As a guitar player and teacher I almost always use guitar tablature. I don’t even know how to read sheet music to be honest with you and you if you are just starting out on guitar or want to learn, it won’t take long to find that most other guitar players don’t read sheet music either.
The reason is that guitarists around the world have come up with a better more practical way to read music in a way that is specifically intended for guitar players. Guitar tablature is the prominent way for guitarists to write and read music for the guitar without having to know how to read music in the traditional sense.
It may seem difficult at first but it will only take a little while to get used to it and it will soon become second nature. When I am teaching guitar lessons I tend to implement tablature because it shows the guitar student exactly where to play each note or chord on the guitar. On the guitar fingerboard it is possible and even common to be able to play an identical note and even chord on a different string or part of the neck. So tablature allows you to know exactly where you should be on the guitar neck.
Guitar tablature (tab for short) is basically a diagram and simple number system that will allow you to easily read and play any riff, song, or solo you can imagine on the guitar.
Here is an example of a blank guitar tab sheet.
The strings here are named to make it easier to decipher which string is which. The bottom string represents the low E string which is the biggest and thickest string on the guitar. All the strings go in the same order that they are on the guitar all the way to the high E string which is the thinnest string on the guitar.
Here is a diagram of a D major chord:
The numbers here represent which fret you will place your fingers. As you can see, on the G string your will hold down the 2nd fret, the B string – the 3rd fret, and the E string – the 2nd fret. When all the numbers are in line or on top of each other like in this diagram it means that your strike all the strings at the same time and play them simultaneously. So in this diagram you would play the D major chord by strumming it once.
Here is an example of tab where you do not strike all the strings simultaneously:
In the diagram above, you would strike each string individually. This is still a D major chord but you would play it one string at a time. So you would start on the high E string, then play the B string, and finally play the G string. The distance between the numbers on the tab will help you determine how long of a pause to take between playing each string.
Here are some symbols that you will frequently see after numbers on the tab diagram:
h – hammer on, p – pull off, b – bend string, up r – release bend, / – slide up, – slide down, v – vibrato (sometimes written as ~), t – picking hand tap, x – play ‘note’ with heavy damping or do not play at all
Some of these terms we will cover in more detail later but for now it is good to have a reference so you know what they mean.
We will be using tab a lot while we learn how to play guitar so don’t get discouraged if it seems a little confusing. It gets easy and soon it won’t be any harder than reading a line in a book!