20 comments on “How to read guitar tabs or tablature

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    • Have another read through the lesson. How many strings you strum and whether they are all together or separately depends on what is written in the TAB. If you have 6 numbers stacked on top of each other that is saying strum all six strings together. If you have only one number at a time on the TAB that means play one string at a time. Just remember – if there isn’t a number on the line you don’t play that string. Only play a string if there is a number on the line.

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  9. Hi Aaron,

    I am relatively new to guitar and only after 2 days of exercising I switched to playing some songs with the use of tabs.

    However, some notes are quite far apart than one another and I think I skip the timing and the whole music suddenly fails.

    I have copied the tabs below wherein I see this.

    How to read timing from such tabs?

    No tab tutorial I could find allowed me to understand the timing part.

    Please help:-

    Tab for a “Hindi” (India’s native language) song “Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhagi si”

    ef# g f# e f# d e e e
    ek ladakee bheegee bhaagee see,
    sotee raaton mein jaagee see

    g a b b c b b f# g a a b a a
    milee ek ajanabee se, koee aage naa peechhe

    f# g f# e f# e d e e e
    ho… tum hee kaho ye koee baat hai

    ef# g f# g a g a c b b
    dil hee dil mein jalee jaatee hain,
    bigadee bigadee chalee aatee hain

    b c e d c e b c b a g b
    zoonzalaatee huee, balakhaatee huee,

    b b c b a g f# e
    saawan kee sunee raat mein

    As here you can see some numbers are placed quite a distance while rest fall exactly after.

    Youtube Video link for the song – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV1cczPv4_o (Just in case you wish to check the music)

    P.S. :- This is a very old Hindi song… but I would love to play it on strings if I could as I can’t play chords yet. 😦

    Please help.

    • Hi Varun,
      You’re doing a great job if you’re already trying to play songs after such a short time on guitar. Playing something like this can take a while to get used to the jumps across the neck. Once you memorize the order of the notes, then you can start developing your timing. Unfortunately with guitar TABs, there is pretty much no way to read the timing. This is one of the limitations of guitar TAB – it doesn’t display the timing of a piece (unless somebody writes in the actual note values, which is rare). So I wish I could give you an easy answer, but there’s no way to figure it out just from TAB. Some parts you can figure out if there is a large gap between the notes, but that is all you will be able to figure out from the TAB. Having the YouTube video will help you out as you will be able to listen to the rhythm and try to copy it.
      My advice is to take your time and don’t expect to get the rhythm correct straight away. It will take time for your fingers to get used to the movements and then only after some time, you will be able to concentrate fully on your timing.
      Good luck and take your time – it’s worth it in the end (instead of rushing and developing bad habits)

  10. Hi Aaron, I’m as green to guitar playing as a new born. My question (as I read the “How to read a guitar tab”) is if a tab is read from left to right, why in your example, are the 5th and 6th strings not played first as they are the first two open strings (that are shown vertically).

    • Hi Roland,
      The picture of the fretboard is just so you can get an idea how the TAB matches up to the positions of the fretboard. So while in that picture it looks like the two open strings should be played first (because as you mention they are the furthest on the left), they aren’t. When you look at the actual TAB, the first note after the big 4/4 time signature is the 1st fret on the 1st string (as shown in blue). So for now, just ignore the picture of the guitar and focus on the actual TAB diagram. This will avoid any confusion.
      Any more questions feel free to ask!

  11. Hi Aaron, what exercises are there to keep your fingers (my fingers are kind of fat) from hitting or laying on the other strings when I’m practicing some chords.

    • I’ve written a lesson on simple exercises that should be able to help you with that issue. Check it out here https://aaronmatthies.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/simple-guitar-exercises-for-beginners/

      When you play the exercises, make sure you try to use your fingertips and not the pads of your fingers. After playing each note in the exercise, pick the next adjacent string just to check if your finger is touching it or not. If it is, readjust your finger and try again. At first it will seem impossible and you may have trouble to get it to work. I’ve had many students with this problem but if you work at it slowly you will overcome it. Every student I’ve taught who had this problem eventually managed to fix it.
      Good luck!

  12. Whomever developed the tab method appears to have played a cruel joke on us wannabe guitarists. Looking at a fretboard, the thickest string would resonably be the #1 string on the tab, but it is fact the #6 string. So when I look at the tab, I have to mentally flip it to match the fretboard as I’m looking at it.

    The real reason I wanted to comment, I’ve looked through a lot of online guitar courses/help websites, and yours has been the most helpful and easiest to understand.


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