Funkydog guitar lessons blog
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I’m often asked by my students how to read tabs. It’s totally understandable, it’s like trying to learn another language AND trying to learn an instrument at the same time. A headache in other words. Here’s a post which will hopefully make your life easier.
Tabs or tablature is a type of music notation made for guitarists and bassists. It tells you what strings to play and what fret to press with your finger. When you’re getting started, it’s much easier to read than standard musical notation.
As the diagram shows, the top line is the thinnest string and the bottom line is the thickest string.
If there is a 0 then you don't press down on any fret. Just pluck the string with your right hand.
Wherever there is a number, you need to press your finger down on that particular fret and play that particular string. You don’t play any other strings at the same time.
If the tabs have numbers stacked on top of one another, that means that you’ll be playing multiple strings at the same time and pressing down with multiple fingers.
A couple of other symbols on here are hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides.
This is taken from the diagram above.
Here the tabs are telling you to play fret 2 on the D string. In this case, you’ll need to press down with your first finger and pluck the string with your right hand - then ‘hammer’ on the 3rd fret with your second finger – you don’t pluck the string with your right hand.
If you're doing this right, you should be able to make a note without plucking the string.
To create the sound off a pull-off, you'll need to basically do the opposite of a hammer-on.
You'll need your 2nd/3rd finger holding down fret 5 while your first finger is holding down fret 3. Pluck the string with your right hand while pressing the fret down with your left. Just after you pluck the string, you'll need to take your 2nd/3rd finger off. This will create the 'pull-off' sound.
A slide, otherwise know as a glissando is where you slide up or down the fretboard to get to the next note.
In the case of the diagram above, you'll need to press your finger down on the 3rd fret and pluck the string with your right hand. While still holding the note down with your left hand move it up towards the 5th fret. Don't take your finger off.
This may be hard to get right and sounding smooth at first, but as usual, the more that you practice, the better it'll sound.
As you get more into playing with tabs, you'll see other symbols that are commonly used.
pros and cons of tab
I hope this article was a useful introduction into the world of tabs. There are both good things and bad things about using tablature, but in the end, anything to help you get learning when you start is a good thing.
Please post anything you think I've missed below!