Tablature is a kind of “musical shorthand” that has been around since the 14th century. All modern guitar players should make themselves familiar with reading it because it’s the easiest way to convey melodies and chords. To start reading tab, you’ll need to know the string and fret numbers.
*Remember that your Low E is the thickest string- High E is the thinnest. The bigger the string number, the bigger the string…
If the orientation is confusing, try laying your guitar down in your lap with the strings facing your chin.
TAB is as easy as reading a sentence from left to right. All we need to do is determine what string and fret to play.
Low E STRING (6th)
We already know how the strings are laid out- the numbers placed on the lines (strings) tell us what frets to play. In this simple example we start off playing the 6th string/1st fret, 6th string/2nd fret, 6th string/3rd fret, 6th string/4th fret and finally 6th string/5th fret.
Notice how all the fret numbers were on the same line (the 6th string). You can look at this example and immediately see that we are only using the Low E string.
*How would you annotate an open string? With a 0 (zero). Think of it as “playing no frets” on that string. Some of my students find it easier to think of the zero as the letter O as in Open string.
Let’s try reading another example incorporating open strings and the other five strings.
Try to visualize TAB like you are connecting dots from left to right:
*Just remember that numbers will switch to different lines, BUT THEY ALWAYS READ LEFT TO RIGHT!!!
Can you write out chords with TAB? Sure, but just remember that the L-R movement is a reference for elapsed time. Single notes happen one at a time, but chords hit several notes at one time. To show that the notes occur simultaneously, they need to occur in the same “frame” in time. We notate this by stacking the numbers of the chord in a vertical line.
The example above has you playing a common Em chord at the beginning and end. Because the numbers of the chord are stacked upon each other, they occur simultaneously.
If you see a collective of numbers stacked vertically, you know that you will be playing several notes at once- but just think of that group as just one more number in the Left to Right progression.
TAB does have many benefits (easy to read & write, plenty of TABS available online, etc.), but it does have a few major drawbacks. For one thing, we have no idea how long any of these notes are held. Most melodies have certain notes held longer for emphasis. TAB alone has no way to express this. If I handed you TAB from a song you have never heard, it would be impossible for you to get it right rhythmically.
Standard notation (sheet music) shows us the duration of each note you play, along with the note itself. It is common practice in modern guitar books to have Standard guitar notation with TAB printed directly below. The note values are aligned vertically with their respective TAB numbers so that, with a basic study of note values, you should have a pretty good idea of how long to hold each note.
(*Later on you will find that TAB can contain more advanced information on technique, fingering and phrasing. You can find out more on the TAB GLOSSARY PAGE).
***Disclaimer-I apologize in advance to any and all LEFT-handed guitarists out there, but all my diagrams and videos are oriented for Right-handed players (players who use their right hands to pick). All of the information is still valid for lefties, but you will have to visualize a “mirror-image” for many of the graphics.
As a beginner, your fretting hand needs to perform the lion’s share of the work. The earlier you work on correct mechanics,the better. Don’t be overwhelmed by trying to remember all of these suggestions at once; concentrate on one or two points at first. After your hands “remember” these mechanics you can move on to others.
Making contact between the string and the fret is the key to producing a clean sound. If we make constant clean contact, the note will sustain as long as the string vibrates. If the pressure is removed, the note will die out. On a properly set up guitar, it shouldn’t take much finger pressure to make the connection. You should experiment to find the least amount of pressure it takes to produce a tone. Exerting too much pressure is fatiguing and could possibly pull the note out of tune on higher profile frets. Here are some helpful hints to perfect your fretting hand:
when fretting a note, get as close to the body side of the fret space as you can without physically touching the wire- touching the wire will mute the note.
keep your fingers straight with the fret wires- this will increase your stretch.
your palm doesn’t need to squeeze around the neck. Use only the fingers you need (with your thumb applying opposite pressure) to produce sounds. If you try to grip too close, you limit your stretch and cramp your hand.
don’t keep your elbow tucked into your torso- this pulls your hand out of position and hinders your ability to move up and down the neck fluidly.
Here are some easy exercises to help you with your technique:
This first example uses all four fingers of your left hand to cover a 4 fret block. Each finger will cover one specific fret across the guitar. In this case, our index plays the 5th fret, middle plays 6th, ring plays 7th and pinky plays the 8th fret. Imagine yourself drumming your fingers on a desk (from index to pinky).
* Don’t be afraid to experiment with any and all exercises. Why not try playing EX.1 starting from a higher /lower fret while maintaining the same shape?
This exercise uses the Low E (6th) string exclusively, but you should also try it on the other five strings. You will still use one finger per fret like EX.1, but now our “four-finger block” will ascend up the neck- one fret at a time. (*NOTE that whenever you hear terms like “ascending”, “up” or “higher” it means that we are headed towards the body of the guitar).
Hopefully you’ve already read the “GUITAR PICKS” article, because we’re going to begin this lesson with picking.
Q: “What’s the best way to hold your pick?”
A: The ideal way would be to hold it between your index and thumb, with the point of the pick aiming at the body.
* try holding the pick in the center-it’ll give you more control.
Your picking hand should be “anchored” when playing scales and single-note passages. This just means that your hand should be sitting on the bridge (or Low E string) of the guitar. Don’t try using your pinky to hold up your picking hand. It’s just plain wrong and other guitar players will point at you and laugh.
And NEVER try to play single note runs using what I call the “Claw Machine” technique. This is when a guitarist tries to play with their hand suspended in mid-air.
When strumming chords, your hand should move freely across the strings.
holding the pick, fingerstyle, “clawing”, RH tapping. pinch harmonics? CAR PICKUP SUV!!!!
downstrokes, up strokes, down up/up down, alternate picking, try playing each note 3X dud/udu