How to Read Guitar Tablature

Guitar tablature (also called "tab"), is a form of music notation which indicates notes on specific strings and frets on the guitar. Tablature is one of the oldest forms of music notation for stringed instruments, and is very intuitive to learn. This page will teach you everything you need to know to read guitar tablature.

What does Tablature Look Like?

In guitar tablature, there are six evenly spaced horizontal lines, with numbers written on them.

The word TAB, written on the left side of each row, indicates tablature notation. Sometimes, a time signature and bar lines are added to the tablature as well, but this is not common.

Reading Tablature

Read guitar tablature from left to right, like reading a book.

Each number on the tablature represents a specific note on the guitar. The lines and numbers together indicate exactly which string and fret you should play.

Tablature Lines

Each tablature line represents one of the six strings of the guitar. The top line represents the 1st string, followed by the 2nd string, and so on:

When you see a number written on one of these lines, that indicates which string you should play.

  • Number on 1st Line (Top) = Play 1st Guitar String
  • Number on 2nd Line = Play 2nd Guitar String
  • Number on 3rd Line = Play 3rd Guitar String
  • Number on 4th Line = Play 4th Guitar String
  • Number on 5th Line = Play 5th Guitar String
  • Number on 6th Line (Bottom) = Play 6th Guitar String

Tablature Numbers

While the lines indicate which guitar string to play, the numbers indicate which guitar fret to play on that specific string:

  • 0 = Play Open String
  • 1 = Play 1st Guitar Fret
  • 2 = Play 2nd Guitar Fret
  • 3 = Play 3rd Guitar Fret
  • 4 = Play 4th Guitar Fret
  • etc...

Note: The number 0 means to play the open string, without placing any fingers on that string.


So, if you see the number 3 written on the 1st line in tablature, that means to play the third fret of the first string.

Or if you see a number 0 written on the 4th line in tablature, that means to play the open 4th string.

Tablature Chords

When multiple numbers are stacked horizontally in tablature, this indicates that you should play the notes simultaneously (as a chord).

For instance, if you see 0 on the 1st line, a 2 on the 4th line, this means to play the open first string and the second fret of the fourth string simulataneously.

Tablature Rhythm

In modern tablature notation, there is no clear way to notate rhythm. You can approximate the rhythm by looking at horizontal spacing of the numbers. Most people figure out tablature rhythm by ear, because they are already familiar with the piece.

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