How to Read Guitar TABs for Beginners

Why do you need to learn how to read guitar TABs for beginners?

So you’ve got yourself your brand new guitar, and you’re ready to play! Now what? Now you’re ready to learn to play some of your favorite tunes, using tab.

Tab, sometimes written TAB, is a way of notating music by finger placement, rather than by musical note. It lets you know where and when to place your fingers on the fretboard to get the right note in the music.

Tab Example

Each line on the tab represents a string on your guitar. From top to bottom, it’s high E to low E. If you lay your guitar in your lap, you’ll see the way the strings line up are the same as the tab.(This all assume you’re playing right handed.)

Tab Music and Guitar

The numbers on the lines that represent the strings corresponds to a fret. So a 1 would indicate the first fret, 3 the third fret, etc. If the number is 0, that means you play the string open, with no finger on that string. It’s the same whether you’re playing a chord, or playing single notes.

So then this would be a C chord in tab:

Chord Tab

Please notice that this is the C chord played in two different places: an open C chord, and a barre C chord.

In the chord box, the symbol X means you don’t play that string, and the symbol O means you play that string open.

So that’s great for chords, but what about single notes, or even solos?

Same idea, but you read and play the notes sequentially, from left to right. Here are the notes of a C chord played one at a time, starting from the A string down:

Note Tab

So from left to right, you’d play 3rd fret on A string, 2nd fret on the D string, G would be open, first fret on B string, and E would be open.

In this next example we have a chord, a sixteenth note rest, then the notes of the chord played in series, (as above) then a sixteenth note rest, and finally the basic pentatonic scale in C:

Tab Example

If you’re playing something more complicated, there are symbols for all of the things you can do on a guitar: slides, bends, tremolos, etc. For example:

Tab Example

This is the previous pentatonic scale, in C, but we slide from 3-6, then bend 3, then hammer on 4-6. In the second measure, (starting where the 2 is above the high E line) we have a sixteenth note rest, then downpick a slide into 5, and we bend the 7 at the end.

Here’s a rundown:

  • Notes stacked on top of each other are played at the same time
  • Notes that are read left to right are played one after the other
  • Each line represents one string on the guitar
  • The number on the line corresponds to the fret on the fretboard
  • Symbols tell you how to play the notes
    • Tremolo
    • Slide
    • Hammer on

how to read guitar TABs for beginners: Conclusion

All this might feel a little confusing and overwhelming, but with some time and practice, it’ll be second nature to you.

The best way to is to download the tab to a song you really like, and focus on the first 12 notes. Then, just practice reading, and playing those 12 notes until you’ve got then down, then add a few more notes, and repeat.

Soon enough, you’ll be reading tab like a pro.