Beginners Guide: How to Read Guitar Tabs

How to Read Guitar TabsMedia

The guitar tab is a visual representation of the guitar fret board and its strings. The notes are shown by numbers which indicate on which string they should be played and on what fret. This guide will help you understand how to read guitar tablature in just under 10 minutes. Here is our guide on how to read guitar tabs for beginners. Enjoy.

The Basics

How to Read Guitar Tabs

Tabs are represented in lines that indicate each string on the guitar. At the bottom you will find the thickest string (the one used for bass notes) and at the top, the thinnest (the one used for higher pitched notes).

The numbers on the lines indicate where you should place your finger on the fret board. The tab below shows that you should put your finger on the 5th string (second thickest), on the 2nd fret. Translated into musical notes, these will read as B B B C# B A. A “zero” written on a tab means that you should play that particular string open. In this example, you will play the A string without your finger on it.

How to Read Guitar Tabs


Chords are written in a vertical line on the tab. The chord below is a C. To play the C Chord, you will have to strum the 5 bottom strings in one movement.

How to Read Guitar Tabs

Below, the tab indicates that the C Chord should be played three times.

How to Read Guitar Tabs

Guitar tabs, however, aren’t very detailed and most of the times won’t describe rhythm all that well or tell you for how long you should hold a note. Good tab writers do represent the rhythm and timing by leaving spaces between notes but you should listen to the song you’re trying to learn for guidance. Use the tab just to get the notes right. Below you will find the tab for Day Tripper by the band The Beatles. Notice that there are spaces on the tab which represent where certain notes should played longer than the others.

How to Read Guitar Tabs


Because the numbers on the tab don’t describe the techniques that can be accomplished by a guitar player, there are some symbols that will represent them.


h – hammer on

b – bend strings up

r – release bend

p – pull off

\ – slide down

/ – slide up

t – tap

S – shift slide

s – legato slide

v – vibrato (it’s also written sometimes as ~)

tr – trill

TP- trem. Picking

PM – palm muting

\n/ – tremolo bar dip, where n is the amount to dip

/n\ – tremolo bar inverted dip

n/ – tremolo bar up

\n – tremolo bar down

= – hold bend

o – single note slash

c – muted slash

< > – louder/softer volume


Here are a few examples of how to play some of these techniques.

Hammer On

This technique is achieved by picking a note and hammering on the second one. You don’t pick the second note, it will just echo from the first one. Below you will see an example of hammer ons written on a tab.

How to Read Guitar Tabs

Pull Off

This technique is the opposite of the hammer on. You will have to play the first one and then take the finger off it and let the note behind it echo.


The bend is represented by the letter ‘b’ in a guitar tab and indicates that you should bend the string to give the note a wobbly sound.

Release Bend

This technique is represented by ‘r’ and it’s similar to a bend but indicates when you should stop bending and move to the other note.

Slide Up

The slide up is the symbol ‘/’ in a guitar tab and tells you that you will have to play a note and then slide your finger to the next one.

How to Read Guitar Tabs

Slide Down

This is the opposite of a slide up and it’s represented by ‘\’. This tells you that you should play the first note and then slide down to the one behind it.


Vibrato indicates that you have to bend the string up and down in quick motions to get a vibrato effect. Most of the times, it is represented by the symbols ‘~’ or ‘v’.

How to Read Guitar Tabs


Tapping is similar to hammer on but instead of playing the actual notes, you will just have to tap them.

How to Read Guitar Tabs

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