Understanding Guitar Tab

jimi hendrix
Jimi Hendrix

Learning to play the guitar is an exciting journey filled with creativity and expression. For many aspiring guitarists, understanding how to read guitar tab (tablature) is an essential skill. Guitar tab provides a straightforward way to learn and play music on the guitar, making it accessible even to beginners.

In this blog post, we’ll explore what guitar tablature is, how it works, and how you can start using it to play your favourite songs.

What is Guitar Tablature?

Guitar tablature, often referred to simply as ‘tab,’ is a form of musical notation specifically designed for guitarists (and electric bassists). Unlike traditional sheet music, which uses a staff to represent notes and rhythms, guitar tablature utilises a system of lines and numbers to indicate which strings to play and which frets to press down on the guitar neck.

Understanding Guitar Tablature

  1. Structure of Guitar Tab:
    • Each line in a guitar tab represents a string on the guitar, with the lines typically labeled from the thickest string (low E) at the bottom to the thinnest string (high E) at the top.
    • Numbers placed on the lines indicate which fret to press down on that string. For instance, a “0” indicates an open string (played without pressing any fret), while higher numbers denote frets to be pressed down.
    • Stacked numbers on different lines indicate that those notes should be played simultaneously, forming a chord.
  2. Examples of Guitar Tab:

    e| —0—0—0—0—|

    In this tab, each string represents the six strings of the guitar from low E to high e. Playing with the fingers in the frets numbered above would give you four instances of the C Major chord-

    A tabbed bass riff

    (Verse) ‘Crazy Train’ – Ozzy Osbourne

Using Guitar Tablature

  • Guitar tablature is widely used by guitarists of all skill levels, from beginners to professionals, due to its accessibility and simplicity.
  • Beginners often find guitar tab easier to understand compared to traditional sheet music, as it directly indicates where to place their fingers on the fretboard.
  • Guitar tablature allows guitarists to learn songs quickly and efficiently, making it a valuable tool for practicing and playing a wide variety of music genres.

Limitations of Guitar Tablature

  • While guitar tablature is excellent for indicating which strings and frets to play, it does not convey rhythm as precisely as traditional sheet music.
  • Guitar tablature often lacks indications of note duration, tempo, and dynamics, which are crucial elements of musical expression.
  • To overcome these limitations, guitarists may use tab in conjunction with audio recordings or other resources to learn the timing and feel of a piece accurately.


Guitar tablature serves as a valuable resource for guitarists of all levels, offering a straightforward way to learn and play music on the guitar. By understanding the structure of guitar tab and practicing with various tabs, you can develop your skills and expand your repertoire. While guitar tab has its limitations, it remains an indispensable tool for learning and enjoying the art of playing the guitar. So, pick up your guitar, explore some tabs, and start making music!

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