How to Read Guitar Tabs And Their Corresponding Symbols

guitar tabsGuitar tablature is the unofficial language of guitar music online. Now, learning to read and understand them is an essential skill that can be picked up very easily. Furthermore, being able to read tablature is your fast track to start playing the guitar and understanding the fretboard.

Guitar tablature is denoted in a series of horizontal lines with a set number of beats (usually 4 beats) per bar. Each horizontal line represents a string of the guitar.

The top most line represents the 1st string of the guitar (thinnest string ~ high e) while the bottommost line represents the 6th string (thickest string ~ low E).

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Click here to download one of the best guitar tablature software ever to be created. Period.

Have you noticed the numbers on the horizontal lines? These are fret numbers indicating which fret to play on the given string. In this example, the 1st note is a 0 which indicates an open string on a high e string (strike the string without pressing any frets).

The next note is played by fretting the 2nd string at the 3rd fret and so on. As you might have observed, the main drawback of guitar tabs is that they do not provide the duration of the notes. Unless you have software like Guitar Pro 6, you’ve got to figure out the timing of the tabs yourself in most cases.

The above melody is the intro to “Mary had a little lamb”. Try playing it on your guitar.

Now, most guitar lessons on come with a guitar pro 6 file (.gp6). Basically, Guitar Pro is used to facilitate learning as this useful tool enables you to HEAR and SEE how a guitar tab is played in real time. You can get your free download of Guitar Pro 6 with this link.

Let’s take a look at how tablature is shown in Guitar Pro. This tool does wonders for understanding how tabs are played and I strongly encourage you to download the software.

Mary Had A Little Lamb Tab

Download .gtp5 file or mp3 file ( Right-click Save Target as… )

Understanding Advanced Tab Symbols And Notation

The following section on reading tabs is meant to give an overview of what the various tablature symbols mean. For newer players, you probably have some difficulty in figuring out how to play them on your guitar. Don’t worry!

This lesson is meant to give you an overview of what the symbols mean and not how to actually play them. The reason is that I don’t want you to get stuck on figuring out what these symbols mean when you come across them.

Techniques and details on how to play them can be found in the guitar techniques section. Once again, I want to stress that you should go through the beginner guitar lessons first before attempting more advanced stuff.

Explanations For Symbols Found in Tablature

how to read guitar tabs symbols

String bendingString Bending – Strike the note and bend the string up a tone (2 frets).

Prebend ReleasePre-Bend and Release – Bend the note up 2 a tone before striking it and release the bend back down to the original note.

vibratoVibrato – Vibrate the string by rapidly using the left hand or tremolo arm.

Wide VibratoWide Vibrato – Same as vibrato but varying the pitch to a greater degree.

Harm. Natural Harmonics – Place your finger over the string at the indicated fret but lightly touch the string as you strike the note.

A.H. Artificial Harmonics – Fret and play the note normally. Produce the harmonic by touching the string lightly with the edge of the thumb when striking the string

Tremelo DipTremolo Bar Dip – The pitch of the note is dropped and returned by depressing and releasing the tremolo bar.

Tremelo Bar RaiseInverted Tremolo Bar – The pitch is raised and returned to by raising and releasing the tremolo bar.

How to read guitar tabs notation

Hammer onHammer On – Strike the first note and use your finger to hammer on the second note.

Pull OffPull Off – Position your fingers on the notes to be played. Strike the first note and use your finger to pull off the second note.

trillTrill – Fret the note and rapidly hammering and pulling off the fret indicated in the brackets.

Guitar SlideSlide – Strike the first note and slide to the second note and strike the second note.

T Finger Tapping on Guitar – Tap the fret indicated and pull off.

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