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How to Read Guitar Tablature

Guitar tablature is read from left to right like you would read a book.

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Six Horizontal Lines

The six horizontal lines in tablature represent the six strings of a guitar. The top line on the tablature is the high E string and the bottom line is the low E string.
basic country guitar tablature layout

 

What do the numbers mean?

The numbers on a piece of tablature represent the fret numbers you will press down. Single numbers from left to right represent a single note melody line. Numbers stacked vertically represent notes you will play simultaneously as a chord.
country guitar tablature

 

Pick Stroke Direction Symbols

pick stroke direction symbols guitar tablature
Standard downstroke symbols look like squared off brackets and upstrokes symbols look like the letter “V”. Most of the guitar tablature at Country Guitar Online will include pick direction symbols. If there are no pick stroke direction symbols, feel free to experiment with your own picking patterns.
pick stroke direction symbols guitar tablature

 

How do I know what fingers to use?

Sometimes you’ll find fretting hand finger number suggestions below the tablature like in the example below, but most times it is left up to you to figure out what finger to use to fret each note.
left hand fingering guitar tablature

 

Slides

Sliding from one fret to another is a common technique used in country & bluegrass. In guitar tablature, a slide is represented by a fret number, a slanted line, and then another fret number. The line will be slanted up or down depending on whether you are sliding from a lower pitch to a higher pitch or vice versa. Also, an “sl.” or “s” is usually placed somewhere between the notes.

 

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs

You can identify hammer-ons and pull-offs by a slur or arc between two or more adjacent notes. You also might see the letter “H” somewhere between the notes to designate a hammer-on or a “P” to designate a pull-off.
guitar tablature hammer ons
guitar tablature pull offs

 

Triplets

A triplet is a rhythm that involves playing three notes in the space of two, or in other words, three evenly spaced notes in the space of two notes that have the same rhythmic value. In guitar tablature, triplets are grouped together with a little bracket that contains the number “3”.
what are triplets guitar tablature lesson

 

Grace Notes

A grace note is a note that is not essential to the melody that is added only for ornamentation. In guitar tablature, a grace note is usually printed in a smaller font just before the note that it embellishes. The guitar riff below begins with a grace note on the 2nd fret B string.
what is a grace note country bluegrass guitar tablature

 

Bends

In guitar tablature, a bend is usually shown with an arrow that curls upward. The 1/2 step bend is most common in acoustic country & bluegrass music. A 1/2 step bend is when you bend the string’s pitch up 1/2 step (one fret). A whole step bend is when you bend the pitch up a whole step (two frets). A bend release is when you bend the pitch up and bring it back down. A prebend/release is when you bend the string up prior to picking the string, then pick the string and bring the pitch back down.
what is a bend on guitar country bluegrass lesson
cgo-guitar-tablature-bends-example-2