How to Read Guitar Tabs

Learning How to Read Guitar Tabs with Ease

The presence of the guitar in the lives of humans can be traced back to the 15th century. For hundreds of years, the people’s ability to play this musical instrument has also evolved. Guitar enthusiasts have learned how to pick-hold, fret, pluck, do bends and slides, and many other more techniques. Playing the guitar might seem complicated at first, but nothing is impossible for a person who puts his mind and heart into learning it. Learning the basics can come in handy if you are a beginner and you might also be required of learning how to read guitar tabs or even guitar chords.

The Basics of a Guitar Tab

how to read guitar tabs

A guitar tablature, otherwise known as guitar tabs, lets a guitar player learn the ropes of playing songs, melodies, and chords. It is a kind of music sheet that is mainly created to aid the guitarists in playing particular songs. It can be tricky at the beginning, most especially for the amateurs.

There are three numbering systems in a guitar tab: the frets, fingers, and strings.

1. It is important that a guitar player should be able to distinguish an individual numbering system from the other. Let’s begin with the easiest one to differentiate—the fingers. The index finger is marked as finger number 1. The middle finger becomes finger number 2. Same thing goes for the ring finger until the pinky finger.

2. The frets can be easily spotted on a guitar because they usually come in white plastic or metal strips that are placed on the handle of the instrument. The standard guitar possesses 19 frets, and the number of frets varies from one type of guitar to another.

3. The third numbering system is also an easy one to recognize. There are six strings on a standard guitar. They are usually made from either metal or nylon strings. Each string varies in thickness. The thinnest string is marked as string number 1, and the thickest one is marked as string number 6.

These numbering systems are essential in learning how to read guitar tabs because their participation defines the whole thing. Without the strings, the player won’t be able to produce the desired sound of a guitar. Without pressing the proper fret, a song can be misinterpreted. Without the fingers, how else can you press the strings? This is why it is important to have the basic knowledge on how to read guitar tabs.

The six strings represent the positioning of chords. The topmost string – being the thinnest, represents the high E chord. The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth strings are represented by the chords B, G, D, A, and low E respectively. In a guitar tab, numbers are located on the strings. These numbers correspond to the positions of the guitar player’s fingers on the fret panel.


For each number, there is a certain fret on the horizontal line that it represents. For example, if there is a “2” indicated on the lowest line, the guitarist should fret the second fret of the lowest string. If the number assigned to a line is “0”, just pluck the string without pressing any fret.

Many might still be puzzled on how to read guitar tabs, but the key to interpreting it is to read the tabs from left to right. You should also remember that some guitar tabs are not completely detailed when it comes to notes and rhythm. Some are broken down in measures, and this is why it is best to listen carefully to the song and muster where these rhythms should be played.

Here are some tips on bringing out the guitar prowess in you:

1. Begin learning how to play the instrument with the help of simple and easy-to-read guitar tabs. Familiarize yourself with the rhythm, tempo, and beat of the song, so you will know when to strike the guitar or not.

2. When learning how to read guitar tabs, understand the proper position of your hands and fingers in playing. Find a position that makes you feel at ease. You cannot last long in playing a musical instrument if you are not comfortable with your whole posture.

3. Guitar tabs, most especially those from the Internet, are not always complete and precise. It is best to look for other versions as well. Always find a piece that suits your playing style.

4. Watch tutorial videos and take note of the different styles that people use to handle guitar tabs. Start by watching easy-to-follow guitar pieces. Look for pieces which are not too complicated, and don’t hesitate to leave comments or ask the owner of the video. Curiosity often leads to discovery. After learning easy pieces, you can now move on to more complex songs with tougher-to-interpret guitar tabs.

5. When at first you don’t succeed, try again. This may sound cliché, but it applies to anything you do including reading guitar tabs. As you go along, you will encounter guitar tabs which are harder to interpret. The key is for you to practice and watch tutorial videos until you make it.

The Advantages of Guitar Tabs

If you are an amateur guitarist, tabs are your best friend because they are easy to comprehend. Once you know the basics (frets, finger system, strings, chords, etc.), you are ready to take your guitar skills to the next level. Guitar tabs are available almost everywhere. You can search the Internet for the tabs of the songs you want to learn and play. Although some artists who came out with these tabs need you to ask for their permissions, most of these guitar tabs can be accessed for free.

A guitar tablature is a handy learning tool for beginners. Nothing beats the sense of accomplishment that comes when you are already able to play through reading guitar tabs. Even if tabs have limitations, a beginner guitarist should not limit himself in experimenting and trying the best he can to overcome these restrictions.