Beginner Music Theory tutorials
5. Musical tabs
av_timer2 minute read

So many meanings for the word tabs in this world...and you're telling me there's another one?

  1. Topics of discussion
  2. Musical tabs explained

1. Topics of discussion

This tutorial is dedicated to the concept of musical tabs, which is another way in which music is written, though a tad more specific than musical sheets. So, let's have some fun.

2. Musical tabs explained

Last time we talked about musical sheets and how they can be used for any instrument.

Musical tabs on the other hand are specific to only one class of instruments: guitars (acoustic, electric or bass). That's why more often than not you'll find them referred to as guitar tabs or tabs (usually preceded by a song name).

A guitar tab is somewhat similar in look to a musical staff, but the way it works is very different. We once again have a set of lines, but rather than drawing notes like you would on a sheet, when it comes to guitar tabs we are going to use numbers to represent notes...or rather a position on the instrument fretboard (the area where you apply pressure with your fingers on the strings in order to produce different notes).

One thing that both tabs and sheets have in common though is that whenever you see two numbers on a tab on top of each other it means those two strings need to be played simultaneously on your instrument.

The idea behind a musical tab is that for each string of an instrument you have a separate line in the tab. For example, if you have a regular guitar tab, it will consist of 6 strings and will look something like this:


That is a tab representation of the C major chord on a guitar.

So let's take a little bit of time and describe just what we have there. First off, a standard guitar has 6 strings and the notes you see in the left part of the tab correspond to the standard guitar tuning. In the example above, the strings are ordered from thinnest to thickest and the standard tuning notes for each string are, in order, E4, B3, G3, D3,
A2 and E2.

And with regards to the numbers, they represent the position (or fret) that needs to be pressed on each string. Here is a visual representation of the chord above on a fretboard (props to the guys at Guitar Master Class for their scale generator tool):

C Chord

As you can see, 0 means that the string is open, meaning we just need to play it as is, while for the others we use our fingers on the 1st fret of the B string, the 2nd fret of the D string and the 3rd fret of the A string.

And yeah, that's really all there is with regards to the basics of tabs. During these tutorials we will mostly be using musical sheets so as to not confuse you.

That's about it for this tutorial. Next time we're going to start looking into the various different aspects of music, starting with note lengths. See you then.

No comments yet...