Lesson 6 - How to Read Guitar Tablature

TAB or tablature is the most common method of writing out music for the guitar. It is different from classical music notation in that; TAB uses ordinary numbers and keyboard characters as opposed to standard musical notation which uses symbols. Because of this format, anyone with a computer can write or read TAB making it the most user friendly way to read and communicate guitar music. Also TAB relates directly to the fret board of your guitar meaning that you may easily see where you put your fingers.

In the full version of Jamorama, both standard musical notation and tablature are used. But for this six day course we will only use TAB. The reason for this is that tablature is very easy to read and you should have no problems learning TAB in a few short minutes of reading.

TAB has some weak points, the worst of which is that rhythm can't be easily indicated. This shouldn't pose a problem though, as I will indicate the rhythm for each exercise using the strum indicators that were introduced in lesson one.

OK. To start I want you to look at your guitar and you will clearly see that it has six strings going from thickest to thinniest. On a TAB diagram, the thinnest string, (or 1st string as its most commonly called) is at the top - The thickest (or 6th string) is at the bottom. This is clearly demonstrated in the 1st example below.


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The following diagram shows you how tablature relates to the guitar fret board:
Some of you may notice that this guitar seems upside down in relation to how you play. This is simply the way that guitar music is generally written. Now if you transfer this same model to a written format you will get TAB, which can be seen below.


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So the lines left indicate the strings on a guitar. The top line of the TAB being the thinnest string of the guitar, and the bottom line on the TAB chart indicating the thickest string of the guitar. Now if you look at your guitar you will see metal bars that raise up from the neck of the guitar called frets. TAB uses numbers to show you which one of these frets to press down and play.


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For example, look at the tab diagram to the left and you can see that the 1st string (thinnest string) is being played. The number refers to the fret that you should press down. In this case the number zero is displayed. 
This means that you shouldn’t press down anything. 
So if you were to play the above piece of TAB on your guitar, you would pick the thinnest string once with your plucking hand and do nothing with your fret hand.

Tip: If you are having trouble with this concept, you can download a video or audio example of the above exercise to see and hear it for yourself. The download links are below (right click on the link and select "save as"):


first_string.mov
File Size: 514 kb
File Type: mov
Download File

first_string.wmv
File Size: 730 kb
File Type: wmv
Download File


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Now let's see if we can start pushing down some strings. Look at the next example left and try and play the note that the TAB chart displays. 


If you pressed down the thickest string at the 3rd fret then you played the exercise correctly. If you are still unsure whether you are doing the right thing or not, refer to the video below.

Tip: The download links are below (right click on the link and select "save as"):

third_string.mov
File Size: 399 kb
File Type: mov
Download File

third_string.wmv
File Size: 531 kb
File Type: wmv
Download File


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Let's try another one. Play the following piece of TAB:
This TAB diagram above indicates the 2nd string (second thinnest) and you should be pressing down on the first fret.

Tip: Once again, there is video available for this example. The download links are below (right click on the link and select "save as"):


second_string.mov
File Size: 434 kb
File Type: mov
Download File

second_string.wmv
File Size: 599 kb
File Type: wmv
Download File


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Things become a little more complicated when you are required to play chords, however the basic principals I have already outlined still apply. 

The only difference is that you will be required to play more strings and hold down more strings with your fingers. 
In this next example I will show you how to play the chord ‘A’.


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The first and fifth strings are played open while the second, third and forth strings are played at the second fret. The sixth string is not played in the A Major Chord and this is indicated by an X.
If you have read the TAB correctly your fingers should look like on the picture on left:
So now you know how to use basic tablature as it applies to notes and full chords. In this introductory set of lessons you will use TAB to learn different chords and by lesson six you will be able to play the full song, 'Rivers of Babylon'.

Tip: You can download a video or audio example of the above exercise to see and hear it for yourself. The download links are below (right click on the link and select "save as"):

a_major.mov
File Size: 506 kb
File Type: mov
Download File

a_major.wmv
File Size: 681 kb
File Type: wmv
Download File

Time to take a break. Well done, you've just completed the lesson number six. Next you are about to learn about notes on the first string. Don't forget, for the ultimate guitar learning kit which includes step-by-step written lessons, video lessons, audio lessons and sophisticated software games, visit Learn How To Play Guitar Beginner