Have you ever wondered how the guitar players communicate in their musical language? Or, do you know how to read sign language for playing the right strings? If you are a beginner and finding it difficult to capture the music in its written form, you got to learn guitar tabs. So, what are the guitar tabs? Or, what are they useful for?

Definitely, you must be thinking of all these questions. And, it is a good sign. If you are curious to find out what the different terms of guitar tabs, you would soon be in the shoes of expert players. Guitar tabs are musical language. In terms of signs and annotations, every music can be portrayed in a written form. Those who want to learn how to play a guitar must have an idea of how are these formulated. Understanding the guitar tab symbols would help you find a lot about guitar playing. It’s not far-fetched if you consider guitar tabs knowledge an integral part of the guitar’s learning curve.

So, why wait. Let’s check out some facts about guitar tabs and how does it concern every musician who plays this instrument.


Music is a language. A language that conveys’ emotions. This language has its own grammar, its own punctuation. And, is read by every musical instrument played in a similar way. Just like English is a language, that has its own grammar and attempts to convey the same emotions to anyone who reads it. In the same way, you can read write and learn music. An attempt has been made to develop music in such a way that anyone who reads it, gets a glimpse of the emotions that its composer has been trying to convey to him or her. Music on a whole is a standard language.

It is written in the form of notations. By reading these guitar tabs, every music instrument player gets to know which note to play when. However, with the development of this language, there have been specializations that lay focus on the particularity of the language. These developments have led to the creation of branches of Music as a language.

Tablature is one such branch of music language that enables one to get familiar with reading musical notations via playing guitar. It’s like a subpart of learning music as a language. One can also say, it is a language of guitarists in particular. It allows two guitarists to communicate music without using the grammar of the Music language. However, tablature’s creation aims to train guitarists on how to read the music language. It is for this reason that often while reading tablature, one finds it similar to reading musical notations.

However, it takes an expert guitarist who has profound knowledge of music language to tell you the difference between both. Before learning about the basics of Guitar Tabs, let’s read a little bit about standard musical notations in general.

History of Musical Notations (Neumes)

Western notations can be traced back to roughly the 9th century. This is when the music found its written form. The first-ever written music surfaced was neumes. Neumes were the technique based simply on marking down some syllable above the lyrics of the song that would indicate the musician, how to play the note that he had to play while the singer sang that part of the song. Nothing related to the pitch of the note was expressed by the syllable.

Neumes were meant to help remember the details of the song to the music player. One can guarantee by seeing the dependability of neumes that no one, back in that time had any idea about how musical notations would be helpful in the future to generate new ideas or in the creation of the same. This is just something like, no one knows at the time of invention, exactly in what ways that invention is going to benefit the world or progress in itself.

Over time, after the neumes became a part of the day to days of musicians, they realized they could use it for something more. You can even express the exact pitches of the musical note by modifying the neumes. Here too the notations made some progressed, but it was far away from being what it currently is. It did not have any information about the rest that came while playing the music, nor the information of starting or ending of the song. The next step in the development of these notations came after the introduction of a line. This line, most probably indicated the F and C which were popular back then.

The development of Neumes into Staff notations

The real staff notations gained its structure when a guy named Guido of Arezzo used four lines to write instead of the traditional one. The guesswork that was done in the previous system was eliminated because these lines came with the clear marking of F or C. Musical ideas were for the first time transmitted without the aid of any ear. It was like GPS at that time. You could get the information by having the sense organ that was the most important till then to even pursue that hobby. Guido’s staff notations told you everything about the pitch. But the only thing that it lags was the information about rhythm.

The credit for introducing rhythm in staff goes to Leonin and Perotin. These composers developed something called rhythmic modes. Their invention involved diving music, according to some sort of a poetic meter. Every musical note’s length was determined by where it fell on one of these patterns. In the meantime, something called square notes came to appear. These square noteheads determined the exact time when a musical note must play. 

After these, there is one more invention in the notations by Franco in the 13th century and that’s it. We had a more or less version of what we toady call modern musical staff notations. Since then we have been looking to develop more and more specific musical notations and looking to simplify complexities. Tablature can just be said like learning a part of standard musical notations. After having heard about musical notations and its development to the currently known modern staff notations. Now is the time to know the basic structure of a Guitar Tab and some of the terms that one must know to know Guitar Tabs.

