Guitar TAB is short for "tablature." It is a unique form of music note reading for guitar. We are going to learn the basics of TAB here. I teach TAB in my guitar classes and we use it almost weekly to learn to read notes and in playing songs.
If you are familiar with sheet music, you already know the concept of "five lines & four spaces". Guitar TAB is different, yet similar at the same time. Instead of lines and spaces, we just have six (6) lines. These lines stand for the six (6) strings of the guitar.
The six strings of the guitar are as follows- (try not to get confused- it's really simple).
1st string- E 2nd string- B 3rd string- G 4th string- D 5th string- A 6th string- E
Be forewarned- when you are viewing guitar music- or even songs in our classes- the "cheat sheet" (string numbers to the LEFT and string names to the RIGHT) will not always be provided. These are shared for your benefit in learning and memorizing the strings. Do your best to put these to memory, so that later, you will not need to keep referring back to these.
Many times, you see the strings listed in REVERSE order (E-A-D-G-B-E) because as you are holding your guitar, the sixth string (low E) is on top, and the first string (high E) is on the bottom. If it helps you, there are a couple of acronyms that we have shared to memorize the names of the strings. Some players may not need these to help, but if you do, here they are.
E- Every A- Angry D- Dog G- Growls & B- Barks at E- Everyone
E- Eddie A- Ate D- Dynamite G- Good B- Bye E- Eddie
Instead of notes (on music lines & spaces), guitar TAB has the notes indicated by fret numbers. If you haven't already learned, the neck of the guitar contains what is called the fretboard, and on the fretboard are the guitar frets. These metal bars separate the guitar into various places for us to finger (or fret) notes. We place our fingers on the fretboard between the various frets to make different pitches. The higher up the string we fret, the greater tension on the string, which produces a higher pitch.
The guitar usually will have around 22 or 23 frets. We are only going to be concerned with the first five (5) frets as we learn to play as beginners. Count the first five frets. You can play each string in each fret. Try playing each note with the same finger as the fret you are playing. 1st fret- 1st finger, 2nd fret- 2nd finger, 3rd fret- 3rd finger, and so on. Keep in mind that at this stage, all of your fingers are probably not as strong or as flexible as the others. Your pinky will probably be the worst of all, because many times, we do not use it as much. Work on getting all of your fingers to be flexible and usable to play.
Here is an exercise that you can learn to play. It is a good exercise to warm up with each and every time that you practice your guitar. Expect that it will be difficult at first. You have to use your fingertips to play the notes on the guitar. It is a bad habit, but most beginners tend to "lay" their finger down to make the notes, instead of using the fingertips. This is made worse if you happen to have long fingernails. Guitar players should trim their nails so that they are able to play with the tips of their fingers.
This exercise should accomplish two things. First of all, it will help you get to know your guitar and its fretboard better. Eventually, I will teach you how to name the notes as you play them. For now, just concentrate on getting a clear tone with each note. You will hear some muting (or muffled tones) in the beginning. This is caused by one of two things- either you are not pressing the string down firmly enough.. or.. you are playing the note too near the fret bar. The second way that this exercise will help you is in exercising your fingers and making them more flexible and your making your fingertips tougher. As you play, you may experience some pain or discomfort in your fingers. The longer you play, the less you will be bothered by this, and eventually, you will begin to stop feeling it at all. Be encouraged- as they say, no pain- no gain!
Start on the sixth (6) string. Don't get confused. Remember- the sixth (6) string is the string on the TOP of the guitar. 0 = "open." This means that you play the string, but you do not use your fingers to fret the note. You play it "open" or unfretted. Then use your first finger, place it in the first fret, play the note, and then move up, ascending one fret and one finger at a time. When you get to the highest note noted (no pun intended), then move up to the next string.
When you get all the way up to the first string, play up to the 4th fret, and then- because we are out of fingers!- slide your pinky finger up to the play the 5th fret. Then if possible, play all of the notes in descending order. As you begin, your note playing will be choppy and sloppy. (this time- pun intended!- you can laugh at me) It will neither sound particularly smooth or soothing to your ears.
This is no piece of cake, but with practice, you should be able to play it fairly well in a few weeks. Keep working at it !
If you have any questions about learning Guitar TAB or about the above exercise, let me know. I will be glad to clarify and answer any questions that you may have.
See you in class !