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Reading Tabulature
Topic: The End Result Subtopic: General Level: All Levels Number of Readers: 73406

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Tabluature

Some of the lessons in this category are going to deal with reading music, because this is after all, an important source for what we actually end up playing.

The purpose of written music is to communicate a musical idea without actually playing or hearing it. When you are presented with a sheet of music, even though you've never heard the piece before, you are still able to play it, because the system of written music was designed for this.

The most widely used written music is called 'musical notation'. Music notation is universal. A piece of music written for saxophone can still be played on the piano, because the notation is the same. Notation will be discussed later.

'Tabluature' is a different kind of notation, and this system is specifically for guitar. Someone playing saxophone _could_ theoretically read a piece of tabluature, then map the notes to where they were on his instrument, but it would be very difficult. Tabluature is designed for the guitar, and this is what we're going to be looking at in this lesson. The short form for tabluature is 'tab'. Consider this:

E|----------------
B|----------------
G|----------------
D|----------------
A|----------------
E|----------------

Visualize these six lines as the six strings on your guitar. The letters on the side are the note names of each of the open strings. Now consider this:

E|----------------
B|----------------
G|----------------
D|----------------
A|-3--------------
E|----------------

This indicates that you must play the 3rd fret of the fifth string.

E|----------------
B|----------------
G|-----5----------
D|---5------------
A|-3--------------
E|----------------

This indicates that you must play the 3rd fret of the fifth string, then play the 5th fret of the fourth string, then play the 5th fret of the 3rd string. Get the idea? We read from left to right, just like writing, and the first note that comes along is the first note we play. Now consider the following:

E|----------------
B|----------------
G|-5--------------
D|-5--------------
A|-3--------------
E|----------------

This indicates that we must play all these notes simultaneously, like a chord. When they are stacked vertically, we play them simultaneously. When they are arranged horizontally, we play them in succession.

E|----------------
B|----------------
G|-5--5--5--------
D|-3--5--5--------
A|-3--3--3--------
E|----------------

This indicates that we are to play 3 chords, one after the other.

This is basically what tabluature is all about. If you can understand that each line represents a string, and each number represents a fret number that should be played at that given moment, then you're all set to go. All the rest is just details, which will be described here.

The purpose of notation is to communicate something. So far, we've managed to communicate what frets to play on what strings. Also, we've communicated with order to play all these notes in. Of course, there will also be other things that we'll want to communicate, such as slides, hammer on, pull offs, vibrato and so on.

Consider this:

h - hammer on 
p - pull off 
b - bend string up(also written as ^)
r - release bend
/ - slide up
\ - slide down
v - vibrato (also written as ~)
t - right hand tap
x - damp string and play it

If you are not familiar with what some of these may mean, you should read some of the lessons in the technique category.

An example of each of these will now be shown. To save space, only 2 of the six strings are being shown.

E|----------------
B|--2h3-----------

This indicates that you are to play the note on the 2nd fret, but then hammer on to the 3rd fret.

E|----------------
B|--4p2-----------

This indicates that you to play the note on the 4th fret, but then pull off to the second fret.

E|----------------
B|--8b10----------

This indicates that you should play the note on the 8th fret, then bend it up a tone so that it sounds like the note on the 10th fret. Remember, the second note is just an indication of what the first note will sound like after it has been bent.

E|----------------
B|--8b10r8--------

This indicates to bend the note on the 8th fret so that it sounds like the note on the 10th fret. Then it is to be immediately released so that it sounds like the note on the 8th fret again. Remember that sometimes a bend will also be written as ^ instead of 'b'.

E|----------------
B|--2/10----------

This indicates to play the note on the 2nd fret, then slide up to the note on the 10th fret.

E|----------------
B|--10/2----------

This indicates to play the note on the 10th fret, then slide down to the note on the 2nd fret.

E|----------------
B|--10v----10~----

This first example indicates to play the note on the 10th fret, and then apply a vibrato to the note. The second example means exactly the same thing.

E|----------------
B|--2t12----------

This indicates to play the note on the 2nd fret, then use your right hand to tap the string on the 12th fret.

E|----------------
B|--x-------------

This indicates to damp the strings, usually with the left hand, and then strike them to create a percussive sound. No number is shown, because the percussive sound will be the same no matter what fret it used.

