Beginners Guide: How to Read Guitar TAB - Online Guitar Lessons

Beginners Guide: How to Read Guitar TAB

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Video: How to Read Guitar TAB – Video Lesson


The most popular and common way of reading music for guitar is Tablature (TAB). Instead of reading traditional music, involving notes on the stave, you simply have what could be seen as a diagram of the neck section of the guitar.

Guitar TAB Explained…

You have six lines, each one representing a string (1-6). The numbers on each line tell you which fret to play on the string that the number is positioned on. For example, if there is a number ‘2’ on the top line;  you play the 2nd fret on the first string.

Like reading a book, you just follow the numbers from left to right. When you come across a ‘0’ this means play the string open.

Step 1 – Basic TAB Exercise…

Ok, so now let’s try a very simple exercise. Take a look at the TAB and if you’re not sure what to do, follow the explanation underneath or revert to the video at the top.

How to Read Guitar TAB

When playing a collection of notes, be that a scale melody or exercise, it is important that you spread your left hand fingers out so that you are using one finger per fret. In the case of the exercise above use your 1st finger on the 1st fret, 2nd finger on the 2nd fret and so on. Get used to this as soon as you can so that when you start to speed up or start to play more complex pieces, your left hand is in good working order and you are getting the most from all four fingers.

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At this stage it is also important to make sure your thumb is sitting in the correct place. It should be positioned in the middle of the neck, parallel with the 1st finger. When playing a note you should apply an equal amount of pressure between the thumb and the finger in question, but your thumb must be free to move when necessary.

Step 2 – C Major Scale…

You’re next TAB challenge is a simple C major scale. Again, try and follow the TAB but if you get stuck follow the explanation beneath step by step:

C Major How to Read Guitar TAB

First play the 3rd fret on the 5th string, then move to play the open 4th string followed by the 2nd fret and the 3rd fret. Then change to the 3rd sting and play it open, followed by the 2nd fret. Finally we move to the 2nd string where we play it open followed by the 1st fret.

When you first have a go, you may find that some or all of the notes sound unclear and have a ‘buzzy’ sound to them. To eliminate this, make sure the finger is positioned nice and close to the fret, but not touching. It is also important that you use the tip of your finger, not the flat edge. If you still keep getting buzzy sounding notes remember the two main ways to fix this are: move closer to the fret and push down harder.

When practicing these two patterns, make sure that you play them as steady and in time as possible. Keep referring back the audio to hear what you are aiming at.

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