Basics: Tablature

by Josh

Tablature (or tab for short) is a very common way to learn simple songs on the guitar.  It essentially provides you a diagram of where to put your fingers on a timeline so if you follow it you can play a song.  Some tab will provide you just the chords to play certain songs, while others will give you a common notation to know what frets to put your fingers on to form the note sequence or chord that you want to play.

Tab Basics

Here is an example of guitar tablature, taken from the Wikipedia article on this topic:

The chords E, F, and G:

     E   F   G

The numbers in the example above will help you learn to form those chords. You count the numbers from the top of the neck down. If you were playing the E chord as indicated in the diagram above, you’d be pressing the G string on the 1st fret, and the D string and A string on the second fret. One thing that tab doesn’t really help you much with is which finger goes where, that’s when I usually hop over to Google and do a quick search to find a picture of someone forming the chord so I know which finger goes where.

You will find that many notations will also indicate some more advanced techniques, many of which I do not know how to perform accurately (yet!), such as hammer-on, bend, slide up, and slide down.

Other variations

As I mentioned before, other variations of guitar tablature will only give you the chords.  I generally find this style of tablature useful for songs that you tend to strum chords. For songs that are more oriented towards fingerpicking (lots of single string notes played one at a time with individual fingers), I tend to prefer the notation listed above.

Here you can see an example of chord tablature, taken from tab for Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty:

        D    Dsus  Dsus  D   Asus
she's a good girl, loves her mama

You can see the benefit here is that you can see where the chords go in relation to the words in the song. Both versions of guitar tablature do this, however as I mentioned before this way is more useful for songs that make use of full chords that you can strum along with.

Understanding guitar tablature is an important skill to begin learning, so try searching for “Your Favorite Song’s Name tab” in a search engine and see a few examples for yourself!

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