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Tablature Notation:

The most populuar form of music notation for guitar is TAB, or "tablature". It is more effective than standard musical notation in describing how to perform specific actions on the instrument. Most guitarists learn to play using tab notation. All modern guitar publications typically include tab and standard notation.  Music reading is covered in other lessons on this site, because it is helpful in building musical skill and understanding; but, most professional rock, blues, and jazz guitarists never learn how to read standard music notation. All players should be familiar with tab notation, as it is the most effective and popular way to communicate musical actions on the instrument.

Below is a blank TAB staff:

  • Numbers Represent Frets
  • Lines Represent Strings

The six lines of the staff represent the six strings on the guitar.  The top line of the staff represents the 1st (thinnest) string on the guitar.  The bottom line represents the 6th (thickest) string.  So, tab lines are upside down in relation to the physical strings on a guitar.

Numbers are placed on the staff to indicate frets which should be pressed down and plucked - 0 means "open", or without any fingers on the string. A number 5 on the top line, for example, means play the 5th fret on the first (thinnest) string. (Reread this paragraph until you understand it - if you understand this, you can read virtually any publication for guitar).

Here is the melody "Mary Had A Little Lamb" written in tab:

Notes aligned vertically in tab (written on top of each other) are meant to be played together.  Pick out each of the notes in any vertical stack of tab numbers, and play them together. Combinations of three or more notes such as this are called "chords".  The following notes in tab are the same as the corresponding chord diagrams below:


Other Notation Symbols Used in Tablature:

Along with tab, the examples in these lessons will also include standard music notation for those who know how to use it. Tab notation is typically beamed together with staves of standard notation to form a "system" of two staves that represent the exact same music, alligned vertically. This is done because tab generally does not provide any rhythmic (beat) information. By including standard notation staves directly above the tab notation, the rhythmic values of the tabbed notes can be defined (refer to the lesson on Reading Music for a complete explanation of standard rhythm notation).

Below are some important symbols, such as formal directives (repeat signs, codas, etc.) and articulation marks, which are used in tab (all markings not included below are covered in the Reading Music lesson):

4/4, 3/4, etc. "time signature" -  Placed at the beginning of a song, the top number indicates the number of beats per measure.  The bottom number indicates the type of note which should recieve one beat.

Repeat Sign - Repeat all of the enclosed music one time:


D.S. al fine ("dal segno") - Go back to the spot in the (segno symbol) song marked by the segno symbol, and play until you get to the word "fine"

"D.C. al fine" ("da capo") - Go back to the beginning of the song, and play until you get to the word "fine".

Coda - Jump to the spot in the song marked by the second coda symbol (usually after a D.C. or a repeat).

The examples in each of the lessons on this site contain a large variety of music to practice reading tablature and music notation. Below are several examples to provide simple practice material. Listen to the recordings and try to emulate the sounds in your playing.

Copyright 2004-2005 Nick Antonaccio. All rights reserved.