How to read Tablature

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Tablature is a form of music notation designed specifically for fretted instruments such as the Irish Bouzouki. Tablature is regarded as one of the quickest methods for teaching people how to play music. The word tablature is normally shortened to just TAB.

How to:

Figure 1 shows two forms of music notation (standard notation and tablature). The highlighted section is the tablature and understanding how to read this information will be the focus of the lesson.

Standard Notation & Tablature
Figure 1: Standard Notation & Tablature

To read tablature you have to picture that you are looking directly down on the strings of the instrument. Every string of the instrument is represented by a horizontal line. Instruments that have 4 strings (2 sets of 4) such as the Irish Bouzouki or Mandolin are represented by 4 horizontal lines.

Figure 2 shows the direction that the strings are read. In this example every horizontal line is labelled with the name of the string in standard tuning.

String Direction
Figure 2: String Direction

Numbers presented along the horizontal line instructs you of what fret to play. In Figure 3 the highlighted note is the number 0 (open string). As the horizontal line corresponds to the G string this means that you play an open G string to play this highlighted note.

Single Note & Open String
Figure 3: Single Note & Open String

Figure 4 highlights a section that shows how to play two notes at the same time. Numbers that are presented directly above and below each other mean they are played simultaneously. The highlighted section instructs you to play the 2nd fret of the D string and the open G string.

More Than One Note
Figure 4: More Than One Note

The highlighted section in Figure 5 shows how to play a note on every string at the same time. Doing this results in a chord. For this the G and D string are played open while the A string is fretted at 2nd fret and the E string is the 3rd fret. Strumming all the strings in a swift motion causes them to ring simultaneously. This produces a G Major chord.

Full Chord
Figure 5: Full Chord

Figure 6 is a series of single notes played in order. This actually performs the G Major scale. Information about chords and scales will be provided in future lessons.

Playing Through A Scale
Figure 6: Playing Through A Scale


Tablature (TAB) presents each string of an instrument on a horizontal line and instructs the musician of which fret to play by placing numbers along those horizontal lines. The thickest and lowest pitched string is at the bottom of the tablature while the thinnest and highest pitched string is at the top. Notes that are directly above and below each other on the horizontal line are played simeltaneously.

While not showcased in this lesson tablature is also able represent (using symbols) a variety of techniques along the horizontal lines such as sliding between notes, hammer-ons and pull-offs, trills and bends.