How to Read Tab

It is an alternative way of reading music. Instead of reading notes on staff paper which can be quite tricky, it is made up of a number system that is so easy my grandma can play ‘smoke on the water’ with ease!! NO joke.

The following 6 lines do not represent your typical ‘music staff’ which actually has 5 lines. These 6 lines represent the 6 strings on your guitar.

The Top Line represents the thinnest or ‘highest pitched’ string on your guitar. The string that is closest to the floor. The bottom Line represents the LOWEST SOUNDING String on the guitar and this one is the thickest. It also is the closest to the ceiling.

                                                                                                                         String #

  ____________________________________________________ 1

  ____________________________________________________ 2

T ____________________________________________________ 3

A ____________________________________________________ 4

B ____________________________________________________ 5

  ____________________________________________________ 6


 This is what blank Guitar Tab looks like. Right now all you see are the 6 lines (6 Strings) I know you’re thinking “why is it upside down?” I have no idea. That’s how

Tablature was invented. Just imagine the bottom line as being the top string that’s closest to you. With that out of the way we can work on our next keyword. “Frets.”

I am sure you have heard this term before ‘Guitar Frets.’ If not, they are the metal strips that go up and down across the fingerboard of the guitar. They separate the notes (tones) on the guitar. When you place your finger (form your left hand) in between two frets and hold down the string you are then prepared to strum or pick the string with your right hand. Strings aren’t meant to only be played open. When you hold down a string at a given ‘fret’ what you are actually doing is making the string shorter, thus making the pitch ‘Higher’ and changing the note (or tone).

There are usually about 20 something frets on a standard guitar. It doesn’t make a big difference if you have 20, 22, or 24 frets on your guitar. This just means that you can play a couple notes higher on the guitar and those notes are so high pitched they are pretty annoying to listen to anyway! You will stay in the lower range of the guitar most of the time. Now let’s get this ‘Higher’ and ‘Lower’ thing straight. In music, the musical notes (tones, pitches, whatever you call them) are changed by pitch. We all know that pitch means the frequency of sound so something high pitched would be like an opera singing lady who breaks a wine glass with a super high note. A Low pitch is similar to a Bass instrument or a man with a really deep voice. ‘Deep’ is the same as ‘Low’ when talking about pitch. On a slide whistle you blow into it and move the slide up and down to change the pitch. The closer you bring the slide to you the higher the pitch gets and vise versa.

On the guitar however it is not up and down. It is left to right. When you play a string open, that is the lowest (deepest) sound you will hear produced from that string. As soon as you place your finger on the First ‘Fret’ and then strike the same string again the pitch will be slightly higher. The more you move to the right the higher the pitch will get. (Because the string is getting shorter!).

There are usually dots on the fingerboard of your guitar to act as a guide when moving around and holding down different frets. Normally they are on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets.


You don’t want to put your finger on the metal fret itself…but just slightly to the right of it produces the best sound.

Lines represent the strings.

Numbers represent the Frets.







Music (and TAB) is read from left to right like English.

The ‘TAB’ above tells you to play on the Low string only (the thickest string)

You know this because the numbers are only written on that string (the bottom line)

The number ‘0’ means to play the string open. Then the number ‘3’ means place your index finger of your left hand and hold down the 3rd fret on the low string (same string you played open). and then followed by the 5th fret and so on.

This is the main riff to the popular song ‘Smoke on the Water.’ If you are unfamiliar with this song you can see it and view at on Youtube. Type in ‘Smoke on the Water.’ this way you will know what it sounds like before you attempt to play it by reading it above. So if you play the string open (just strum the string without touching it with your left hand) and then the 3rd fret and then the 5th and then open again, and then the 3rd fret 6th fret and 5th fret…you have you have just played smoke on the water! Try this next song…EVERYBODY Knows the tune from ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ so you shouldn’t have any trouble with it.

‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’

_____________________________________________ High string 





_4_2_0_2__4_4_4__2_2_2__4____________________ Low String

The first 4 notes (4,2,0,2) sound like “ma-ry had a”

and then the three 4’s (444) sounds like “lit-tle lamb”

and then again with three 2’s (222) is again “lit-tle lamb”

and then the 4 on the low string and the two 2’s on the next string sound like

the final “lit-tle lamb”

Notice how the last two notes are on the next string. This would be the second string from the closest string to you. It is also the second most thick string on the guitar. REMEMBER: With guitar TAB you must already be familiar with the melody and rhythm of the song because even though the TAB shows you which notes to play to make the song, it does not show you how ‘long’ to hold each note in order to make the song sound right. For example, reading the above song ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ by just playing all the notes in a row without giving the proper time for each note would not sound very much like that song at all! You know to put a pause in between ‘little lamb’ and the next ‘little lamb’. Also, you know that the last ‘lamb’ is held for a slightly longer amount of time than the rest.

Here is a scale study for the guitar. This will sound like (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do) It is know as the ‘Major Scale’ and plays a HUGE part in music in general.

It is also a great finger strengthening exercise for the guitar player. This requires you to play on three strings. Frets # 3 and 5 on the LOW string. Followed by Frets # 2, 3 and 5 on the very next string. Lastly, frets # 2, 4, 5 on the 3rd string. Executed correctly it should sound like Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do.

________________________________________________high string 





_3_5____________________________________________LOW String


As stated in the beginning of this report, it is not intended for you to become a master overnight. But, with this information and the fabulous world of the internet and countless resources available you can take this as far as you want. Many famous musicians to this day do not know how to read music and 99% of them know TAB and can learn a song or solo quickly by reading the TAB.

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