How to read tab

Tab is a system for writing out music for guitarists which saves ya all the extra effort of learnin to read regular music notation.

When you look at tab what do ya see? A whole bunch of lines written across the page with lots of numbers and lines and such written across it.

The six lines going from left to right across the page represent the six strings on a guitar and the numbers on those lines are the fret numbers where you place your finger to hold down the string to play the note.

Tab is not a picture of the guitar neck in the same way that a chord diagram is. A chord diagram is like a sketch of the guitar neck showing where your fingers go. Tab gives you an idea of how the music is supposed to be played.

Ya got to read it from left to right just like regular music reading. So you start at the left of the tab and read across the page and as you read each note you play it. A 0 means play the open string, a 1 means fret that particular string, depending what line it is on, at the 1st fret and play that note and having played it move across the tab to the next note.

Alright then imagine you had a guitar with only one string – pretty cool huh – and the tab would be one line running across the page like this:


Let’s say that the one string is the first string on your guitar

So if you look at your 1 string guitar tab and see this;


you would know to play the note by holding down the string at the 4th fret. ok now if you see this


that means first play the note at the 4th fret folowed by the note at the 2nd fret. and if you see this


and if you are following me you should be playing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ (sorry not the Stevie Ray Vaughan version)

Confused? OK then we are imagining that the first string (or E string, the thinnest one) for example has got one line of tab written out for it (instead of the usual 6 lines for the 6 strings) Then by reading the line of tab written above we start by picking the 4th fret of the 1st string, reading from left to right, next pick the 2nd fret, still on the 1st string. Then the open string (the ‘0’) then the 2nd fret again then 3times on the 4th fret.

The strings seem like they upside down but they not.If you lay your guitar down on yr knee then that is exactly how the lines of tab are – 1st string at the top!!! If ya think about if the strings went the other way then the neck of yr geetar would be made of glass – so you could see through it !!

Check out this sample


Pretty familiar!!!(all played on the 6th string) 

The first note is ‘0’ on the 6th string so bear on down on that old open 6th string with your pick and ring out that note.

that is followed by a ‘3’ on the 6th string so use any finger you like (but please not yr thumb) and fret that good boy and pick it.

now you got the idea – just keep playin those old notes one at a time as they come along and pretty soon your dad will be searchin through his big old pile of albums!

OK then check this


When the numbers are straight above each other then you play both strings at the same time, and this is how Richie Blackmore played it.

What tab doesn’t tell you is how you play the notes – what is the timing for example.

The best thing to do is try and work it out for yourself, get as far as you can and then search round for tab to help you along.

 A lot of the time I think you’ll ‘d be better jes tryin to work out sumpin easy than studyin’ too much on the tab.

Well they’s much more ah could tell ya trailrider. Maybe next time 


33 Responses to “How to read tab”

  1. TAB is soo friggin confusing! too confuseing

  2. HERE HERE!!!

  3. i agree with jessy

  4. OK OK I rewrote it !! Comments are great it would be a great help to me if you guys could be specific about what is confusing.

  5. what about this song how do u play it if the notes are on 3 strings or more and if there different in the second half like this 1 i want to learn this.

    d|-6–6–6-6-6-6——| x4
    see can u tell me that where it changes from 6 to 8 or 4 to 6 this is the song obviously by mcfly and i realy want to learn it now this is what you call complicated others are easy and im a beginner and iv been playing on my own since christmas in 2005.


  6. tab is easy. i read this, and i played a song and im a beginner. it isnt confusing at all, and im only TWELVE.

    however old you people are – its sort of sad how you think tab is confusing.

  7. Thanks to this website I now understand tab. Thanks JD!


  8. hey shut up not everyone learn fast, dun be so proud and tab is never gd. beacuse tab only tell yu the riff and timming bah bah like wad is written by jd . if yu depend too much on tab, your playing will be mechcanic

  9. i need help with brads question tu!

  10. hey, this reeeeally helped me alot man, thanks! i really want to learn some billy talent songs and this will probably get me started,you might not be a fan of billy talent, dont flame me ;). so once again, thanks!


  12. whoot good choice for tab!


  13. Definately say that u prob are the first site i’ve come across who explained it in layman’s terms. Now i freakin get it! B4 all the websites expected u to know half the stuff b4. N i just a beginner and completely ignorant w/ music. I just got my fender last nite! yay.

  14. Tab is easy to read, but ive been playing for little while now, and im a bassist, so i have less strings to deal with, and notes usually arent played at the same time 🙂

  15. i can play the song fine but i cant play it with two strings! im finding impossible to pluck or strum them at the same time!
    please help!

  16. do u strumm tabs or pick them out??? plz can some 1 tell me?

  17. an easy way to learn tabs is to look at the tabs then listen to the real song…its ez for me cause then i get the tune in my head, and i get a feel for the song

  18. you’re right tabs are easy dmnit u are good man thank you god bless you 🙂

  19. Does anybody know if its better to learn to play tabs with the amp or can you practice without it.

  20. brads is easy i think its just a power chord!!!!!!

  21. i cant understand TAB its to hatd

  22. its to hard*

  23. amazin….bloody amazin…i like smoke on the water coz t is amazin….like this website….truely class

  24. thanks soooooooo much at my band class we have to play tab and no one could explain it

  25. thanks a lot now i can play tab !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. thank you so much 😀
    now i know! 🙂

  27. erm i got confused at mary had a little lamb lol
    but when i got to smoke on the water… i think thaths what its called everything made sense ; thankyoo

  28. thanks i was confizald

  29. Thank you so much. This is a great site, helping people share the beauty of music!

  30. even learning from my guitar teacher, i never fully understood tab until just reading this now! thank you so, so much, i love your website!

  31. awesome notes 🙂

  32. i am confused

  33. Tab is soooo confusing! Who is the Mary chick and what the hell does the lamb have to do with this? My head is going to explode!

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