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guitar tabs. (tutorial and tab sheets)


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The following tutorial will help to explain to you the basic concept of reading guitar tab. Although it may seem complex, learning to read tab is quite simple, and you should find yourself reading tab easily in no time.


Guitarists are a unique breed. Chances are, if you play guitar, you are either self-taught, or have taken a small number of lessons via a friend or guitar teacher. If you were a pianist, however, you almost assuredly would've learned to play the instrument through years of private study, which would include both music theory lessons, and heavy focus on sight reading.


Nothing wrong with taking the more informal approach to learning music, but it does create some inherent problems when it comes to laborious duties like learning to read music. Learning to sight read takes a reasonable amount of work, without immediate benefit, and it is these sort of duties that self-taught musicians tend to avoid.


It's never too late to learn to read music... if you want to get serious about a career in the music industry, it really is essential. However, guitarists have created their own method of music notation, guitar tablature which, while admittedly flawed, provides a simple and easy to read way of sharing music with other guitarists.


Basics of Tab



A tab staff for guitar has 6 horizontal lines, each one representing a string of the instrument. The bottom line of the staff represents your lowest "E" string, the second line from the bottom represents your "A" string, etc. Easy enough to read, right?

Notice that there are numbers located smack dab in the middle of the lines (aka strings). The numbers simply represent the fret the tab is telling you to play. For example, in the illustration above, the tab is telling you to play the third string (third line) seventh fret.


Note: When the number "0" is used in tablature, this indicates that the open string should be played.


This is the concept of reading tab, at it's most basic. Now let's examine some of the more advanced aspects of reading tablature notation, including how to read chords in tab.




This too is a relatively simple process. When the tab displays a series of numbers, stacked vertically, it is indicating to you that it wants you to play all these notes at the same time. Hence, the above tablature indicates that you should hold down the notes in an E major chord (second fret on fifth string, second fret on fourth string, first fret on third string) and strum all six strings at once. Often, tablature will additionally include the chord name (in this case E major) above the tablature staff, to help guitarists recognize the chord more quickly.



The above tablature contains the exact same notes as the first E major chord presented on this page, but it will be played differently. In this situation, the notes in the chord will be played one at a time, rather than all together. "How fast should I play these notes?" you may ask. Good question... one which leads smoothly into:


Fundamental Flaws of Guitar Tab


Rhythmic notation is the biggest one. And it's a doozy of a flaw. Most guitar tab doesn't notate rhythm in any way, so if you haven't heard how the guitar part to the song you're playing goes, you have no way of knowing how long to hold each note. Some guitar tab does attempt to include rhythms, by putting stems on each number (to indicate quarter notes, eighth notes, etc), but most guitarists find this cumbersome to read. And besides, if you're going to include traditional rhythmic notation in guitar tab, why not just go the extra step and write the whole thing in standard notation?

Another major problem with guitar tablature is only guitarists can read it. While standard notation is readable by those who play any instrument, tab is native to guitarists, so those who don't play guitar won't be able to comprehend it. This makes any sort of musical communication with a piano player, or other musician, very difficult.


We've covered the basics of the pros and cons of guitar tablature. Now, we'll take a moment to talk about a few of the intricacies of tab - like how to read/write string bends, slides, and more.


Here are some of the little details that you'll need to know to fully understand how to read guitar tablature. Be aware that some of these symbols vary, depending on who created the tablature.


Hammer Ons & Pull Offs

(Hammering On Tutorial) (Pulling Off Tutorial)


It's most common to see the letter h representing a hammer on, located within the tablature between the original fret, and the hammered on fret (eg. 7h9)

Similarly, the letter p is generally used to represent a pull off, also found in the same location within the tablature (eg. 9p7)


Ocassionally, you'll see the ^ symbol used for either a hammer on or pull off (eg. 9^7)


String Bends

(String Bending Tutorial)


String bends are often notated several different ways in guitar tablature. Often, a b is used, followed by the fret at which the original note should be bent to. For example, 7b9 would indicate that you should bend the seventh fret until it sounds like the ninth fret. Sometimes, this target note is included in brackets, like this: 7b(9). Occasionally, the b is omitted altogether: 7(9).

An r is generally used to indicate a return of a bent note to it's unbent state. For example, 7b9r7 indicates a note on the seventh fret being bent up to the ninth fret, then returned to the seventh fret again.



(Sliding Tutorial)


Generally, a / symbol is used to notate an ascending slide, while a \ symbol is used to notate a descending slide. So, 7/9\7 indicates sliding from the seventh fret, up to the ninth fret, and back to the seventh fret. If no number precedes the slide symbol, this indicates sliding from an indiscriminate fret.


It is also not uncommon to see the letter s used to notate a slide. This is somewhat less concise, as when sliding from an indescriminate point (eg s9), it is unclear whether to slide up to the note, or down to the note.


Miscellaneous Tab Notation


The use of vibrato can be notated several different ways in tablature. Most often, the ~ symbol is used, often strung together to appear as ~~~. Sometimes, vibrato will be simply notated with a v.


A string mute is almost always notated with an x. Several x's in a row, on adjacent strings, is used to notate a rake.


Right hand tapping (for right handed guitarists) is generally notated in tab via a t, in conjunction with the pull off and hammer on techniques used when executing right handed tapping. Thus, 2h5t12p5p2 represents traditional tapping technique.


When notating the tab for harmonics, the <> symbols are usually used, surrounding the fret which the harmonic is played at.


This should give you all you need to get started reading and writing guitar tablature. Again, if you're serious about music, it highly advisable that you learn standard notation as well as tablature. The excellent Modern Method for Guitar will get you sight reading almost immediately.

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