How To Read Guitar Tabs For Beginners

Learning how to read guitar tabs is a very handy skill for beginner guitar students. I personally teach guitar tablature to my beginner guitar students because I find it helps them get into playing music so much faster than standard notation reading. Keep reading to learn more about reading guitar tab. There is a video presentation at the bottom.

How To Read Guitar Tabs Lesson

Guitar tablature (referred to as TAB) is a way to read music without having to know how to read proper musical notation. It is very commonly used to show picking patterns, riffs and melodies and uses a number coordinate system. So think of it as a map of your guitar fretboard.

Below is a tab excerpt from the song Ode To Joy.


Tab looks like the neck of your guitar except the opposite of what you would think. The thick string (6) is on the bottom and the thin string is on the top (1)

In tab, the number represents the fret number NOT the finger number. A “0” indicates that you play the string open without fretting the neck of the guitar.

In Ode To Joy, the first note is the number 0 on the first or bottom string (E). So you would play the first string without fretting it. The second note is also a “0” so you would play the bottom string open again. Then, the third note is a 1 on the bottom string, so you would play the 1st fret on the bottom string followed by the 3rd fret on the same string.

So the first 4 notes in the song are all on the first string in the order of 0, 0, 1, 3.

If you look at the 8th note in the song, you will see the number 3 again, but this time it is played on the 2nd string instead of the first. So the first 8 notes of Ode To Joy are fretted as follows:

First String: 0, 0, 1, 3, 3, 1, 0 Second String: 3

Right now, we are not worrying about the rhythm, timing or what notes we are actually playing, but rather focusing on the basics of reading guitar tablature.

You can click on the video lesson below for a visual explanation of tablature.