Introduction: How to Read Guitar Tabs
So you want to learn how to play guitar? Well you're in the right place! " What are guitar tabs?", you may be asking. Guitar tabs are an easier version of sheet music, written just for guitar. Guitar tabs show exactly where to place your fingers on the fret board to get the correct notes. A detailed explanation of this is seen in step four. I'll tell you something about guitar tabs- anyone can read them. It's as easy as reading a book, after you get the hang of it. The purpose of this article is to make your life a bit easier when it comes to understanding guitar tab. Continue on for the items you will need.
*One word of caution about guitar tabs though, is that they are not a substitute for learning proper music theory. Tabs are intended for beginners looking to learn their favorite radio song, or people who just want to rock out along to music without knowing the actual theory of music.
Step 1: Tools Needed
The most important tool needed would be the guitar. This guitar also needs to be in tune for the song you are going to learn. The second tool needed will be a guitar tuner, set to 440hz tuning frequency. Also multiple guitar picks are strongly recommended, in case of accidental loss.
Step 2: Finding Guitar Tabs
There are many tab websites out there, but I personally recommend http://www.ultimate-guitar.com .This site is the one I will be using to teach you how to read tabs. For this instructional guide I will use the tabs for the song "Gold On The Ceiling" by the Black Keys. Type your song into the search bar at the top of the webpage, and then select the tab with the highest amount of positive reviews. In the picture above that would be the one with the red arrow pointing towards it.
Step 3: Getting Into the Tabs and Proper Tuning
Shown in the top picture is the standard layout for all guitar tab sheets. Highlighted by the brown circle is the difficulty level for the song. In our example, "Gold on the Ceiling" the difficulty level is intermediate. Circled in red is the tuning for this song. Looking at the second picture gives you the run down of how to tune your guitar. The thickest string is the Low E and then they continue in this order from E- A,D,G,B,e. Using your tuner tune your guitar for this song. Also underlined in yellow is the starting time of the song, this is time frame in the song you should be playing this section.
Step 4: Reading Tabs
This is the hardest part of learning tabs-understanding how tab translates into notes on the guitar. Each number on the tab represents a note on the guitar. Each string has its own row on the tab, going from bottom to top it reads EADGBe. Tabs read left to right so the first number on the tab (A.K.A the first guitar note in the song) is on the A string, 10th fret. The first number is highlighted by the purple box in the first picture. This number corresponds to the note on the guitar being played in the second picture, also highlighted in purple. To play this note on the guitar, press down on the A string at the 10th fret. While pressing the string, pick the string with your other hand. Tab reads left to right, indicated by the blue arrow, play each note in order. Timing is based on the number of dashed lines between each note. The more dashed lines without a note on them the longer the pause. These dashed lines are meant to give a general idea of timing*. After you complete a line of tab move on to the next one, like you would reading a book and move from there. On top of the lines are the root chords of the song. These chords are underlined with black. These chords can also be played over the guitar tab. The key to learning guitar tabs is practice. The more you read them and work on songs the better you will become at quickly picking up new tabs.
* Caution- Tabs are not musically accurate to the time signature of the song. The notes are in order but not exactly in time. Tabs are not in time because they do not have a true measurement of timing. This means it is very important to listen to the song while playing so you can learn it in the correct time.
Step 5: Finished Product and Final Words.
Included in this step is a video performance of the first 30 seconds of "Gold On the Ceiling". From reading the tab, this is how I would play the song. Take note that I have the actual track running in the background to keep time. There are many different ways to position your fingers on the frets, but as long as you are hitting the same notes as the song, and playing in time, it doesn't matter how you look playing. At the bottom of the tab is usually an order of how to play the different licks in order with the song.
Lastly, If you happen to come across a symbol you are unsure of what it means there is usually a legend at the bottom of the tab as seen in the picture.
Okay there's only one more step left!
Step 6: ROCK OUT!
You are now ready to read tabs and rock out! Remember to practice and practice some more! And most importantly dont forget to have fun!