How to Read And Play Guitar Tabs

When you are first starting to play guitar, you quickly get the urge to play the songs you love. Why wouldn’t you? Sure, learning chords and proper hand technique is all well and good, but you didn’t pick the the guitar to learn hand positioning! You picked up the guitar to rock.

Fortunately, the internet is a wonderful resource for learning songs. Almost any popular guitar-based song you could think of has been transcribed by some generous soul and posted for free online. However, in order to play these transcriptions you need to know how to read them! Don’t worry, it’s not that hard. I can guarantee it will only take you minutes to learn the basics of how to play guitar tabs.

Guitar tabs are notated on a stave composed of six horizontal lines. It looks like this:


Also, you can check out this lesson on READING TABS

Each of those lines corresponds with one of the strings of your guitar, going in order from the low E on the bottom to high E on top. Tabs are written as numbers on these lines. A number on a line tells you that you should hold down the corresponding string on that fret. A “0” marking means you should pick the string open.

To demonstrate this, here is what a standard G chord looks like when written in tab form:


Numbers lined up vertically like in the above example indicates that you should play all the notes at the same time. Numbers not lined up in this way should be played in the order they appear, from left to right.

One thing tab isn’t great at is indicating rhythm. Many transcribers try to get around this by placing numbers further apart to indicate longer notes. This works, but is imprecise. The best way to figure out what rhythms to play is to listen to the song you’re trying to copy, and adjust your rhythm until what you play sounds correct.

Now that you know how tabs work, go out and play all those sick classic rock covers you’ve been dying to learn! It’s fun, and you may even impress someone.

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