How To Read Guitar TAB

Understand how to read Guitar TAB - the most commonly used way to write music for guitar!

View the full lesson at How To Read Guitar TAB | JustinGuitar

Looking at TABs across the internet I have found a lot of differing notations. Many I have been able to find in reference tables but here is one I have not been able to run down: What does a lower case b stand for. i.e. 15b15b15b ?

It usually means bend but would be written 15b 16
Meaning bend to 16

That is what I thought but without a bend parameter I wasn’t sure. I am used to seeing bends as an arrow, up or down, with a 1/2 or full designation. Could the 15b15b15b indicate a bend less than 1/2? Would that even sound good?

If it’s a blues it may be a 1/4 bend. What song is it?
Can you post that part of the tab?

Thanks for the prompt replies, Stitch. It is much appreciated. The song is For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield. The tab I was inquiring about was one an individual had put together in an attempt to blend the 3 guitars together to be played by a single guitar. I looked at the Tab for the song on this site and found that the guitars use bends of !/4, 1/2 and full, both up and down. Definitely going to take some time to sort the various riffs and try to work them into a piece played by a single musician. In the future I will look at Justin’s tabs first!

This question doesn’t relate to any of Justin’s theory course. I hope I’ve posted in the right place?

I know I have the answers to my questions somewhere in my brain, but the librarian is out to lunch right now.

I have Justin’s Rhythm Reading and can’t find the answer there.

What are the notations circled in red and arrowed? I think it’s timing, perhaps like dotted notes/ties for fingerstyle, a way of writing 1 + etc ? The wiggly line, can’t remember at all.


@Richard_close2u Richard you’ve sent me orf on another trajectory after the discoveries in the last one.


Hi Maggie. Consider the markings under each bar first. These are a representation of what would appear in standard notation as vertical lines of the stave. Bars 1 and 2 have the exact same. Two vertical markers connected by a single beam are eighths. A stand alone vertical is a quarter. A dot means the note(s) are increased in length by half of the indicated duration. In these two bars are:
a] two eighths connected by a beam
b] an eighth
c] a dotted quarter
d] a quarter
I have written bar two out in standard notation with TAB in Guitar Pro. I have placed it above your TAB. I have also written some annotations to help make sense of it.

Take this analysis and you can see that Bar 3 is four pairs of eighths then bar 4 is three pairs of eighths then a quarter.

As for the other question, the squiggly-wiggle wibbly-wobbly indicates that those notes are played with some slight, steady fretting-hand vibrato added. Guitar Pro shows it in a similar manner.

For vibrato applied with a whammy bar, Guitar Pro has a different style of graphic.

Hope that helps.


Sorry I put the question in the wrong place, didn’t use the right keywords in my search. Thankyou for sorting that out.

Oooh Richard what a thorough, clearly explained, brain satisfying response. :star_struck: Thankyou and thank you for the time it’s taken to put this together and share it. The standard notation makes sense in its familiar way. I’ve copied your tutorial into my note book. I’m also going to write out a couple of bars in the style you have so generously shared to help it stick.

I hope you are finding resolution to the recent ending, and that far better opportunities are opening up for you.

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This comment in the text seem completely backwards!
“ Here’s another way to think about it. A tab stave shows the guitar strings as you’re looking down on them when you’re playing. :)”
In tab the top line is the 1st string, the thinnest string….but when I play my guitar, I’m looking down at the strings and the first string is the thickest string!

What am I missing?

Welcome to the forum James
When you look down at the fret board the first string you
see is indeed the E (6th) string, the lowest in tone.
When you look at tab the lowest line represents the E (6th)
the lowest on the stave.
This is also why when you play the notes going towards the
body it’s going up the neck because the notes are going up
in pitch.

Hello @jtoomeyj and welcome to the Community.

Were you to take a print out of TAB and place it flat on a desk, then place your guitar flat on the desk in the manner you play it, with you sitting at the desk, both would have the low E / thickest / 6th string nearest to you. The orientation of the TAB will not always be flat depending on whether you read it on a computer screen, a music stand or other. But the same principle applies regardless of the orientation.

Hope that helps.
Cheers :smiley:

| Richard_close2u | JustinGuitar Official Guide

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Trust @Richard_close2u to put this in such a simple and succinct way. :+1:

I don’t know why but I could understand TAB right from the off and I can’t remember how I reconciled it in my head. I think I thought in terms of pitch with the bottom line being the lowest, top line being the highest. But to try and explain it to someone who saw the contradiction I found it hard to make it simple for them lol

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