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What Are Guitar Tabs and How to Read Them?

Sep 15, 2008
Guitar tablatures or tabs are a great way of transcribing a song and I believe that you will be able to read them perfectly with this tutorial. Tablatures are actually a way of expressing music on paper. They allow you to put a song on the paper, note by note, so that everyone can read them and make a song happen they way it was meant to sound in the first place.

Unlike guitar chords which only give you the basic melody of the song, tablatures make it possible for you to play the song absolutely correctly, note by note. They even show you how to make the transitions between various notes (hammer ons, pull offs, slides, bends, ...) in order for you to sound as close to original as possible. So, how do they look like?

They consist of 6 horizontal lines, representing strings - the bottom line is the thickest string. They are marked with some numbers. The numbers tell you which fret to hold on that string. A '0' on the D string means that you play the string open (unfretted). A '2' means that you play the string at the second fret, therefore making it sound 2 semitones higher than it normally does. For instance, by playing a D string at the second fret, you get the E note. If there is no number on a string, you simply don't play that string.

There is another thing about the position of those numbers. If they are aligned vertically, you should play all the marked strings at the same time. If every number is written slightly more to the left than the previous one, you should play the strings one by one, producing distinct notes.

And then there are some of the little details that you will need to know to fully understand how to read guitar tablature. Be aware that some of these symbols may vary, depending on who created the tablature.

Hammer On: It means that you hold the 7th fret with your index finger and then hit the 9th fret with your ring finger hard enough to make a sound of the 9th fret. It is usually written as 7h9. Sometimes they just put 7^9.

Pull Off: Imagine the situation after the forementioned hammer on. Now you can pluck the string with your ring finger to make a sound of the 7th fret. This is called a pull off. Usually it's written as 9p7 or 9^7.

Bending a string is written as 7b9. The return of the bent note is marked as 9r7. Some sloppy guitarists use the 7(9) notation.

An ascending slide is marked as 7/9 and a descending slide is marked as 9\7. And sometimes you will find the 7s9 notation.

Vibrato is notated with a ~~~ or v.

A string mute is shown with an x.

The harmonics are usually indicated like - for the harmonics, played at the 7th fret.

With this short tutorial we have covered everything you need as a guitar player to read tablatures. I wish you a lot of fun playing the guitar and have a great time!
About the Author
Anze Sustar has been playing guitar for seven years. His other hobby is web programming, so he has designed a website especially for guitar players. You can find all the chords and tablatures that you need at http://www.yourchords.com .
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