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Mastering Guitar Tab Notation: Tips and Tricks for Beginner

It should come as no surprise that the guitar is one of the most popular instruments for children to learn. Since it’s used in so many genres like pop and rock, they’ll eventually be able to learn to play their favorite songs. This stands out to kids who don’t want to feel limited to classical music that they don’t know.

Learning Guitar Tab Notation

Mastering guitar tab notation is the first step toward rocking out to Taylor Swift or Coldplay songs. Here, we’re going to talk about reading tablature and how it can help kids learn guitar more easily.

What Is Guitar Tab Notation?

When you think of guitar sheet music, standard notation is likely what immediately comes to mind.

Traditional sheet music uses this music notation that showcases what notes the player is supposed to hit. When a note falls on a bar or space, the reader interprets that note and immediately figures out what part of the guitar they need to strum to play it. 

This has a lot of benefits because it helps kids master where notes are on their fretboards. But it also has the downside of being confusing and intimidating, which can put young ones off playing their guitars. It’s hard, takes a long time, and causes kids to lose interest.

That’s where guitar tab notation comes into play. Unlike standard sheet music, guitar tab notation shows a series of horizontal parallel lines that represent the six guitar strings. They do not represent the notes.

What Is Guitar Tab Notation?

Instead, guitar tab notations have little numbers on each string to show the child where to place their fingers on the fretboard. The numbers correspond to specific fret numbers. The line that the number falls on shows the player what string to hit that fret on. 

For example, you may see the number “2” on the fourth line from the bottom of the guitar tab notations. This means that your child should place their finger on the second fret of the fourth string. It’s simple to read and gets kids playing faster, which makes it a great starting point when they’re anxious to play their favorite songs.

Why Is This Beneficial?

Easy-to-read sheet music is the biggest benefit of guitar tab notation. However, there are several other advantages to guitar tab notation as well, the primary one being that it lends well to independent practice.

The simple nature of guitar tab notation means that kids can learn to play almost anything on their own. Once they get the hang of reading the basic structure, they can look at songs that would be too complex to read on a standard piece of sheet music.

They won’t need to turn to an adult to interpret the notes and their place on the fretboard, which means they can have fun on their own. Accomplishing things independently helps children foster a sense of security and personal satisfaction. It can keep them interested in learning guitar in the long term.

Players can also combine tablature notation with standard notation to get a more well-rounded understanding of the music. They’ll develop an intuitive understanding of what notes correspond to their tabs. This will help them shift to standard notation more easily in the future since they’ll already associate notes with their fretboard.

Asking teachers to help connect the two during private lessons is a great way to get kids started on combining tabs with standard sheet music. They know how to help your child develop as a musician in the long term while still helping them have fun ASAP.

Reading Guitar Tab Sheet Music

The Parts of Guitar Tab Notation

When you look at a tablature, you’ll see six lines stacked on top of each other. As we touched on before, each line represents a string. From top to bottom, those strings are:

  • E
  • B
  • G
  • D
  • A
  • E

Make sure that your child knows which string is which. This isn’t just critical when reading guitar TAB, but it also will help them understand how notes are laid out across the fretboard.

You’ll see the letters T, A, and B going down the six strings.

The T will fall on top of the B string. The A will fall between the space between the G and D strings. The B will be printed on top of the A string.

This isn’t important when reading the music. However, its importance lies in its being an indication that the player is looking at a tablature rather than standard sheet music.

Each of the six strings will also have numbers on them. We talked a bit earlier about how these numbers represent the frets that the player must hit. The frets are the parts of the board that come together to form a note, so the number basically indicates where the player needs to place their fingers to play the piece.

The person reading the music should do so from left to right.

Chords

You will notice that the numbers occasionally stack on top of each other. You might have a 1 on the E string, a 2 on the B string, and another 2 on the G string all at the same time. This is because unlike other instruments, guitars get their sound from chords rather than just singular notes.

Simply put, chords are harmonic pitch sets that consist of multiple notes. Instead of being played in a sequence, the player must hit them simultaneously. Chords are the building block of all guitar songs, including the popular ones that both you and your child love singing along to.

They’re indicated by stacked numbers because they will all be strummed in a single stroke.

Directions

Players can strum chords in two ways.

The first, a downstroke, means that the player will begin strumming on the high E string and work their way down to the low E string. Tab music denotes a downstroke with the symbol Π.

The second, an upstroke, means the player must start their chord on the low E string and work up to the high E. Guitar tab notation shows an upstroke with a ν symbol.

Strumming in both directions is important to making music flow, so make sure that your child is comfortable with both motions.

Ties

A tie is indicated by a sloping line that connects two (or more) same-pitched notes. This means that the player should extend the length of the note or chord that the line moves between.

The player must strike the first note and hold it for the length of the second. There should not be a second strike. They’re played as a single note.

Hammer-Ons

A hammer-on means that the player will slam their finger onto the indicated fret. It works like a hammer, and the strike will cause the guitar to ring without the player even using the picking hand.

In both tab and standard notation, a curved line connects a lower note and a higher note on the sheet music. In guitar tab notation, an H will also often be placed above the highest string to indicate a hammer-on.

Pull-Offs

A pull-off is the opposite technique of a hammer-on. A curved line connects a higher note to a subsequent lower note. This indicates that the player should pull a finger off a string to make a sound without using the picking hand.

Like the H of hammer-ons, a letter P may be above the slurred notes in guitar tab notation. This makes it easier for beginners to read both in and after lessons.

Slides

A slide comes into play when someone slides from one pitch to another on the fretboard. Sometimes, a lower pitch will slide into a higher pitch; other times, a lower pitch will slide into a higher one. It works both ways.

Slides are partially denoted by the same curved slur as other techniques. However, there also is a diagonal straight line that connects the two notes or positions in both standard and guitar tab notation.

Have your child strike the first note and then slide to the next one without releasing any pressure on the fingerboard.

Repeat Signs

A repeat sign indicates that the player must play a select part of the tablature twice. Music is often repetitive – think about the way that all of your favorite songs have a chorus. That’s why repeat signs are so important and common.

In guitar tab notation, a repeat sign is indicated by two dots stacked on top of each other. One will be in the space between the B and G strings. The other will be in the space between the D and A strings.

These dots will be on either side of a section of music contained between two vertical double bars. They indicate that the player must repeat all of the notes inside that segment of music.

Learn to Use Guitar Tabs

Make Reading Music Easy for Little Ones

Now that you know the basics of reading tablature, it’s time to help your children make sense of guitar tab notation. It’s critical to enlist an expert to help them master and interpret this unique music notation.

At Staump Music School, we offer both individual and group lessons to children interested in learning guitar. We help them master the basics of reading tablature before moving on to traditional sheet music in a way that makes sense. Reach out to our instructors to get one month of free lessons to learn whether we’re a good fit for your budding young musician.