Reading TAB

TAB is a very useful tool, especially for beginning guitarists. It only takes five minutes to learn, and enables you to learn most popular guitar songs.

Before we begin

Personally I don’t like TAB (see TAB versus Standard Notation) however I do understand its appeal. I also realise that for beginners who do not have a private teacher, TAB can be very useful. Just promise me that as your technique (and ear) develops, you’ll stop using TAB 🙂 You don’t want to rely on TAB any longer than you have to – a year or two at most.

Reading TAB

TAB (which is short for tabulature – don’t ask me why it’s normally capitalised) is simple to understand and apply. There are six lines, with each line representing a string on the guitar.

The top line represents the thinnest string, and the bottom line represents the thickest string.

On the fretboard there are pieces of wire, known as frets, which divide up the fretboard. Each fret is numbered, with the first fret being nearest the nut (where the tuning pegs are) and the last fret being nearest the picking/strumming hand. Most guitars will have between 19 and 24 frets. TAB indicates which fret and which string needs to be played, using a number. For instance, the following TAB would indicate that a note needs to be played on the fourth string at the fifth fret.

Open Strings

TAB uses a ‘0’ to indicate that the string is to be played ‘open’. Open strings are plucked as normal but you don’t need to fret the note with the left hand. This example needs the third string to be played open.

What About the Rhythm?

Unfortunately, TAB has no standard way of showing the rhythm – so unless you have heard the song before, it’s difficult to figure out how the song should go. The most common way of indicating rhythm is to adapt the rhythmic marks from standard music notation. Anyone interested in learning standard notation can go to ‘Reading Standard Notation’, since I am not going to elaborate on rhythm in this post.

Happy Birthday

Here is a TAB of ‘Happy Birthday’. Since it’s a familiar tune, when you play it you should be able to tell pretty quickly whether you’re reading the TAB correctly or not. If all is well, you can start scouring the net for some TABs to learn 🙂

(Oh, by the way, don’t be put off with the standard music notation that is written above the TAB. This is simply there as a reference for anyone who understands standard notation, or for anyone who has learned to read the rhythms. If this is all new to you, then just read the TAB and you’ll be fine)

There you have it. TAB is an easy way to learn songs, especially for the beginner. Please remember though that TAB does have its limitations, so I do not recommend TAB as a long term approach to learning guitar. Have a look at ‘TAB versus Standard Notation’ to see how TAB limits your continued guitar development.

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