This covers most of the things that you will run into when reading tabluature. If someone wishes to communicate something else using a special symbol, the symbol will usually be explained at the top of the piece of tabluature.

Now that you know what tabluature communicates, you must also know what tabluature does not communicate. Tabluature does not communicate the duration(length) of notes. When playing this:

E|----------------
B|----------------
G|----------------
D|----------------
A|-1---2-3--4-----
E|----------------

One would not know exactly how long to hold each of the notes for. BUT, we can get an idea of how long the notes should last according to the spacing of the notes. For example:

E|----------------
B|----------------
G|----------------
D|----------------
A|--1-2-3-4-------
E|----------------

We could assume that these notes are of equal duration, because they are equally spaced.

This is the fallback of tabluature. In order to play what is on the sheet, usually we have to have some idea of what the piece already sounds like. In this case, the tabluature serves only as a guide as to where the notes are, and the rest is played according to what we have already heard.

Besides this, tabluature is very useful, especially for those who don't know how to read musical notation. Also, it's very useful in a place such as the internet, because tabluature can be written using simple ASCII characters, and moved around as text files.

Things to remember from this lesson:

1. Tabluature is a music notation that is specific to the guitar.
2. Tabluature tells you what frets to play on what strings.
3. Tabluature tells you what order to play the notes in.
4. Tabluature does NOT tell you the duration of the notes, even though you can get an idea of them from the spacing of the numbers.
5. Tabluature is useful on the internet, because it can be notated in ASCII characters.



