top of page

How to read TAB - 2 Minute Lesson.

TAB is a simple way of reading sheet music for stringed instruments.

The top part is the standard written music which is common to all musical instruments and singers.The bottom part is the Guitar Tablature which represents where the music notes are on the guitar fretboard.

How to read guitar TAB Tablature. Video guitar lesson beginner  guitarist

Guitar TAB is 6 lines; each line is a string of the guitar. The Bottom line = Bottom (6th) String.

The numbers on the lines are the Fret your hold down (where you place your finger)

In Example 1 the circled note (C) is on the 3rd fret of the 5th string.

IMPORTANT: This is a single note, all the other strings are empty meaning you pick only that one string (note).

In Example 2 we have 4 notes in the bar.

The first note is on the 3rd fret of the 5th string.

The second note is is on the 5th fret of the 5th string.

The third note is is on the 2nd fret of the 4th string.

The fourth note is is on the 3rd fret of the 4th string.

In Example 3 the notes are stacked on top of each other. So this means that you play those notes at the same time.

So in Example 3a you’re going to hold down two notes, the 3rd fret on the 5th string and the 2nd fret of the 4th string. Now pick these two notes together.

Example 3b is a bit tricker. You have to play the two notes on different strings at the same time, the 3rd fret on the 5th string and also the 1st fret of 2nd string.

You can use the plectrum (pick) for the note on the 5th string and either your index or middle finger to pick the note on the 2nd string. (Don’t stress over this yet - we’ll look into this technique later on.)

Example 3c is almost the same as 3a except we’re also playing the 3rd string open.

The 0 (zero) means the string is open (no frets held down, but still played).

The arrow next to the 3 notes indicates that you strum down across the 3 strings. (Remember using your wrist will hugely increase your accuracy here.)

Example 3d is a C major chord. Compare the C chord diagram to the tab here and you’ll see all the notes match up, 5th string - 3rd fret, 4th string - 2nd fret, open 3rd string,

2nd string - 1st fret and finally the open 1st string.

Here the squiggly line next to the numbers indicates you drag out the strum, so the notes aren’t all played together, but you drag the pick across each string individually.

Example 4 involves down and up picking, as we’re playing two notes per beat, aka 8th notes. We’re also going to use a finger per note here. All these notes are on the 5th string, so your first finger is on the 2nd fret, second finger on the 3rd fret, third finger on the 4th fret and your fourth finger on the 5th fret. Playing each note twice, picking is down and up.

Pick Marks

Pick marks aren't always indicated but when they are, they are shown like:

Down pick and up pick symbols on guitar. How to read guitar TAB Tablature

What TAB doesn't tell you:

TAB doesn't tell you what fingers to use or the length or timing of each note. That information is in the top part in the standard sheet music. Fingering will very rarely be in music books you buy or tabs you get online. It will often be in lesson books; they will put the suggested fingers to use next to the notes on the stave above the TAB stave. See the numbers next to the notes in the examples.


Buy The Book


Learn anywhere, computer, tablet or phone


bottom of page