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Tablature and standard notation are two ways that musical information is shared. Some guitarists prefer to be shown riffs and chords and never learn to read music. Many guitarists absorb material by playing along to records. Sight-reading is a requisite skill for session work, the theater orchestra and teaching careers. Reading music increases your knowledge and understanding of music and also allows you to record, communicate and convey musical ideas. Each notation system has its advantages and disadvantages. Tablature does not convey timing and pitch information as well as standard notation does though it is more useful for showing bends and to what degree (1/4, 1/2 or full) they should be executed and other worded instructions such as pick scrapes and whammy bar effects. For these reasons many guitar transcriptions for rock, jazz and blues, will use both standard notation and tablature.


You don't need to know how to read music to use tablature. Each string is represented by a line and on those lines numbers are used to indicate which fret to press down.

Below is a simple melody in tablature.


Lower Section[edit]

In the lower section of the example above, the top line represents the thinnest string of the guitar (high e) and the lowest line represents the thickest string of the guitar (low E). Each number on a line represents a fretted note on that string. The number zero is an open string, the number one is the first fret, and so on.

The tab is divided into measures using bar-lines but the duration of the notes is not indicated. You can figure out the duration of the notes using the standard notation in the upper section. You can also work out the note values using the time signature; which in this example is four-four time. This means that there are four quarter-notes in each measure. The tempo or style, which is given at the top of a piece of sheet music, is also an indicator of how a song should be played.

The key signature is not shown in the example. Key signatures show which sharps , naturals, and flats are to be used; represented by #'s and b's. Each sharp or flat is shown on their respective line and space after the time signature.

Upper Section[edit]

The upper section of the example above is in standard notation and shows that the first bar has 8 notes. Each note is represented by an oval note-head which indicates which note is to be played and the note stem indicates the notes duration (how long the note is to be held). Because the notes in the first bar are all eighth notes they are connected with a beam as shown in the example. The beaming of the same notes in a bar allows for easier reading. Eighth notes would normally be shown with a single tail which here is replaced by a single beam. Sixteenth notes have two tails so a double beam is used when grouping.

At the end of the last eighth note there is a vertical bar-line. The bar-lines are used to show the pulse and rhythm of a piece of music. If a note is tied over the bar-line with a curved tie-line, then the note duration is held over to the next bar. Bars must never have more notes in them than is indicated by the time signature. In the next bar there is a whole note, which is an oval that is not shaded in the middle and has no stem.

The two vertical black lines at the end are called a double bar-line and this shows that the piece of music has ended.

ASCII Tablature[edit]

There is a very informal and loose standard of "Internet Tablature" using only ASCII characters. The above example would be written like this:


It has the same disadvantages of tab and contains much less information than the standard notation of the upper section. Rhythm can only be suggested by spacing or by adding symbols above each note (such as Q for quarter note). Much Internet tablature does not even contain bar lines. The timing must be discerned by listening to the original piece. This is the major flaw of online tabs and this style of tab in general.

However, online tabs are often much more convenient than standard notation for precisely conveying a specific finger positioning. Especially with alternate tunings this is a clear advantage. The Internet and Online Tabs are ideal for spur of the moment learning.

Common Tab symbols:

Symbol Meaning
h or ^ hammer on
p or ^ pull off
b bend string up
r release bend
/ slide up
\ slide down
v or ~ vibrato
t right hand tap
x play 'note' with heavy damping

Chords are often written in the form:

   xx0232  x32010  320003

Standard Notation[edit]

Notes On The Stave[edit]

Here are the notes as they appear in standard notation. The set of lines and spaces that run horizontally across the page is called the staff or stave. Notes can be written on the lines and in the spaces. A common method of remembering the notes on the Treble Clef is:

"Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" and the word "FACE"

Notes on the staff.gif

The musical alphabet starts at the letter A and ends on the letter G. Also, only have twelve sounds in western music and these seven letters represent them. The other five sounds are the sharps or flats of these seven notes. Each step up the staff is the next letter, so it goes A, B, C, etc. The first symbol on the staff is always the clef; which in this case is the treble clef. The word clef is French for key and gives you the position of the first note. The treble clef shown here is also called the G clef. It is drawn so that the note G is indicated as being on the second line.

Getting Started: Different Types of Guitars | Anatomy of a Guitar | Buying a Guitar | Buying an Amplifier | Tuning the Guitar | Tablature | Lead Guitar and Rhythm Guitar
For Beginners: The Basics | Intervals and Power Chords | Open Chords | Muting and Raking | Learning Songs | Song Library
Lead Guitar: Picking and Plucking | Scales | Arpeggios and Sweep Picking | Slides | Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, and Trills | Bending and Vibrato | Harmonics | Vibrato Bar Techniques | Tapping
Rhythm Guitar: Chords | Barre Chords | Chord Progressions | Alternate Picking | Tremolo Picking | Rhythm
Playing Styles: Folk Guitar | Blues | Slide Guitar | Rock Guitar | Country and Western | Metal | Jazz | Classical Guitar | Flamenco
General Guitar Theory: Tone and Volume | Singing and Playing | Writing Songs | Playing With Others | Recording Music |Tuning Your Ear | How to Continue Learning
Equipment: Guitar Accessories | Effects Pedals | E-Bow | Cables | Bass Guitar | Harmonica and Guitar Combo
Maintenance: Guitar Maintenance and Storage | Adjusting the Guitar | Stringing the Guitar
Appendices: Dictionary | Alternate Tunings | Chord Reference | Blanks