Basic Structure of a Guitar Tab

A Guitar Tab is in the form of a drawing more than a form of writing. If you were to sketch a guitar how it’s been held by the guitarist who is playing it while him/she is sitting, how would you sketch the guitar? The strings of the guitar would be horizontal lines, wouldn’t it? Keeping this sketch in mind, a Guitar tab too, is typically built up of 6 horizontal lines to indicate six strings of the guitar.

Guitar Tabs: Strings
Guitar Tabs: Strings

The next thing that your eyes would spot from the guitar tab, possibly, is numbers. The straight lines relate to the string, the numbers relate to the fret.

Guitar Tabs Diagram

In the above diagram, you see 0 written on the lowest line. Whenever you see such a diagram, you need to hold the E string open. The next number that you see is 3 on the same string meaning that you need to hold the third fret of the E string. The next musical note that you have held in the 2nd fret of the A string, followed by 2nd fret of the D string, then comes G string open, the next one on the list is 2nd fret on the D string. This is how you interpret from numbers. Numbers equal to the fret on the respective strings. If the lines, hint you about the strings, the numbers are meant to hint you about the fret. A combination of both is meant to hint you about the musical note that you have to play on the guitar.

Guitar Tabs Diagram

Often you get to see, more than one numbers that are written over each other like in the picture that is shown above. This picture is meant to convey that the guitarist needs to play three or sometimes even four notes at the same time. Whenever there is a zero written in the guitar tab, the string on which the zero is written is supposed to be played open.

The picture that you see above is a typical guitar tab that is said to chord in musical terms. A chord is a collection of notes. So, in the basic structure of the guitar tab, you need to know three things. First, how to play a single note, second, how to play a collection of notes, and third, how to play a chord.

After knowing the basic structure there are some terminologies that you need to know to know the Tablature and they are:

Hammer on and pull off:

Hammer On and Pull Off

The above diagram shows h and p written with numbers. This is something that you would often encounter while reading the tablature. These are hammer on and pull off, resembling their literal meaning. If we go according to the tablature, first you’d have to play the fifth fret of A string and then you’d have to play the seventh fret with some extra energy as if you are hammering on to it and vice versa. These kinds of sounds work for improvising. When a guitar player wants his audience to hear the same thing but in a different manner, that’s when he/she uses a hammer-on or a pull-off. This results in the creation of the same sound, however, in different manners.

/ and \:

Forward and Back Slash

A forward slash means that the coming note that the guitarists are going to play is higher up in pitch than the note that they are currently playing. Similarly, a back slash indicates that the note that you’d be sliding to is lower in pitch. The way sliding works is that you pick the note before the slide symbol and you keep the pressure on the fretboard and while keeping the pressure you move your finger to the next note for making it sound. All these different tricks are a great part of playing when it comes to specific genres. The other thing which is also to know about guitar tabs is:

Bends and releases:

Hammer on, pull off, /, \, bend and release were invented by guitar players while playing the guitar. Many guitar players, while playing the guitar on stage, noticed that the pitch of the guitar can be maneuvered. And, they can have complete control over it while playing. That’s how they started playing the same musical note but in a different way. Whenever you note a b ahead of any number in tablature, you need to bend the coming note and the release option also works accordingly.

The bending of a note produces a sound of a higher pitch. Like a hammer on and pull off, bend and release occupy symbols of b and r. Bending and releasing are difficult to learn for a beginner because it requires a certain amount of finger strength to perform. As well as there, players also need a certain sort of sharpness towards the noise to be able to recognize it. The next thing to learn in tablature is string muting.

String Muting:

X denotes a string muting. To do this, one needs to lightly touch the string whenever he/she strums. And for those who are imagining, where along the string they would mute it, you could do it anywhere. String muting is about rhythm rather than melody.  There is a difference between string muting and rest. In string muting, you need to play the guitar by muting it, while rest is a period that has no noise.

After knowing the basics of guitar tabs one should also have knowledge about the standard music notations. So ready for some basics regarding the same?

What are Standard Music Notations?

Many times individuals confuse between standard music notations and guitar tabs. In such a scenario, it is important to understand what standard music notations mean and how it is different from the later one.

Hence, to provide a better explanation of standard music notations, let’s check out the difference between these two. 

