How to Play Guitar Tabs

Guitar tabs are a quick way to learn the notes played in a guitar. In this article, you will learn how to play guitar tabs.

While not providing the same information as traditional sheet music, guitar tabs are popular because they show directly how to play the notes in the guitar strings.

Guitar Tabs Compared to Traditional Notation

For example, in traditional notation you need to learn the notes of a key. In the case of C major, you need to learn the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Then, you need to learn how to play these notes in the guitar.

But in the guitar you can play the same note in more than one location. When this happens, you need to somehow indicate the fingering used. All this gets complicated, and guitar players have a hard time learning how to play from traditional sheet music.

Guitar Tabs Advantage

Then, you have guitar tabs. The main advantage is that you don’t need to known anything about music notation and theory to use guitar tab. For example, you don’t need even to know the names of the notes.

The only thing you need to use a guitar tab is to recognize where to put your fingers in each of the 6 strings. This is all that the guitar tabs are concerned about.

As long as you can make the movements to press on strings in each fret, you can start using guitar tabs. You just need understand that the numbers represent the fret (counting from the headstock), and the lines represent the guitar strings.

Guitar Tabs Disadvantages

But using guitar tabs is not aways just flowers. There are some disadvantages in using this method.

The main problem is that guitar tabs don’t show note durations. Unlike traditional notation, you have to guess the duration. There are more complex versions of guitar tabs that show note duration, but using that is almost as complex as using traditional notation.

Another problem is exactly the fact that you don’t need to known anything about notes to use tabs. This means that many players who use tabs don’t have a good idea where notes are in the instrument (where is G, Bb, or F#?).

There is also the fact that in traditional notation it is very clear what is the key of the song, when a note is natural or an accident, and so many interesting information that is lost in a guitar tab.

Finally, there is the issue that guitar tabs are unique to the guitar. You can not take a guitar tab and play in a piano, for example. On the other hand, traditional music notation can be used with any instrument: guitar, piano, trumpet, it doesn’t matter. It is a better investment to learn a music notation that can be  used with different instruments.


Using guitar tabs is a great resource to learn new songs. However, it is important to understand the limitations. If you want to become a professional musician, the best is to know both traditional music notation, as well as guitar tabs, so that you can profit from both.

Additional Resources

Here are some resource to learn how to play guitar tabs:

Free Guitar Lessons Online
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