How to Read Tabs

Looking at sheet music can be really intimidating, and sometimes looking at tabs can be equally confusing. Tabs are very useful for anyone who wants to play a song without having to decode it themselves. I’ve found that practicing with tabs can strengthen your own ability to pick up songs on your own.

What a tab will tell you…

When you look at a tab you’ll see various pieces of information that will be helpful in playing. Generally, writers will include the tuning of a song and the skill level that they perceive a song to be at (Don’t be intimidated by a tab that says its for advanced players – try it out and see!)

  1. Tuning for the song (example EADG is standard; DADG is Drop D; CGCF is Drop C)
  2. The skill level for playing the song
  3. A diagram of the notes on each string
  4. Timing (Always view the timing as a suggestion, most people do not transcribe the exact number of notes correctly, so its a matter of playing the notes to your liking and following what you hear)

Alright, so let’s look at the various pieces of a tab.


Highlighted in purple you have the strings. EADG means that this tab is in standard tuning. Keep in mind, tabs will be written with the E string at the bottom rather than at the top as it is on your bass. Think of the tab as a mirror of your bass. 

In blue, you have the time stamp. This is a reference point for the beginning of the bass – this helps if the songs have bass lines with timing that is difficult to identify. 

In green, you have the frets to be played on each string. For the sake of this tab, it means that at 39 seconds into the song, you will play the 7th fret, then the open string (no frets), followed by the 7 and so on…

It’s that simple! Take your time when learning a new song, and remember that practicing slow and building up to the speed of the original song is the best way to ensure that you learn the song correctly. Trying to jump into a song and missing notes will lead you to frustration and sloppy playing. 

Here are a few other symbols that you may run into as you play:

s – an s after a fret generally means that the note is slapped. (Always refer to the key provided on the tab though, because the writer may intend the letters to mean something else)

p – generally means that the note is played by popping the string. 

x – if you see an x standing alone, this will be a muted note (no frets are held, and the strings are muted so that the only result is a clacking, rattling percussion sort of noise) – this can be used to accompany drums and to fill in the gaps where notes are not played. 



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