Tablature the basics

Tablature: The Basics of Playing

If you have just begun your journey in mastering an instrument, you are not alone. Instrument sales soared during the pandemic, with more people buying first-time guitars than ever before.

If you want to make sure your new musical pursuit becomes more than just a passing hobby, you’ll want to learn the art of tablature. Reading tab music is essential for anyone who is serious about their music and wants to turn a hobby into a lifelong passion and talent.

Sheet music might look scary at first, but anyone can learn it in no time. If you’re learning how to play guitar (or any instrument), read our two-minute explainer to learn the essentials of tablature. 

Tablature Layout

The first step in learning tablature is to get to grips with the layout of your guitar tabs. Most often, you will see the tab itself on the bottom and the standard notation on the top.

The six horizontal lines that cut across the sheet represent the six guitar strings. Therefore, the top line indicates the high E string, while the bottom line indicates the low E string.

Once you have purchased the correct beginner guitar, you should spend a little bit of time getting familiar with the strings before you read your first tabs. 

If you need an additional tip on how to play tab, just remember that the top line represents the thinnest string on the guitar.

Learn Your Numbering

Before you’re able to play easy tab songs, the first thing you need to nail down is the tab numbering system. Without this, it will be impossible to read tab music in any format. Fortunately, all you need to remember is the three number systems, which are: 


This numbers the open strings on your guitar. The first string is the thinnest string and the sixth (final) string is the thickest one. 


These are those thin metal strips that run along the guitar’s neck. If you are a right-handed guitar player, the strip to your far-left is the “first” fret on the tab.

The one after this is the second fret, and so on, and so forth. This is essential to keep in mind when you are ready to learn your scales and your chords. 


As the name suggests, this is a number system for the fingers on whichever hand you use to fret the guitar.

Your “first” finger is always your index finger, while your second is the middle finger. Meanwhile, the third finger is your ring finger, and the fourth (final) finger is your pinky finger. 

Notes and Chords

Finally, it’s time to get to grips with your notes and chords. The numbers on the tablature sheet indicate which fret to put your fingers on. You should always read these in chronological order from left to right.

Your notes are the singular numbers along the tablature, which represent the melody itself. Meanwhile, any stacked (vertical) numbers on the tablature represent the chords

Find Your Music Inspiration Today 

Once you have got to grips with tablature, you are ready to shred! It might seem tough at first, but even a small amount of daily practice will allow you to master tablature in no time.

If you’re getting better and need some music inspiration to play, we have got you covered. Make sure to read our in-depth Music Reviews to find the perfect tracks to hone your talents. 

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