Guitar Specific Notation: Tablature - dummies

By Hal Leonard Corporation, Jon Chappell, Mark Phillips, Desi Serna

Tablature staff (called “tab” for short) is sometimes added to the standard notation staff for guitar players. Tablature is a six-line staff that represents the guitar fretboard. Note that each line represents a string of the guitar, with the top line corresponding to the 1st (high-E) string and the bottom line corresponding to the 6th (low-E) string.

A number on a line provides the fret location for that note. (Tablature doesn’t tell you which finger to use, but you may be able to get that information from the standard music staff.)


Remember from earlier that all musicians have to be able to understand the symbols of standard music notation and then relate them to their instrument? Tablature skips that step! The good news is, you can use tab right away, with no previous experience in reading music.

The bad news is, tab is more limited than standard music notation. For one thing, it works only for guitar, so it doesn’t teach you the more universal skill of reading music, and it doesn’t indicate rhythm.

Tab does, however, work very well in conjunction with the standard music staff. All the notes in the tab staff align vertically with the notes appearing above in the standard music staff. If you’re ever unsure as to where to play a note appearing in the music staff, all you need to do is shoot your eyes straight down to the corresponding string-and-fret location in the tab staff.

Conversely, if you find yourself in the tab staff and you’re uncertain of what’s supposed to be happening with regard to rhythms or rests, take a quick trip uptown to see how that passage is displayed in the music staff. Check out how the notes on the standard music notation staff relate to the tab staff and vice versa.


Tab staffs aren’t traditional for classical guitarists (and may cause some classical guitar purists to raise an eyebrow). That being said, having the additional tab staff accompanying the music staff doesn’t hurt anything. Providing as many ways as possible to get you playing the guitar is a good thing.