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How to Read a Guitar Tablature

By Charles Hopkins Published 07/6/2006 | Music

So you always wanted to become a professional guitarist, but somehow you could not afford a formal training. You do not need to despair; it is never late to learn music. Did you know the fact that many of the renowned guitarists are actually self- taught? Now, a crucial part of learning to play guitar is to get educated in sight reading of the music. Go through the guide below which will give you the basic perception about reading guitar tablature. At first the process may seem complex, but as you get deeper into the subject, you will be astonished by its simplicity.

If you have truly decided to go pro as a guitarist, then you can not do without tablature learning. Wondering why? Because you have to share the other guitarists' composition to broaden your horizon as a musician and for that you have to learn sight reading of the music.

If you have been initiated to other kinds of musical instruments before, say for example, if you have previous experience with Piano, the guitar tablature may appear to you as somewhat flawed in comparison to the traditional notations. Actually the guitarists have developed a rather simple way of sharing music with other guitarists.  This easily readable way of guitar compositions is referred to as guitar tablature. This actually gives you an alternative form of music notation that most of the guitar players find extremely useful.

In simple words, a tablature is the written form of a piece of music to be played on guitar. A tablature does not use symbols of traditional notation of Western music. In stead, it uses ordinary ASCII characters and numbers. This kind of sight reading of music is particularly good for computer adaptation and if you simply have an internet connection, you can share the compositions of several musicians by copying a TAB file from internet.

Tablatures give you different information with regard to fingering and prove to be quite useful as practice guide or memorization tool.
Suppose you wish to play the tune of your favorite song, then simply download the tablature from internet and you can stun the audience by playing exactly the same music as in the record. This is because through the tablature you will come to know exactly what notes to hit by strumming the right strings and stirring the right frets. The tablature will also inform you about the uses of such details as vibrato, bends or slides, application of harmonics, hammer- ons or pull- offs and so on. It will also teach you about the tuning of the particular composition. This is done through the incorporation of extra characters and symbols in between notes. This reflects on how to play the notes.The standard practice of the use of some of the  extra symbols are as follows:
/ - slide up
  - slide down
h - hammer on
v/- vibrato


It is simple to read a guitar tablature. To be able to read the guitar tablature, you do not need to know the names of the notes. A guitar tablature staff consists of 6 horizontal lines.  Each line represents one string. The "E" string, the lowest-sounding one is represented by the bottom most line of the staff. The "A" string is represented by the second line from the bottom and the arrangement continues like this.

The numbers on the lines represent the notes to be used. All notes on a line will belong to that corresponding string. The number is used to indicate the fret where you should hold down the string with your left hand. The number "0" instructs you to pluck the open string.

The guitar tablature does not instruct you with regard to the length of the note. It does not also tell you with which finger you should hold the string down or pluck the string up. This makes the music reading process less complex for the guitarists.

As guitar tablature does not provide complete information on rhythms, you have to learn about it from standard notations. But if you do not know how to read notation, just listen to the music to know how the rhythm is used with the corresponding notes. In order to get the accurate idea about the rhythm used, you have to listen to the song first and then follow the tablature to incorporate the rhythm of the note in your playing.