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How To Read GuitarPort Tab
By John Tapella

Tab (short for tablature) is a system of numbers and lines used to accurately display a piece of music played on the guitar. It appeared as early as the 15th century as an easy method of finger placement for instruments such as the guitar, lute, flute, and keyboard. In the 1960's and early 1970's, there was such a scarcity of tab available for pop music that typically everyone either learned to sight read notation or played by rote. Finally, in the mid '70's some of the first serious rock guitar tab books were released by a company called Green Note. These books came with complete tablature and a plastic audio record covering the styles of Hendrix and Page. This was a major step forward in the guitar industry, as these books were ahead of their time and had guitarists shocked by the innovation.

In 1987 I was hired to write the first legal Stevie Ray Vaughan book in tab. Twenty-five songs in thirty days?! Yeah, right! It took sixty days real time. The first thing I noticed when diving into transcribing was that there was only one type of tab bend mark; there were no tab symbols for vibrato and plenty of other things. So, I went ahead and made them up. Years later I was actually criticized by several transcribers for not following the standard tab rules (for the Vaughan book), rules that had not even been invented yet!

Well, here we go again. GuitarPort is revolutionizing the tab rules, one more time, and making them more accurate and better than ever. We are now including rhythm inside of the tab lines. Sure, this has been done before, but never to this degree of detail. Additionally, the tab is now more accurate and simpler to read. This straightforward tab system is the best on the market with which to learn simple and complex guitar parts or even a Vai or Hendrix song.

One key point worth mentioning is that from time to time, when GuitarPort shows musical notation and/or tab in its window, it has to be slightly modified in order to be clearly read and easily understood. Our viewing window is considerably smaller (for the time being) than conventional manuscript paper, and often "crowded" or "busy" parts that contain many articulation markings may have to be modified. We always try to make the best choice IF we are forced to eliminate or modify any of the musical markings so that it is still easy to read and understand.



Basic Fret and String Placement

There are six lines in tab, looking exactly like a musical five-line staff with one added line. Each line represents a string on the guitar. For conventional tunings, the top line is for the first string (E), the second line the second string (B), down to the sixth line for the sixth string (E) (Example1). Typically, if you have a modified tuning or a different number of strings (say for example a seven-string guitar or a modified Keith Richards five-string guitar) the lines in tab can be altered and identified easily for the user.

 

Tab Lesson

Tab Lesson

The numbers on the tab lines show the fret position. The number 5 tells you that this note is played on the 5th fret of the guitar. If you see a 6, then you play a note on the 6th fret (Example 2). The zero ("0") can be confusing as this is the only number used to show when to play an open string. The open string is played without fretting any notes (Example 3). Now, if you combine the tab line with the number, you get the actual string and fret location to play on your guitar: string 1, fret 5 (Example 4).

 
     
 
     
 
     


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