Learn How to Read Guitar Tabs
Learning how to read guitar tabs is important whether a person wants to learn how to play electric guitar or acoustic guitar. Almost every practice exercise from an online guitar lesson will be shown in this form. Just knowing some way to write down and relearn music is important to any songwriter, but guitar tab is especially important for a guitarist do many instrument specific techniques and methods that are either difficult or even impossible to notate in standard notation.
Guitar Tab vs. Standard Notation
Some people would have everyone believe that standard notation is a better method of music notation and guitar tab is just a lazy method. In some cases, this is true, and a very lazy, poorly done guitar tab is a lot easier to make than a lazy piece in standard notation. However, a properly done tab shows everything standard notation does and on top of that shows guitar specific techniques and positions that standard notation does not.
Guitars have an unusual position in the music community of being capable of playing lots of chord voicings and lots of dynamic single note parts, which make using a separate method of notation quite logical.
Basics of Guitar Tabs
In guitar tab, each line represents one of the strings, and the number ‘0’ represents playing the open string. Similar to staff notation, the lower pitched strings are at the bottom, and the higher pitched strings are located higher, as seen below.
The E-A-D-G-B-e only applies to standard notation. While the method of how to read guitar tabs is always the same, the notion of using alternative tunings is common in how to play electric guitar. Unless otherwise specified, such as in an online guitar lesson about using an alternative tuning, it is assumed that standard tuning is used.
If a number other than ‘0’ is present, that means to fret the string the number is on and play that note. One thing to note is that it is quite common to pre-fret strings before playing them, but guitar tabs will almost always only show the actual string hits, so that is up to the discretion of the guitarist.
Techniques Shown in Guitar Tab
Probably the most important aspect of guitar tab is the ability to write out all the techniques used in a guitar part. While in many cases this can be done in guitar notation, it can be a little confusing because the same symbol from standard music notation could justifiably used for hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, bend and release, two-hand tapping, and other techniques where multiple notes are played off one pick stroke.
This isn’t confusing for instruments where there is really only one method to slur notes together, but a guitar has multiple ways of doing this. The figure below shows the guitar tab notation of the most common techniques on guitar.
One things that should be noted is that both above figures omit the rhythm notation from the tab. Guitar tab should still have the rhythm indicated, but often this is done separately above the guitar tab, usually in standard notation. A guitarist just needs to be able to distinguish the note values in order to know how to read guitar tab rhythm values.
Rhythm is an important aspect of how to play electric guitar that is often overlooked in guitar tab, but can allow someone who has never heard a song to pick up the music and play it perfectly. In addition, note values are important in many practice exercises in online guitar lessons, so being familiar with reading rhythm values is quite important. It is possible to directly write the rhythm notation on a guitar tab, but this can be quite cluttered and harder to read for more complex guitar parts and most professional guitar tabs include the rhythm separately in standard notation.