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Picture of Reading and Writing Guitar Tablature
In this instructable I will try my best to show you not only how to read guitar tablature, but also how to write it. Many guitarists prefer tab because it physically represents the guitar, and is very simple to write. You also don't need to know how to read sheet music, which is very practical. I struggle with that myself.

Tab is good for beginners that don't know how to read sheet music, or for people who need a visual representation of what to do.

(sorry for the absence of pictures, the illustrations are included in the text itself.
 
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Step 1: What Exactly is Tab?

Picture of What Exactly is Tab?
Tablature:
noun

1. Music . any of various systems of music notation using letters, numbers, or other signs to indicate the strings, frets, keys, etc., to be played.


Tablature is a "true representation" way of showing you what fret and string to press. I find it very easy to read, and would prefer it anyday over sheet music. One disadvantage of tab is that it doesn's show you the beat or timing of the music. Many guitar music books contain both for just that reason.

Step 2: The Basics

Picture of The Basics
If you look at the tab below, you will notice that there are 6 horizontal lines running parallel to eachother. These lined represent the six strings of a guitar. If you are unsure about those, check out alvincredible's ible. (http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-String-a-Guitar-1/) The strings from highest to lowest are e-B-G-D-A-E, with the e closest to the ground. This confuses many people because the lowest (sounding) string is highest (placed) on the fretboard.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]   (e)
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------] 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]   (E)

Step 3: Lets Begin

Picture of Lets Begin
Look at the tab below. The numbers that you see on the lines represent which fret to press the string down on. (Remember, the the string that you are playing is represented by the horizontal line.)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
---0----3----5-------------------------------------------------------------------------------]

A "zero" (0) means to pluck that string without holding any frets. If the tab was to say "three" (3) you would hold down the third fret on whichever string the line (that the number is on) represented.

So you should have hit the open low E string, then the low E on the third (3) fret, then the fifth (5).

Pretty straightfoward, right?

Step 4: Chords

Picture of Chords
Tab will sometimes ask you to play more than one string at the same time. (look below) Here, you would openly strum all of the strings. If you dont know chords, you may want to learn those first, or just look at the picture.

----0------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
----0------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
----0------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
----0------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
----0------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
----0------------------------------------------------------------------------------]

Lets play a chord. Maybe an "A" chord. The tab would look like this.

----0----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]  
----2----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
----2----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
----2----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
----0----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------]

A "G" chord?

-------3----------------------------------------------------------------------------------]  
-------0----------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-------0----------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-------0----------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-------2----------------------------------------------------------------------------------]
-------3----------------------------------------------------------------------------------]

Get the idea?

Step 5: Extra! Palm Muting!

Picture of Extra! Palm Muting!
If tab has "x"s going through it, it means muted strum. You can achieve this by rubbing your strumming hand on the strings, not making any sound but the rubbing on the strings.

-----------0----0-----x--x------------0----0-------------------------------------]
-----------0----0-----x--x------------0-3-0-------------------------------------]
--------------2--------x--x--------------------------------------------------------]
------2----------------x--x--------2----------------------------------------------]
------0----------------x--x--------0----------------------------------------------]
--3--------------------x--x-----3-------------------------------------------------]

That above is the intro to "Ball and Biscuit" by The White Stripes.

Step 6: Effects?

You may come across different symbols scattered in your guitar tab. Don't worry! Here I will explain.
  • "B" stands for bending
  • "P" stands for pull off
  • "H" stands for hammer on
  • "*" stands for harmonic (No, not harmonica)
  • "/" stands for slide

Bending is just bending the string up with your fingers. You generally want to bend it up enough so it sounds like "2 frets up."

A Pull Off is just when you let go really quickly so that the string starts stops making the note of whatever fret you were on... and begins to make the sound of the open string. The key here is "be quick"

A Hammer On it exactly the opposite of a pull off. You just hammer your finger on quickly to a fret, so the string makes that sound instead.

Harmonics are difficult to explain, so look here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAP0je2gwSQ

Sliding is just what it sounds. Slide your finger from the fret it was on to the fret you want to be at. They sell guitar slides that fit over your finger that ease this style of playing, and open a world of opportunity.

Step 7: Writing Tablature

If you want to write tab, simply write down what is in your mind. Come up with whatever you want, and use your newfound knowledge to transfer it to the tab. Just remember:
  • the lines represent the strings
  • the highest string (closest to ground) is the topmost horizontal line
  • the lowest string (closest to you) is the bottom-most horizontal line
  • the number represents which fret you press down on; on whichever string it is located on
One last note; you should...                                or...
                     maybe both?