How to read TAB

How to read TAB

Why learn to read guitar Tab?

Guitar Tab is a very basic form of writing down music. There are pros and cons to it, however as a guitarist I feel you need to learn at least the basics if you want to get anywhere with learning songs.

Pros – You will be able to read any Tab by just reading this one blog and taking 10 mins to get your head around it. It is extremely easy to read and to write.

Cons – while is shows you what notes to play and what order to play them in, it doesn’t tell you anything about how long to play each note for or any timing at all. 


Basically if you already know how the piece of music sounds then TAB is great! however is you want to play a piece of music exactly as written without hearing it first you will need to learn Score. This is A LOT harder and something most guitarists will leave as it is rare you will choose to learn a song you haven’t heard before.

The strings and their multiple names

The strings have a range of names.

  1. The thinnest string (even though it’s at the bottom of the guitar when we are playing it) is called the Top string. This is because it produces the top pitch when played (the highest sound). This string is also known as our High E string as it is high pitched and tuned to the note E, or the 1st string
  2. The strings then working upwards then count in order, 2nd string 3rd string etc, until we reach the 6th string which is called our bottom string as it is the lowest pitch or Low E as this is also tuned to an E note.

When looking at the guitar the strings are as follows:

6th – Low E – Bottom
5th – A
4th – D
3rd – G
2nd – B
1st – High E – Top

The Basics to TAB

Guitar tab has six lines. These lines refer to the six strings of the guitar. But, these might not be in the order you would expect. The bottom line on the page refers to the bottom pitch. And the top line of the page is the highest pitch. This means the image is basically flipped. And the strings go as follows:

The easiest way to remember this is to place the tab down in front of you on the table or floor. Then hold you guitar as you would normally play it. Now, if we lay the guitar down on our lap with the strings facing upwards towards the ceiling, the string closest to us on the guitar is the line closest to us on in the tab. (just remember to pick the guitar back up before you start playing it)

Now we know which string is represented by which line, we can start to understand the numbers and what they mean. As we read the tab from left to right we move along in time. Tab is basically a time line. When we reach a number, that refers to the fret you must play on that string. Let’s look at the following piece of Tab.

So we know the bottom line refers to the 6th string and that this works as a timeline so when we reach the first note we reach a 0. This means we play the 6th string open. The following note is on the same line but is a 3. This means we play 3rd fret on the 6th string. The following note is a 0 on the next line, so we play the 5th string open and then finish off with 2nd fret on the 5th string.

The next steps

You now have the basics of Tab it’s that easy (once you’re used to the string order)

The next bits are learning how to read techniques in Tab. This includes bends, slides, hammer on and pull off techniques, palm muting and percussive muted notes.

Now If you are reading the basics of Tab I will assume you’re not ready for these techniques anyway so I will give a brief description of how these can be shown in Tab but if you want more detail feel free to contact me using the details at the bottom of this blog.

Bend – A bend will be represented with a curved arrow. Sometimes they will include a 1/4 or 1/2 to tell you how much to bend the note by

Slide – A slide will be represented with a / or \ if I was to hand write Tab and not type the angle would be less so it would look closer to a dash – but with some angle to show that you slide up or down to the next note

Hammer on – This can be shown with a curve over the top of the two notes, with a curve over the top of the two notes and an “H” on top, or just with an H in the tab between the notes.

Pull off – This is the same as a hammer on but with a “P” in place of any of the “H”s. 

Contact us

If you have any questions or want to know more feel free to contact us on:


we offer private lessons, online courses and guitar clubs for those who want to take their understanding and playing to the next level!


Teaching you all to be the best you can be.

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