Guitar 101: How to Read Guitar Tabs

What are Guitar Tabs?

It may surprise some people but Musical Tablature has been around since the Renaissance and was common during that period and the subsequent Baroque period. During the age of the internet, tabs have again come strongly into vogue due to the ease of which guitar tabs lend themselves to being shared online with just typing instead of standard notation. You would need specialised music software to type up computer files in standard notation, whereas guitar tabs can be produced with just simple numbers and lines.

The Lines

Guitar Tabs have six lines, to correspond with the six strings of your guitar. The low E string (bass string) corresponds with the bottom line and the high E (thinnest string) corresponds the top line. The other strings fall in line in their respective spaces. The music moves left to right, just like standard music notation so you follow the notes sequentially.

The Number System

Now that we have the strings out of the way, we can talk about the numbers on these lines. These numbers refer to the frets on a particular string. So as an example, if you see a 3 on the top line, it means you play the third fret on the high E string.

Playing Chords

To read a guitar chord in Tablature, it would follow the system above. For instance, if you wanted to play a G chord, it would look like this:








Putting It All Together

Now you know how to locate and play notes and chords, it should all fall into place. Much like standard music notation, guitar tabs are read from left to right and follow in that sequential fashion.

The Drawbacks of Tabs

The system of guitar tablature clearly has its weaknesses. For one, it lacks the ability to notate rhythms easily so you are left guessing how to rhythmically play the notes that you see. In addition, finger numbers are also missing so you would need to infer from the position of the notes on the fretboard to choose which of your fingers to use.


It’s easy to see why guitar tabs have become so popular. Ease of typing and the visual acuity it creates are some of the strengths that it has to helping new guitar players and even advanced players who want to quickly check notes. We hope this tutorial has been helpful and just remember, guitar tabs are not the final solution but a useful tool in music education.