How to read Guitar TAB

How to Read Guitar TAB

Learning to read TAB is pretty essential if you’re learning anything beyond basic open chords. Treat it like a mobile phone ‘Text’ speak. You’ll be able to read it once you understand the symbols and the slang. Lets take a look..

Like chord diagrams, TAB is displayed upside down to your guitar, the thinnest string is on the top and the thickets is at the bottom. Any numbers written on these lines mean play that number fret on that string!

Lead Guitar in TAB

The first lead line I teach my beginner students is Yellow by Coldplay. As its a single string lead line, we have to use TAB to write it down. The first note of the sequence is 16th fret on the high E string. Here’s how it is written.

Yellow TAB

Here’s how the whole lead line is written down. The note at the 16th fret is played 13 times, with the 14th fret played 3 times straight after. This entire line is repeated 3 times in each chorus.


As TAB alone does not show any rhythm, I’ve also written the rhythm on the stave directly above. This can help, but if that currently means nothing to you- listen to the original song and play it like you hear it! Its fine! :)

Arpeggios (chords played one string at a time)

Here’s each string of a D chord played one at a time. When the numbers are above each other, strum them all togther. When they are seperate like this, they are played one at a time.


This is similar to the intro to Everybody Hurts by REM, which you can see here because I’m nice :)

Power Chords

Here’s how a G power chord is written.


Palm Muting (chuggs)

Heres a whole bar of the same G power chord, picked 8 times and palm muted, Rock!



Vibrato (short quick string bending) is either written with a ‘~~~~~’ or a ‘v’. Heres the 3rd fret on the G (3rd) string with vibrato!


String Bends

This can be written 2 ways. In this example your 3rd finger will be on the 7th fret of the G (3rd) string.

The first example has a ‘b’ for ‘bend’, the (9) which means bend this not to the sound of the 9th fret.

The second example says to bend the note up 1 ‘whole step’, which is two frets so that’s the same thing!