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What is Guitar Tablature?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2014
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Guitar tablature is sheet music that shows which notes are being played on the guitar in addition to chording. Lead riffs, intro's, breaks, and fill-ins are all instances in which we might expect to hear some fancy guitar work that can be broken down for us in guitar tablature. Also, songs that are uniquely picked, like the Beatles classic, Blackbird, make excellent candidates for tablature.

Guitar tablature is a very handy tool for learning popular songs because it does not require that the guitarist know how to read music. It is also easy to for anyone to write and therefore the internet is a rich source for free guitar tablature of all kinds. However, since virtually anyone can upload tablature to the internet, you can't always be sure that the tab you try is an accurate representation of the original artist's rendition. Not everyone is excellent at figuring out what a guitarist is doing!

There are also many guitar tablature songbooks you can purchase. One popular author is Hal Leonard, and there are several others.

Guitar tablature, sometimes called tab, is a staff with 6 lines representing the strings on a guitar. The top line represents high E. This can be confusing since the guitar is strung the opposite, with high E being the bottom string. However, the bottom string on a guitar is considered the first string. Hence the first string on the guitar and the first line on the guitar tablature staff are both high E.

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

A note is indicated by a fret number appearing on the appropriate string. For example, if the first note of a riff was G played at the 3rd fret of the 6th string, that note would appear on guitar tablature as:

E ------------------ (high)
B ------------------
G ------------------
D ------------------
A ------------------
E --3--------------- (low)

A bar of music is indicated by a vertical line running down the staff, and an open note is indicated by a "0" or zero meaning there is no fret noted but the string is played open. Slides are shown by a connecting arc from the beginning note to the final note, and a hammer-on will have a ^ between the notes, or an h, like so:

E ------------------ (high)
B ------------------
G ------------------
D ------------------
A ------------------
E --3^5--or--3h5---- (low)

For a hammer-on the first note is plucked, but the second is accomplished by slamming down hard on the neck with the chording finger at the second position.

For pull-offs the second note will be lower, as in 5^3. Or a p might be used, as in 5p3. When performing a pull-off the first note is plucked normally then the second note is accomplished by pulling the finger off the string in a downward and outward motion away from the guitar, so as to pluck the string with the left or chording finger. Pull-offs and hammer-ons or hammers, are also called slurts.

Normally guitar tablature also includes the chord being played. This will be indicated by the name of the chord and most often a representation of it. In this case the horizontal lines represent the strings of the guitar but vertical lines represent frets on the guitar neck, and numbers will indicate at what fret the chord should be played. Dots will appear on the strings at the positions the fingers take to form the chord.

Guitar tablature is a great tool for learning and expanding your repertoire. If you are new to tab, pull up a search engine and enter your favorite song plus tab, like this: "my favorite song title" + "guitar tab". Then warm up the printer and get an empty notebook and a 3-hole punch. You'll probably be busy for a long time to come!

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Discuss this Article

Logicfest
Post 1

Guitar tab is awesome, but it is no substitute for some formal lessons. A good guitar teacher can show you guitar theory, how to build chords from the ground up and a lot of things that just aren't covered when someone is learning how to pick out songs by following tablature.

Some formal training can help people actually write their own songs while tablature focuses on showing guitarists how to play songs other people have already written. If you're a guitar player, which had you rather learn how to do?

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