learning how to read guitar tabs, you will need to know the placement of these strings on the tab itself. The lines go from top to bottom, the higher E will be on top, which is then followed by the B, G, D, A, and lower E on the bottom, in that order.

See those metal lines on the neck of your guitar? Those are the frets and on your tabs, they are indicated by the vertical lines you see there - your fingers are placed in between (not on!) the frets while playing. When you're reading guitar tabs, there will be numbers - these tell you which fret your fingers should be on.

You will find numbers in accordance to the guitar frets on the guitar tab; however, you might find a zero on the tab as well. This will mean that the string indicated will be openly played, instead of pressed. A good example of frets is if you were to see the number three on the A tab line, you would play the A note on the third fret.

While you are learning how to read guitar tabs, you will also notice a number of symbols on the tab as well. There are many symbols such as X, B, R, H, P, PM, T, or /. Each of these symbols have a specific meaning on a guitar tab. While reading guitar tabs, an X will indicate that the string itself will not even be played during that chord or note. The B symbol will indicate that you will bend the note, while the P symbol will mean that you will pull off the note.

To briefly run down the other symbols, an H denotes a hammer-on, R release, T is for tap, PM means to palm mute that note or chord and a / means to slide. When you are learning to read guitar tabs, you will gradually become with all of these parts of playing and reading tabs - frets, symbols and everything else.
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If you enjoyed this article on How to Read Guitar Tabs by 'Guitar Dan' Adkins, take a few seconds to see what else he has to offer at Guitars FYI
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