How To Read Tablature


Tablature is non-standard, text-based format for notating fingerings and playing techniques for guitar. Guitar tablature does not explicitly show notes, time signature, or tempo but does help with learning chords, scales and songs. Tablature is able to aid guitar players by indicating which frets should be played on which strings. Due to the text-based nature of guitar tablature it is a common internet format for notating songs due to the simple and compact format.

What do the lines mean?

Each line of tablature represents a string on the guitar:

        e ------------------------ (high E)
        B ------------------------
        G ------------------------
        D ------------------------
        A ------------------------
        E ------------------------  (low E)

What are the numbers?

The numbers indicate which frets should be fingered.
        e ------------------------ (high E)
        B ------------------------
        G ------------------------
        D ------------------------
        A ------5-----------------
        E ------------------------  (low E)

This example indicates the 5th fret on the A-string should be pressed (note = D).

If the numbers are aligned vertically, the notes should be played as a chord. Ex: C-chord

        e --------0--------------- (high E)
        B --------1---------------
        G --------0---------------
        D --------2---------------
        A --------3---------------
        E ------------------------  (low E)

Which fingers should I use?

Guitar tablature does not indicate which fingers should be used to play which frets. How to finger the notes and chords is up to the player.

What do the letters and symbols mean?

Letters and symbols in the tablature help to describe how to play the note sequences or sound effects (ex: bends, slides, harmonics, etc)

Symbol Technique
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
T tap
TP tremolo picking
PM palm muting (also written as _ and .)
\n/ tremolo arm dip; n = amount to dip
\n tremolo arm down
n/ tremolo arm up
/n\ tremolo arm 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
ยท/. pick slide

Does spacing between numbers matter?

Unlike sheet music which defines time signatures and note durations, tablature has no formal method for documenting timing and note durations.

Some transcribers attempt to indicate timing with the amount of spacing between fret-notations, it is likely inexact due to the nature of text based notation