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Reading Guitar Tablature

Tablature is a diagram showing the six strings of the guitar. Guitar tablature is
normally abbreviated to “tab”. The six strings of the guitar correspond to the six
horizontal lines shown in the tab. The bottom line of the tablature is the sixth string.
This is the thickest string at the top of the guitar. This string is tuned to the note “E”.
The next line from the bottom in the tab is the next string down on the guitar. This is
string five and is tuned to the note “A”. Each subsequent line of the tab represents the
next string on the guitar. The note letter that each string is tuned to is written on the
corresponding line at the start of the tab.
The vertical lines in the tab are known as bar lines. These are used to divide
the music up into regular segments known as bars. Below is an example of some tab
showing each of the open strings of the guitar played in sequence starting with the
sixth string.

Tab Notation Of The Open Strings

Open strings are written using a “0” this refers to fret zero. Notes using stopped
strings can also be notated in tab. A single stopped note is written by writing the fret
number for the left hand on the appropriate string. Some examples are shown below.

Tab Notation For Single Stopped Notes

Note that tablature does not give any guidance as to which left hand fingers to use
when fretting notes. Tablature only describes which fret and which string to play.
Notes that are played simultaneously as a chord are stacked vertically in the tablature.
Tab Notation For Chords

Each bar of the tab shows a different chord. The left hand fingers must be used to stop
the strings at the correct frets. Only the strings with a fret number (including zero for
open strings) should be strummed with either the right hand thumb or a plectrum. For
example the first chord is the open second, third and fourth string played together.
Strings one, five and six are not used in this chord. The strings should be struck
simultaneously so that the notes of the chord are played together.

Rhythm Notation In Tab

Rhythm can also be notated in tab in a very similar manner to standard notation. The
time signature is placed at the start of the tab and each fret number can be given a
specific time value. An example of the fundamental times values of each note is
shown below.

Here are the corresponding rests for each note type.
Different Notation Standards

There is not a consensus on how guitar tab should be notated. Some forms of guitar
tab do not show any rhythm values for the notes. Some types of tablature do not show
the note letters for each string. Tab is nearly always written in conjunction with the
standard music notation. The example below shows a typical combination of tab and
music notation. Notice the tab in this example does not give any information about the
rhythm of the notes.

Here is an example of music with blank tab. Complete the tab section of this example.

Here is an example of tab with blank music. Complete the music section of this.

• Tablature or tab is a diagram of the strings of the guitar
• Each line represents a string
• The thickest string is the bottom line of the tab
• An open string is written as a “0” on the corresponding line
• Stopped notes are written as the fret number on the corresponding line
• Notes that are played as a chord are written in a vertical line
• Time signatures and rhythms can be notated in tab but this is not always the
• Tab is usually combined with the standard music notation