How to Read Acoustic Guitar Tablature

Acoustic Guitar Tablature You're probably wondering whether learning your first songs from acoustic guitar tablature is as good as getting them from "real" sheet music. If you don't already read music notation, learning acoustic guitar tablature is an easy way to learn guitar. Already know how to read tabs? Skip ahead for free, easy acoustic guitar tabs. Or, search acoustic guitar tabs for purchase.

First, what is guitar tablature? Tablature ("tab") is a form of musical notation that diagrammatically shows a player where to place their fingers on the guitar to play a given note, chord or song. The word TAB is typically placed at the beginning left side to distinguish these lines from those of the musical staff.

Lines in tablature

The horizontal lines represent the strings. The bottom line of the staff represents the low E string (the thickest), then come strings A, D, G, B and the high E string (the thinnest) is on top of the staff.

E|-------| 1st String --> thinnest...closest to the floor 
B|-------| 2nd String
G|-------| 3rd String
D|-------| 4th String
A|-------| 5th String
E|-------| 6th String --> thickest...closest to the ceiling
Can't remember which letters represent which strings in acoustic guitar tablature? Try this "eddy ate dynamite good bye Eddy" - Representing the strings "EADGBE".

Here's another one "Eat All Day Get Big Easy"!

Or, "Even Afer Dinner Giant Boys Eat"

Numbers in tablature

The numbers located in the middle of the lines (the strings) represent the fret the tab is telling you to play.

In the example below, 3 means the third fret. So you would press down the string just to the left of the 3rd fret bar. The "0" represents that the given string should be played open (no fingers pressing on any fret).

      3rd fret    open string
         |             |
E|----3---------0----------- | 1st String
E|---------------------------| 6th String

The order that notes are played

Tablature is read from left to right. Here is how you would play the acoustic guitar tab below:

first you play the 6th
then the 5th string...2nd fret
then 5th string...3rd fret
then 4th
then 4th string...2nd fret
then 4th string...2nd fret
then 2nd string...5th fret
then 2nd string...5th fret

E|----------------------------| 1st String
B|---------------------5--5---| 2nd
G|----------------------------| 3rd
D|------------0--2--2---------| 4th
A|------2--3------------------| 5th
E|---0------------------------| 6th String

More than one note played at the same time

When you see 2 or more numbers stacked up on top of each other in acoustic guitar tablature, you play the notes at the same time. So in the example below you play the 6th string...4th fret, and the 5th string...4th fret at the same time.

E|---------------------------| 1st String
B|---------------------------| 2nd
G|---------------------------| 3rd
D|---------------------------| 4th
A|-------4-------------------| 5th
E|-------4-------------------| 6th String

What fingers to use

An acoustic guitar tab does not indicate what finger you should use to play each note. You will have to make that decision on your own. As shown in the image below, a guitarist's fingers are numberered 1 (index finger) thru 4 (pinky). Note that this is contrary to how pianists number their fingers. With your 4 fingers, use one finger per fret in a 4 fret area.

In the example below, use your 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers.

6th fret ---1st finger
7th fret ---2nd finger
8th fret ---3rd finger
9th fret ---4th finger

E|---------------------------| 1st String
B|---------------------------| 2nd
G|---------------------------| 3rd
D|----6---7---8---9---------| 4th
A|---------------------------| 5th
E|---------------------------| 6th String

Keep in mind that this is a very general guideline, and not everything is as clear cut as the above example.

Using tablature

Knowing these basics about acoustic guitar tablature will help you get started playing a wealth of songs available on the Internet or in song books. One thing to keep in mind is that this system of notation is far from being standardized. A person writing a particular piece of tablature may use their own non-standard symbols, which can be very confusing. Get a recording of what ever song you are working on, and use your ear along with the tab to help.

Here's a great video about how to read guitar tabs ...

Do you now feel confident you can read an acoustic guitar tab? If so, let's find some easy acoustic guitar tablature that you can begin playing right now! Or view these free, 3-chord acoustic guitar lessons.

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