How To Read Guitar Tab

Guitar tab consists of a series of horizontal lines forming a staff (or stave) similar to standard notation. Each line represents one of the instrument's strings therefore standard guitar tab has a six-line staff and bass guitar tab has four lines. The top line of the tablature represents the highest pitched string of the guitar. By writing tablature with the lowest pitched notes on the bottom line and the highest pitched notes on the top line of the tablature follows the same basic structure and layout of Western Standard Notation.

The following examples are labelled with letters on the left denoting the string names, with a lower-case "e" for the high E string. Tab lines may be numbered 1-6 instead, representing standard string numbering, where "1" is the high E string, "2" is the B string etc.

The numbers that are written on the lines represent the fret used to obtain the desired pitch. For example, the number 3 written on the top line of the staff indicates that the player should press down at the third fret on the high E (first string). Number 0 denotes the nut - that is, an open string.

For chords, a letter above or below the tab staff denotes the root note of the chord.

Examples of guitar tab notation:

The chords E, F, and G:


Various lines, arrows and other symbols are used to denote bends, hammer-ons, trills, Pull-offs, slides, and so on.

Guitar tab is not standardised and different sheet music publishers adopt different conventions. Songbooks and guitar magazines usually include a legend setting out the convention in use.

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