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How to Read Guitar Tabs? – Different Symbols Explained!

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Wanna make learning your favorite songs easier for you? Tabs will help you do just that!

When you start playing the guitar, learning how to read tabs as soon as possible is a good choice. Period. I’m so glad that I did that when I started. It made learning songs a lot easier for me. In my opinion, tabs are the easiest way to learn songs for beginners.

In this post, you will learn all that you need about tabs. I included videos, photos, and text for you.

Now, let’s get started with guitar tabs.

Who crafted this post:

photo reveals the Owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Author: Teemu Suomala

Playing guitar since 2009. Mainly focused on electric guitars, although plays acoustics too. Started this blog in January 2020.

Use the table of content to jump to the section you want:

How to Read Guitar Tabs (Basics)

If video works best for you, watch this video and you learn the basics in 5 minutes. I also wrote a text version(with photos) for you. These are below the video.

Text version:

In tabs, you watch guitars fretboard from up, like this:

Guitar Fretboard From above

Here’s how it looks like on the paper or screen:

Six horizontal lines represent the six strings of the guitar. Thickest at the bottom and thinnest at the top.

When you look at tabs, those horizontal lines include numbers. Usually from 0 to 24. Those numbers show you which fret you should play/press. 0 is an open string, 1 is the first fret, 2 is the second fret, 3 is the third fret and so on… It looks like this

image reveals basic of guitar tabulature

You play from left to right. So the fret 1 on the left is played first.

That really covered up all the basics. You can now learn songs with tabs!

When you are starting out, you only need to know these basics, but when you learn more and more, you will face more and more symbols.

I recommend that you bookmark this site, go play the guitar and learn new songs. When learning songs from tabs, at some point you will face some unknown symbols, then you can go back here and learn what those symbols mean.

If you want to learn symbol meanings now, keep reading.

Other Tab Symbols

Tablature softwares and raw tabs use a little bit different symbols. I’m going to show you both symbols and meanings.

Tab Software/Modern Tab Symbols

Hammer-on and pull-off

In hammer on, you hammer string with your fret hand without any help or strumming of your pick hand.
In pull-of you pull your finger out of the fret, without strumming with your pick hand.

These two techniques look like this in tabs:

image reveals how Hammer-on and pull-of in tabs

In hammer on here, one of your fingers is already pressing the 10th fret of the B string. Then you hammer the 12th fret with one of your other fingers.

In pull-of you do it in another way around, you pull your finger out of the 12th fret and let the 10th string ring.

Bends

If you want to perform a bend, you raise or lower the string from a certain note with your fret hand. When the tone reaches the sound of one fret forward(example: you bend the 8th fret and it starts to sound like the 9th fret) it’s called Half bend. If it reaches the sound of two frets forward, it’s called Full bend.

Bends look like this in a TAB:

image reveals how Bends look in tabs

Slides and Vibrato

In slide, you, play a note from the fret and slide your finger to another fret. In this tab, you play the 4th fret and slide your hand to the 7th fret of the B strings. All this time the string should make a sound.

To perform Vibrato, you vibrate/shake your fret finger after pressing and playing a specific fret.
In TAB these looks like this:

image reveals how Slides and vibrato look on tabs

Tapping and Natural Harmonic

When you are tapping, you use your picking hand to tap specific frets. You can use the pick or fingers. This is one of the coolest techniques in my opinion. And it’s relatively easy to learn too, especially the one-string tapping.

Natural harmonics are high notes, that sound like a bell or flute. You can play these by gently pressing the fret bar, after that, play the note and release your finger from the stings. There are a couple of different natural harmonic symbols, I’ll show you three different versions.

Tapping and harmonics look like this in a TAB:

image reveals how Tapping and natural harmonics look on tab

Palm Mute and Dead Note

When you are palm muting, you place picking hand at the edge of the bridge and lightly touch the string there.
Palm mute is a technique, which can be taught easily with a video, so watch this:

image reveals how Palm mute and dead notes look in tabs

Raw tab symbols

You saw a lot of these raw tabs back in the day. People made these tabs using simple text-softwares. And sometimes you can still found some of these when searching for tabs.

Here are basic tab symbols used in raw tabs:
h = hammer on               / = slide up
p = pull-off                      = slide down
x= dead note                  ~ = vibrato
b = bend                          + = harmonic
pb = pre-bend                br = bend release
pbr = pre-bend release
brb = bend release bend
T = tap this note with pick hand
P.M = palm mute

These were the basic and little bit less basic tab symbols. There are also other less common technique symbols in tabs, but if these are used, the maker of to tab usually provides symbol meanings for you.

How to Make Things Even Easier

If you want to make learning even easier, Tab-software can do just that. You can learn and hear how the song sounds at the same time. You can also easily learn the right speed and rhythm, and you get simple backing tracks to play along.

I would recommend Songsterr for this purpose. I use it and it’s great!

Summary

I hope that this guide helped you to get started with tabs. You can easily learn hundreds and hundreds of songs with this basic knowledge. If you have any questions about these symbols, tabs, or guitar playing in general, leave a comment below.

Now, please go and play your guitar. Learn new chords. Master new songs. Use tabs and keep rocking!
Teemu Suomala

This infographic reveals how to read guitar tabs

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