Guide: How To Read Guitar Tabs

guitar tabs

Learning to play guitar requires a proper understanding of Guitar TABS. Thankfully, this modern system of music notation has helped guitarists play a wide range of tunes. It allows beginners in the music industry to get a good head start without reading traditional sheet music. Although Guitar Tabs aren’t the perfect description of music, they’ve still aided the upcoming guitarists to effortlessly share information all around the globe via the world wide web.

Are you also a newbie guitar player dreaming of playing great songs in the first month of your music journey? Do you also find reading the instructions a bit difficult? If yes, don’t worry because we’ve got you covered with an easy-to-read beginner’s guide on How to Read Guitar Tabs.

Want to flex your guitar skills at the next family gathering? Yes? Then let’s go!

Also Read: How To Check The Quality Of The Guitar

The Fundamentals of Reading Guitar Tabs

guitar tabs

When you look at a guitar tab for the very first time, you’ll notice six horizontal lines. These horizontal lines are called the strings of the guitar. The first string is the thinnest, while the sixth and the bottom line string on the guitar tab is the thickest sound produced. If we start from the sixth string on the guitar tab, we will know that the strings get thinner as we move further. These strings are tuned as E-A-D-G-B-e. An easy mnemonic to remember is “Every aunty does gullible behavior exercises” While most tabs look like this, there may be certain variations but, these variations are mostly aesthetic.

Using Frets chords and numbers on tabs


There are certain numbers on the fretboard for fretting. These numbers represent the fret numbers on a guitar tab. For example, fret four would mean fret four on your guitar tab, and seven would mean fret seven on your guitar tab. Most importantly, 0 means an open string(zero frets).

Now there are two ways how numbers are placed on the guitar tab. Firstly, the numbers are stacked on top of each other. When numbers are stacked on top of each other, you must play the numbers altogether. In short, you are required to strum a chord. Secondly, numbers are placed from left to right. When numbers are arranged from left to right, it tells you to play the notes from left to right one string at a time. It is just as same as you’re reading this text from left to right.

Also Read: How to Tune a Guitar Half Step Down

Strange Symbols

Now that you’re aware of the fret numbers let’s look at some strange symbols that you may find on guitar tabs. These symbols relate to certain guitar techniques that players need to follow while playing. While there are many symbols used in the modern guitar industry, we’ll be focussing on the very basic ones so that beginners find it easy to relate.

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs


The hammer on symbol is represented with an “h.” In simple terms, these are two keys that are performed with one pick stroke. The finger movement includes coming down hard on the fret just like a hammer so that the note is heard clearly without picking. On the other hand, pull-offs are contrary to hammer-ons. In pull-offs, you pick the note that is requires fretting. Here pulling your finger off the note produces music. Interestingly you can give certain articulation to this by using your fingers down and off the note. The pull-offs are represented by a “p” on the guitar tab.



As a writer, you need to learn advanced techniques to play the songs you’ve always wanted to. So, here the slides technique comes to your rescue. The sliding up and down symbols are seen as forwarding slash and backslash markings in the tabs. / symbol is used to indicate the upward slash. On the other hand, the \ symbol indicates the downward sliding slash. In formal guitar tabs, one may also find a curve above the slides. This means that you need to pick only the first note of the slide. In the absence of the curve, you are required to pick both the notes.

Palm Muting


Palm-muting is denoted as “pm” on the guitar board. This one is great to add a subtle muting effect to your music. Palm-muting requires the guitarist to lightly place the edge of their palm on the strings to produce a soothing sound. A dashed line is provided on the guitar tab to tell how long the guitarist should implement the palm-muting.


This is one of the basic techniques needed to start your journey as a guitarist because that’s what you’re required to do most of the time. Strumming is denoted by an upper case “U” and “D.” The symbol D tells the players to strum in a downward motion and the U symbol to strum in the upward direction.



This is one advanced technique that skyrockets your guitar performance. The vibrato is marked with a squiggly line ~~~~. Although this technique is learned better at later stages of your journey, it makes your songs a lot more professional and polished to listen to. All you need to do is give slight variations by pulling notes up and down. The vibrato technique gives texture and soul to your tunes.

String bends


String bends are denoted as “b” in guitar tablature. If you find a “b” between any two notes, then understand that you’ve been instructed to bend the note up to the second note. In other words, it tells us how much and till what pitch to bend up to. For instance, 4b7 means bending the 4th fret note until it sounds like the 7th fret pitch.

Also Read: How to Learn a Guitar at Home by Yourself (9 Tips)

Slow down, runner!

All in all, these are the basics of reading modern guitar tabs. Reading tabs is like mastering the recipe of musical notes. It requires patience and regular practice. You can start with easy songs such as jingle bells, happy birthday, silent night, and amazing grace to kick start with these techniques. Have faith in yourself and keep learning. In no time, you’ll be reading tablatures like a professional.

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