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How to read guitar tabs and guitar chord charts March 14, 2007

Posted by rgordon83 in Beginner, Guitar Lessons, Guitar Tabs, Introduction.

Before we go any further I want to make sure you know how to read guitar tabs and chord charts. You will need to know this because I will be using them a lot on this site from now on.

Guitar tabs are very easy to learn. It is not nearly as complex as reading sheet music. By the end of this post you should be able to read guitar tabs quite easily.

Let me first explain the difference between guitar tabs and sheet music. The first, and biggest difference is that sheet music tells you which notes to play (I.E. C, Ab, D#, etc…). Sheet music can be applied to any instrument. The notes are marked by different circles, each having their own time value (whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, etc…) So sheet music not only tells you what notes to play, but tell you how long to play each note for. Tabs are designed for guitar. They tell you what string and fret to play. They are written out as numbers on a string. They also don’t tell you how long to play each note for. So you have to already be familiar with the song in order to play the tabs accurately.

Lets take a look at how guitar tab works:

There are 6 lines, one for each string. The lowest line represents the low E string, the one above that is the A string, above that the D, above that the G, then B, then the high E. So it looks like this:


Now the numbers tell you what to play:


So in the above tab I am playing the 3rd fret on the Low E string (G note), the 5th fret on the low E (A note), 2nd fret on the A string (B note), etc. Also, when two numbers are stacked on top of one another those are played at the same time. So the 3rd fret on the A string and 2nd fret on the D string are played together.

Here is a video of me playing the above tabs:

So tabs also function as a timeline from left to right. You play the notes in the order they appear. So if two notes are stacked, they are played at the same time.

Guitar Tab Symbols
The numbers don’t really tell you anything about the techniques a guitarist can execute, these are the tabs symbols that represent different techniques used in playing guitar. These will be demonstrated in later lessons.
h – hammer on
p – pull off
b – bend string up
r – release bend
/ – slide up
\ – slide down
v – vibrato (sometimes written as ~~)
t – right hand tap
– natural harmonic
[n] – artificial harmonic
n(n) – tapped harmonic
tr – trill
TPtremolo. picking
PM – palm muting
\n/ – tremolo bar dip; n = amount to dip
\n – tremolo bar down
n/ – tremolo bar up
/n\ – tremolo bar inverted dip
= – hold bend; also acts as connecting device for hammers/pulls
– volume swell (louder/softer)
x – on rhythm slash represents muted slash
o – on rhythm slash represents single note slash

Now lets look at guitar chord charts.
The following diagram is a guitar chord chart (with some notes added). It tells you how to play a chord on guitar. It tells you which fingers to use, as well as which strings to strum. The X above a string means do not strum that string, or mute it with your fretting hand. The O means play that string open (it is strummed, but not freted). Take a look:

guitar chord chart example Note: Your finger are numbered as follows: Pointer=1, Middle=2, Ring=3, Pinky=4, Thumb=T
Also, the name of the chord usually appears at the top of the chart.

Pretty simple. Note that if you see a Roman numeral to the left of the chart nest to the 1st fret it means that you start at that fret instead of the 1st fret. So a IV would indicate that the diagram should be played starting at the 4th fret, not the first.

I hope this helps you understand guitar tabs and guitar chord charts. They will come in handy when learning guitar on the Internet, especially on this site. If you have any questions please post them to the comments section.



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