How to Read Guitar Tabs

Guitar Tablature, or Tabs, are an alternative to reading music for guitar. Guitar Tabs use numbers to indicate which fret to play on the guitar strings. Guitar Tabs have six horizontal lines representing each string on the guitar. The lowest line is the Low E string, or 6th string. The next line up represents the A string or 5th string, and so on.

guitar tab

Guitar Tabs use numbers to tell you which fret to play. Below is a one octave F Major Scale in tablature form. A "0" (zero) means play the string open. The first note is the F note. This is shown as the number 1 on the low E string - fret the first fret of the low E string or 6th string.

F major scale guitar tab

Guitar chords in a tab are shown by more than one note stacked on eachother as shown below.

guitar tab chords

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs in Guitar Tabs

There are a couple different ways guitar tabs show hammer ons and pull offs. Hammer ons and pull offs are a fret hand technique. A hammer on is where you play one note and then "hammer on" another note or fret without plucking the string again or removing your finger from first note or fret played. A pull off is where you play a note and then pull off that note or fret to a lower note - the opposite of a hammer on. The tab below shows two common hammer on and pull off methods used in guitar tabs.

Slides in Guitar Tabs

Slides are also shown a couple of different ways in guitar tabs. To play a slide, play the first note indicated, and without plucking the string again, slide that same finger up or down the neck to the next fret.

String Bends in Guitar Tabs

Another common technique noted in tabs are string bends, shown sometimes by an upward arrow or a line curving upward.

guitar tab bends

String bends are also shown with the letters "b" for bend and "r" for release.

guitar tab bends

Other Guitar Tab Symbols

Here are some more symbols used in guitar tabs. Some symbols are different depending on the source of the guitar tab.

  • P.M.   =   Palm Mute
  • pb   =   Pre-Bend
  • v or ~   =   Vibrato
  • PH or  *   =   Pinch Harmonic
  • NH   =   Natural Harmonic
  • t   =   Tap
  • X   =   Muted or Dead Note