How to read TABs for beginners

TABs are in some way the contemporary way of reading music, if you started learning the guitar in the last decades you definitely have stumbled upon many TABs. Tabs are a very helpful resource in learning, because there are tons of free ones you can find all over the internet. That is why it is extremely helpful to learn how to read them.

In comparison to notation, TABs are easier to read because you don’t need to know what notes you are paying. Unlike on the piano for example, on the guitar there are several places where you can play a certain note, but the tab specifies what string and fret you should be playing for the certain sound you aim to get.

So let’s learn the basics on how to read TABs. In this article we will not go in detail about how to play the technique signified in the TABs, if you would like Neli to cover in more detail some of them leave a comment below.

Lines in TABs

A standard guitar tab consists of six horizontal lines, with each line representing the six strings on the guitar. The top line represents the high E string (the thinnest string) followed by lines that represent the B, G, D, A and low E strings (the thickest string). A TAB doesn’t tell you which finger to use when pressing on the strings but you can decide that for yourself.

Numbers in TABs

On each line of the tab you will also see numbers. These numbers represent the frets on your guitar. For example, if a line on the TAB has a 0 on it, that means you play that string “open,” or without using your fretting hand. If the line has a 1, then that means you must play by pressing the first fret.

Direction of TABs

The way TABs work reflects the view of the strings as you look down while holding your guitar. Because of this to some people it might seem like the TAB is upside down, but that is just the way they work. A benefit to it is that thanks to this you can follow TABs nicely along with a notation as well since they move up and down in the same way.

How to read TABs

A guitar tab is read left to right and all notes indicated are in chronological order. When the numbers are in line with each other vertically, they often represent a chord. A chord is played by strumming all the indicated strings at the same time.

How to read TAB symbols

There are several symbols you will stumble upon, when reading TABs. Here are the most popular ones:

These two symbols over the fretboard show the strumming pattern – the chair-like symbol signifies down strum and the “V” shape up strum.

The sign X on a line of TAB signifies a muted note – with your fretting hand you are touching the string to mute it and are playing a muted string or chord.

The little arrow up signifies that there is a bend.

An “H” when two notes are connected stands for hammer-on, and a “P” is the opposite – a pull-off

An “sl” stands for slide.

And if you see a wavy line that means vibrato.

The letters “P.M.” stand for palm muting.

With this we covered all the basics on how to read TAB. It is helpful to follow along the TAB and the notation simultaneously, since notation is going to show the rhythm that you are playing on the TAB. But of course when you don’t have the notation you can use your ears to hear the rhythm of the song you’re playing.

Watch also Neli`s video lesson on how to read TAB:


If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out this article here. For more guides and FREE WEEKLY study materials, we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of guitar (or ukulele) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

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