How to Read Guitar Tabs

Knowing how to read guitar tabs is often more useful than standard musical notation because the greatest majority of guitar music is written in tabs, or combines both staff and tablature, one line below the other.

Reading guitar tabs is very simple. There are six horizontal lines, each line represents a string, the upper line is the high E string (the thinnest one), following accordingly are B, G, D, A and the low E (the thickest string).

names of guitar strings

The numbers on a line mean what fret to play. The numbering begins from the nut towards the guitar bridge. A 0 number is an open string.

With this method you have the straightforward visualization of what string and at which fret to play.

For instance:  

This tablature says that:

  • The first note should be played on the open D string.
  • Next play second note at the third fret on the same string.
  • And after that, the third note at the fifth fret on the G string.

When you see a few vertically aligned numbers on the tab lines,

Vertically aligned numbers in guitar tablature

play these notes simultaneously.

Besides locations of notes on a fingerboard, guitar tabs often contain symbols and notations that provide additional information about techniques used in a song and other useful information.

You don't need to learn these symbols right now, I'll introduce them inside my lessons when necessary. Although you can use the comprehensive chart of guitar tab symbols as a reference to any unknown tab notation you'll encounter elsewhere:

Note that in guitar music the strings are often also identified as numbers from 1 to 6.

This approach especially comfortable when the strings are tuned to alternative pitches.

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This article was last updated on January 18, 2024