Difference between standard music notations and guitar tabs

  • The fundamental difference between standard musical notations and guitar tabs is that the former one is a visual representation of the pitch and duration of the notes of a piece of music, while the latter one is a set of fretboard fingering instructions that enable you to locate and produce those notes.
  • The standard musical staff notations show the notes of the music. In it, the pitch of each note’s measurement happens by its vertical position on the staff which consists of six lines. The higher the note appears up in the staff, the higher its pitch is.
  • Whereas in tablature there are no such vertical positions of staff notes. The numbers tell a guitarist, which fret to play. There is also no relation to the higher note with its pitch.
  • In standard musical notations, the duration of each note has its own unique shape of the symbol. Standard notation’s purpose is to manifest what the music sounds like and not meant to show you how to play it on any instrument.
  • Tablature is completely concerned with showing the player how the guitar is player. The numbers on the tablature show players which fret to press and when.
  • Learning standard musical notations for a guitar involves locating all the notes on a guitar fretboard. In addition to that, it also includes learning when and how long to play them, and what all the other signs and symbols mean. Sometimes, just how to read standard musical notations can take many months of practice to start to become competent.
  • Tablature is comparatively very easy to read and can be learned with a little bit of concentration. Also, as the tablature is specifically for guitar, it is limited in its expression compared to standard musical notations.

What are the Advantages of Guitar Tabs?

While now you know a brief about guitar tabs, let us explore the benefits of using these for making your musical journey well prepared and easy going.

First of all, when you know how to read tabs, it becomes easier for you to learn to play guitar. You can learn to play any song just by looking at the guitar tabs. And, the best part is that these are not difficult to remember. With consistent practice, you can very soon start understanding the musical language.   

Another benefit is that the guitar tablature is available widely. This means that you can play music from any region because the notation would always remain the same. Every country will follow the same tabs to represent its music. Because this is a universal language for guitar players, it would help you immensely.

Above all, the tabs are simple if you wish to create them. And, you can also edit these as desired and distribute it for letting others access it.

Best Guitar Tabs Websites

This brings us to the next point. We must find out some of the best websites that offer guitar tabs.


A single platform that has a database of more than 100,000 songs. Not only is does this website provides guitar tabs of various songs, but it also chords with their chord diagrams. One can find the original version as well as the different versions popular among other artists except for the original music maker for free.


This website specializes in offering guitar tabs of various songs. The database of this website is smaller than that of the one mentioned above, but it’s particular. Also, you do not need an account to access the database of this website. All you need to do is search and access the tab of the song that you are finding.


This website displays three different sections and lets users search using that. You have tabs of the top 25 songs, top 100, and also the most recent updates separately. And no! You don’t even need an account to access tabs of this website.


SheetMusicPlus takes pride in boasting about its database online. It has a collection of 1,000,000 songbooks that contains written music, tablatures, and much more.


This is not just a website, but software. You can not just display the tablature, but create one on your own. The software displays tablature and teaches you how to read and write tablature music and help you in playing them.


No other website is as efficient in explaining tabs in the manner Youtube is. Other websites might display the tabs to you, while youtube, would be able to display as well as you will find videos in which professional guitarists will be there holding your guitar and teaching you how to play the specific part on your own guitar.

The Disadvantage of Guitar Tabs

Before we conclude the article, let us also read about the other side of the coin. We have already talked a lot about how these tabs are crucial for every guitar player. However, there must be some limitations. Nothing is perfect. Huh!

The only thing that creates a downside for these guitar tabs available online is that not every free tab is accurate. In other words, there are tabs that are written by some intermediate guitar player with not much serious knowledge about the instrument itself. There are many people who do learn to play guitar on their own with regular practice. But to write guitar tabs, you must have a professional knowledge of the niche. Or else, you may end up creating wrong tabs.

Moreover, the guitar tabs are only for guitars. On the contrary, the standard notations are for every instrument. Hence, even if, as a guitar player, you share the standard notations with a pianist or other instrument’s players, it would work. But, your guitar tabs won’t.

The Conclusion

This ends the basic knowledge that you need to have to play guitar tabs. You can also learn a bit about the standard notations as well. If you are serious about learning, how to read tabs, the next step for you is going to be how to read musical notations. So if you know about the background of it, it’ll help you for accomplishing the next step.

The only thing that remains here is, by which finger you need to play the string. Now that is something you’d have to teach yourself and adjust according to the notes that are you playing. Apart from that, the other thing that is absent in most of the tabs is rhythm or tempo. So if you are a learner guitar player, you’d have to play the song first to get to know the tempo of that song and after that implement it while playing that by seeing the guitar tab.  

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