Questions
Question posted by trish jamieson on 1999-10-31
Is written by the same Tyler de Witt who used to live in Kapuskasing? A home town girl is curious?
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Question posted by Felicia on 1999-11-20
In your first example, you say "play the third fret on the fifth string". Is this the fifth string from the top or bottom? i.e., is the A string second from the top or bottom. I'm just learning so I'm sorry if this is an elementary question. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Felicia
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Question posted by samantha on 1999-12-06
understanding tab is hard can u send me a link in the e-mail reading tab for dummies or something like that
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Question posted by patricia on 1999-12-06
im not all familiar with frets hammer on pull off ect. is there a site i could bisit to learn wht they mean
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Question posted by gem on 1999-12-09
when you are reading tabs do u start from the bottom line and work your way up??? because i don't fully understand!!
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Question posted by Sheena on 1999-12-23
What does Palm Mute mean?
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Question posted by nicole on 2000-02-08
you've explained everything really well about reading tab but when you say 3rd fret 5th string how do you know where to put your fingers to play the note and so on..... i hope you get what i mean!
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Question posted by Ben on 2000-02-09
what would you play if the chord you should play is at the top of the tab, but the fret number is written in the tab?
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Question posted by Ben on 2000-02-09
what does "s" mean on a tablature
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Question posted by beeker5000 on 2000-04-16
Does base guitar have the same tablature as acoustic?
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Question posted by shelby on 2000-04-26
i am so confused . ok so i know where to put my fingers and all but do i strum the guitar if it just has 3b or whatever or do i just play that certain string?
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Question posted by hussam on 2000-05-25
Hi I got A problem on Understanding hammering on and pull off, so would u explain them further(detailed with easy example if u can. thanking u hussam
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Question posted by elvis on 2000-05-30
donde puedo obtener los acordes para saber tocar con tab ? por ejemplo donde tocar cuando es una g , o Am , etc . gracias
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Question posted by Joe on 2000-06-01
hi, I have 1 question. Whenever I read some tabs for songs, there will be numbers that indicate the fret of the string which I have to press down, but what if it's a 0 instead of a number like 1,2,3? i understand that 2 means the second fret,3 the 3rd & so on but what does 0 means? Any help to clear my doubt will be greatly appreciated.
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Question posted by i_love_aline on 2000-06-08
WHAT DOES "PALM MUTE" MEANS CORRECTLY AND WITH A GOOD EXPLAIN???????????????? PLEASEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE........... :>
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Question posted by tim on 2000-06-09
how do you damp a string?because in all of your lessons it doesn't say.
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Question posted by tim d on 2000-06-13
what do the letters mean on the top of the tab staff?
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Question posted by alex on 2000-07-19
what does it mean when a string is in the middle of a chord and it is blank. for example a tab had the 8th fret on the 5th string and the 10th fret on the 3rd string but the 4th string was blank. do i somehow not play that string in the chord? if so what lesson teaches that?
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Question posted by Jayde on 2000-08-05
I can read normal sheet music (I play Trombone and piano) But I just got a guitar and I sort of understand the tab stuff.... Do recomend any songs to start learning on? I really like counting crows, live, silverchair and stuff like that, Is it too hard??? I am a real Beginner!!! Thanks
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Question posted by chris on 2000-09-09
when there are 3 notes (stacked vertically) do you only strum those three strings, or the whole 6?
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Question posted by Andrew on 2000-09-24
On some tabs there is this x in between the numbers on the strings. I looked it up and it said muttled string. What does this mean? Thanks.
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Question posted by Unknown on 2000-10-06
Gosting..........What
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Question posted by Akin on 2000-10-10
That's all I have, are we talking about the same thing. The problem is I don't what it relates to and why it looks so irrelevant to me? Should I try the triangle? -3-3--1-------3---------0-----------1-----3-2-1----1-3-0-0------------3-0-----------4---1---------0--1----------------------------------0---0-----------2-1-0--------------------------0------------------0------------------0---2----------0--------------------------------------------------3---------------3-------3--------------------------------3-------------3------------------0-----------2---2-------1--------3-0-------------1-1--3----4---1---------1---1-------0-----1----4-1-----------0-0-------------2-0-----------------------0--------2-----0-------------------------1---1----1------0--------------1-2--------0------------------------------------3------------------------------------------------------3--------------------------3------
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Question posted by brenton clark on 2000-11-02
This is a pretty stupid question, could you please explain to me what the brackets()mean and how do you play them, thanks a lot Brenton
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Question posted by ???????? on 2000-11-12
can u masterbate w/ a guitar
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Question posted by David Navarro Matinez on 2000-12-25
Could you write this lesson in spanish? because I dont know how to speak english well please you can send it to my mail if you can write it. Thanks a lot
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Question posted by David Navarro Matinez on 2000-12-25
Could you write this lesson in spanish? because I dont know how to speak english well please you can send it to my mail if you can write it. Thanks a lot
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Question posted by askingaquestion on 2001-01-01
what is vibrato?
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Question posted by Ray on 2001-01-02
I came across the note (2) and I was wondering what the parentheses meant and how I would play this note. Thanks in advance.
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Question posted by GEORG on 2001-01-02
CAN YOU SEND ME A KEY HOW I CAN READ THE DRUM TABLATURE OF YOUR SITE COUSE IM A GUITARIST AND I HAD TO FIND OUT SOME DRUM THINGS BUT I DONT KNOW THE TERMS. THANK YOU. GEORGE AT WEEWEEWEEPUNT@HOTMAIL.COM PS TERMS AS: _ H S T1 T2 F B RIDE,WHAT IS A RIDE?
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Question posted by Molly on 2001-01-06
