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How to read Guitar tabs

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What is Tablature (or TAB)?

Tab or tablature is a method of writing down music played on guitar, bass, drums etc.. Instead of using symbols like in standard musical notation, it uses ordinary ASCII characters and numbers. Tablatures is the best way to learn music for those who don't know special music notation.

How to read Guitar Tab :

Guitar tablature (tab for short) is a system of notation that graphically represents strings and frets of the guitar fretboard. There are six(maybe 7 for sevenstring guitars) horizontal lines. It's indicates string of guitar. The thin (the first) string  is the highest line.


e--------------------------------
B--------------------------------
G--------------------------------
D--------------------------------
A--------------------------------
E--------------------------------

Numbers are then placed on these lines to represent finger positions on the guitar fret board. If you read the diagram below you would play this on a guitar by putting your finger just behind the 3rd fret  on the 4th string (or the second thickest string) then put your finger on the 2nd fret. The ‘zero’ represents playing an open string.So in this case you would play the open D string without finger position on the fretboard.  As musical notes this would read as follows F - E - F - E - D.


e-------------------------------
B-------------------------------
G-------------------------------
D----3--2--3--2--0--------------
A-------------------------------
E-------------------------------


The one shortcoming of guitar tab is it doesn’t usually represent how long to hold a note for, or rhythm very well. Although some good tab writers will represent it by how much space is between each note. Tab works best if you listen to the song for guidance on timing then read the notes and practice it. Here for example is the timing of "Nothing Else Matters" by Metallica.


E||-----------0--------|-----------0--------|-----------0--------|
B||--------0-----0-----|--------0-----0-----|--------0-----0-----|
G||-----0-----------0--|-----0-----------0--|-----0-----------0--|
D||--------------------|--------------------|--------------------|
A||--------------------|--------------------|--------------------|
E||--0-----------------|--0-----------------|--0-----------------|



A Hammer On :

A hammer on is executed by striking a first note (stand on the first position - before "h") and then hammering done with the finger of fretting hand on the second note, that sitauated afted symbol "h". The second note isn’t actually picked but kind of echos the first one. Here is an example of how hammer ons are written in tab :

e--------------------------------
B--------------------------------
G---------------3h5--------------
D--------------------------------
A----------4h5-------------------
E--------------------------------


A Pull Off :

A pull off is the opposite of a hammer on, so the first note is played again then the fretting hand pulls the finger off and lets the one fretted behind it play.


e-----------------------------
B------------------6p5--------
G--------------6p5------------
D-----------------------------
A------9p5--------------------
E--8p5------------------------

A Bend :

A bend is represented by the symbol ‘b’. Strike the note, that situated before "b" and then bend the string up a tone (it must sound like 2 frets up)


e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G--11b------------------------
D-----------9b--11b-----------
A-----------------------------
E-----------------------------

A Release Bend :

It represented by symbol "r". A release bend is represented by the symbol ‘r’, this is just like a bend, but it tells you when to release the bend and go to the next note.


e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G--7b9r7----------------------
D--------------5b9r7----------
A-----------------------------
E-----------------------------

A Slide-Up :

A slide up is represented by the symbol ‘/’. You would play the first note on 7 then slide the finger that is holding that note up to 9.


e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G-----------------------------
D----------------5/7----------
A----------5/7----------------
E-----5/8---------------------

A Slide-Down :

Opposite of a Slide Up, slide down is represented by the symbol ‘\’. You would play the first note on 7 then slide the finger that is holding that note down to 5.


e--------8/5------------------
B------------8/5--------------
G----------------8/5----------
D-----------------------------
A-----------------------------
E-----------------------------

Vibrato :

Vibrato is like a constant rhythmic bending and releasing of the string. You do a bend up and bend down quickly to create a moving sound. It is usually represented by ‘v’ or ‘~’.


e-----------------------------
B-----------------------------
G--5v-------------------------
D-----------------------------
A-----------
7~~~--------------
E-----------------------------

Tapping :

Tapping is much like a hammer-on but you don’t strum any notes. Just tap the notes on the fret board with your fretting hand without picking the string by right hand. It always represented by "t" near the note or under the tab. (example : Satriani - Midnight)

 
-------------------------------------------------|
-------12t---------12t---------12t--------12t----|
-------------------------------------------------|
----------12t---------12t---------12t--------12t-|
-----9t----------9t----------9t---------9t-------|
--7t----------7t----------7t---------7t----------|

Tablature Symbols :

The numbers don’t really describe the subtle techniques that a guitarist can execute, these are the tablature symbols that represent various techniques.

  • h - hammer on
  • p - pull off
  • b - bend string up
  • r - release bend
  • / - slide up
  • \ - slide down
  • v - vibrato (sometimes written as ~)
  • t - right hand tap
  • s - legato slide
  • S - shift slide
  • - natural harmonic
  • [n] - artificial harmonic
  • n(n) - tapped harmonic
  • tr - trill
  • TP - trem. picking
  • PM - palm muting
  • \n/ - tremolo bar dip; n = amount to dip
  • \n - tremolo bar down
  • n/ - tremolo bar up
  • /n\ - tremolo bar inverted dip
  • = - hold bend; also acts as connecting device for hammers/pulls
  • <> - volume swell (louder/softer)
  • x - on rhythm slash represents muted slash
  • o - on rhythm slash represents single note slash
  • T - tap
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