Before attempting to drive to unknown location, you would use a map or sat nav which gives you instructions for how to get there. When you are building flat pack furniture, you refer to the instructions explaining the steps for how to do it. In guitar music, when learning something new, you need instructions too. The instructions you need can be found in the form of guitar tablature.

In this lesson I will be showing you the essential basics of reading guitar tablature. First, we will look at the standard layout used for guitar tablature.

1||-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------||(top string - furthest away from you)
6||-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------||(bottom string - nearest to you)

Each horizontal line represents each string of a guitar. The bottom line/string is the lowest (thickest) string of a guitar (string 6), the top line is the highest (thinnest) string of a guitar (string 1), and the other lines in between simply represent the remaining strings (strings 2, 3, 4 and 5).

Each vertical line represents the start/end of each bar (bar lines) and the spaces in between are where you will find the instructions. Bars and bar lines are are almost like the commas of a written sentence: they allow a player to pace the piece of music he is playing, like the commas allow a reader time to breathe whilst reading. Each double vertical line can either represent the start/finish of an entire piece of music, or the start/finish of a section within a piece of music. If bar lines are like musical commas, then double bar lines are like musical full stops. They can be used when one musical idea ends and another begins, for example: at the end of a verse and start of a chorus. We will now look in more detail at how the strings of a guitar are represented using tablature.



Each zero tells the player that they should play the string without placing any of their fingers on any of the fret spaces. This is known as playing the string/strings ‘open’. The letters that appear before the first double bar line (EADGBe) are the names of the notes that each string makes when they are played open. So then the lowest string when played open will make a low (E) note, the string above will make an (A) note and the highest string will make a high (e) note, which is often represented with a lowercase letter instead of an uppercase letter to show that it makes a higher sound than the low (E) string.It is helpful to make up sentences that are constructed using words that begin with the letters of each string, such as: Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big ears (EADGBe). These sentences can be used as memory aids. We will now look at how the frets of a guitar are represented using tablature.


Each number tells the player that they should play the string, using an appropriate finger to hold down the string in the fret space indicated. The fret space between the nut of the guitar and the first fret is shown as the number 1, the space between the first fret and the second fret is shown as the number 2 and so on. To achieve the best sound, the string should be held down just behind the fret closet to your picking hand.

Finally, I should explain that on a musical stave there are many symbols used to give extra information to the player on how to play the piece of music. These symbols are not displayed when using tablature, however, for the benefit of the players, this extra information may be written in instead. Below are the brief definitions of some of the basic extra information that may be provided to the players.

Tempo – is the speed of the music; indicates the type and number of beats per minute.

Time Signature – is the pulse of the music; indicates the type and number of beats per bar.

Key Signature – is the tone of the music; indicates the essential notes that will be used during the piece. The terms written above will be dealt with in greater detail and with examples of each type as the appear in future lessons. The instructions given in this lesson on how to read music cover the essential basics of reading tablature. A greater knowledge and understanding of tablature symbols and directions will be required for more advanced playing and these will also be covered in future lessons.

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