on some of the music where it just says the chord names above the lyrics, there is a chord, a slash, and then another chord (ex. Gsus2/F) What does this mean, and how do i play it?? Thanks.
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Question posted by Ray on 2001-01-14
How to read this: 1). "8brbr----r8b" in tab. 2). "12h13p12" 3). "(20)"
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Question posted by CAINY BOY on 2001-01-14
I STILLL DONT UNDERSTAND FULLY ABOUT TABLATURE COULD YOU POSSIBLY SEND ME MORE INFORMATION TO MY EMAIL ADDRESS PLEAZE THANKYIU VERY MUCH DANNY BOY
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Question posted by Unknown on 2001-01-24
I LIKE GOAT CHEESE, IF YOU WILL
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Question posted by marty001 on 2001-01-25
Can sombody explain to me how to play chords one after another. And what the spaces between the notes means. THANK YOU!
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Question posted by Johnny on 2001-02-19
How do you convert tablature in notation? I am more stuck on knowing how to write a chord in notation form
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Question posted by tom on 2001-02-23
i have a pretty good understanding of tablature i amjust not sure what you want us to do when they are lined up in a row. i know you say simotaniousley which would be one right after another but then what is the difference between that and reading them from left to right because you are also playing them simotaniously please help
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Question posted by adam on 2001-02-26
could somebody please email me something that shows you all the tab chords as i cant find one anywhere!!!
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Question posted by know on 2001-02-26
i can read tabs like this ------------------- ------------------- ------------------- -----3-------------- -4---------8------- ------------------- but not this ---------------------- -------7--------------- -------8-------------- -------9--------------- -------2-------------- -------3---------------
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Question posted by fred on 2001-03-01
whats a vagoina??
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Question posted by Unknown on 2001-03-10
how would u play notes if there stacked on each other ex: 444444 555555 and which strings would u hit?
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Question posted by Unknown on 2001-03-10
how would u play notes if there stacked on each other ex: 444444 555555 and which strings would u hit?
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Question posted by Julio on 2001-03-17
What means this () its a ghost note? how i do it? please answer me at juliopetz@hotmail.com!!
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Question posted by Micheal on 2001-05-20
Who is better Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, or Alex Rodriguez?
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Question posted by david pickett on 2001-06-04
can n e 1 send me some more stuff on chords? and does n e 1 have bob marley tabs which they can send to me please???????????????Thanx alot bye
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Question posted by David on 2001-06-09
What is a harmonic tone and how do I play it?You havenīt brought this up... Would any1 please clear this out for me? Thanx!
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Question posted by fire on 2001-07-14
how do i read tabs like thiz: D5 C5 A#5 All the leaves are brown (all the leaves are brown) answer me please cause i really need to know it
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Question posted by jimbo on 2001-07-14
What are ghost notes,i.e.(12).Also, what are harmonics and natural harmonics?
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Question posted by MANU on 2001-07-23
what is "rest"(r) and where can i find a good guide about signs in tabluature? thank you.
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Question posted by erdem on 2001-08-01
how can i play "ah" effect
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Question posted by Thomas Almo on 2001-08-16
how do you play an "x" (or how do you damp a string and play it?).
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Question posted by steve on 2001-09-20
i know how to red them i would like to know the easiest method to understand them while playing. where and how do you read them have you found a simple way?
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Question posted by fred bsnana on 2001-11-24
This stuff is poo
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Question posted by max on 2001-11-24
what is tableture, is it for pianos?
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Question posted by evan bottomley on 2001-11-24
im a hot brunette, call at 610 328 6309
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Question posted by brody on 2001-12-04
when i read tabs....the only thing i dont know is where to put my fingers on the guitar for each note
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Question posted by AllenBlake on 2001-12-12
Can someone tell me the Intro tab for the Joe Cocker Song You Can Leave your Hat on ?
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Question posted by elizabeth on 2002-01-10
hey, im a beginner so go easy on me.. i was wondering if anyone knew some super easy tabs (besides blink 182, it gets boring) because i need something simple but that can help me? thank you so much i would appreciate anything!
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Question posted by Bre on 2002-04-26
What do you do when there is a vertical line going down in the middle of the tab? is it a seperater and you play the first half than the second or what?
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Question posted by Unknown on 2002-07-27
what is stumming
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Question posted by Unknown on 2002-07-27
what is stumming
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Question posted by joe on 2003-03-10
i dont know what does it mean when the notes are kept in side brackets like:(8)
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Question posted by Mike Waterman on 2003-10-09
When reading tab, what does this mean? Bsus2 E or Asus2 I see this stuff everywhere but have no clue what it means.... help, someone, please.
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Question posted by Sian Woodhead on 2004-03-08
What do you mean by "Damp String"? How would you play that?
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Question posted by John on 2004-05-22
What are ghost notes?
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Question posted by John on 2004-05-22
How do you play a ghost note? 9 8 (10)10
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Question posted by Jane on 2004-11-27
What are frets? how many are there in a guitar?
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Question posted by genki on 2005-07-14
can u give me a tab of a song "ill be" by Edwin Mcain... ^_^ asap.. thanks
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Question posted by Unknown on 2005-07-21
what is a right hand tap
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Question posted by Unknown on 2005-09-27
What does C: mean?
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Question posted by Unknown on 2005-09-27
How does tab show a bar chord ?
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Question posted by james kirkham on 2005-11-24
can u fret tap with one hand, or just play the guitar with one hand, i heared slash can??? thanks.
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