How To Read Guitar Tabs and Chord Diagram

Guitar tab (also known as Guitar tablature) and Chord Diagrams (also called Chord Charts) help you learn guitar quickly and easily.

The ability to read guitar tabs and guitar chords is a must if you wish to learn guitar fast. In this lesson, we learn all about guitar tabs and guitar chords.

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How To Read Guitar Tabs and Chord Diagram

Numbering System For Guitar

In the guitar numbering system, numbers are used to name your fingers, guitar strings, and guitar frets. This simplifies learning guitar and reading tabs and chord charts. To easily play the guitar, learn to read guitar tabs and chord charts. First, you need to understand how the guitar numbering system works.

Numbering Fingers 

Fingering is the term used by guitar players to easily assign a particular finger choice for playing a particular note. This also helps in reading tabs and chord charts. For this
The left-hand fingers are numbered 1-4 and the thumb is not numbered. The index finger is 1, the middle finger is 2, the ring finger is 3, the pinky finger is 4.
Left Hang Finger Numbering For Guitar
Right-hand fingers are named traditionally and are not numbered. Right-hand fingers are named as per classical fingerstyle guitar basics. Thumb is called pulgar(p), the index finger is índice(i), the middle finger is medio(m), and the ring finger is anular(a), the pinky finger shortie(s). Remember PIMA to easily recall the right-hand names.
Right Hand Finger Names For Playing Guitar

To read fingerstyle guitar tabs, you must be aware of both right-hand and left-hand fingering. If you are not into classical music, you may simply refer to the right-hand fingers using numbers, just like we did for the left-hand.

Numbering Strings

Strings on a 6-string guitar are numbered 1-6. 1st string is the thinnest string and the 6th string is the thickest string on a 6-string guitar.
Guitar Strings Number Image
In Standard Tuning, guitar strings are tuned and numbered as below
 Guitar String Number Tuning Note
1st e
2nd B
3rd G
4th D
5th A
6th E


Numbering Frets

On a guitar neck, there are frets. Frets divide the neck into musical intervals or musical degrees. Each fret represents a particular musical note on a guitar neck.

Frets on a guitar are numbered starting from 0 and generally go up till 20 on an acoustic guitar and 22 or 24 on an electric guitar.

0 represents open strings, which means you play the strings open. 1 represents the first fret, 2 represents the second fret and so on.

How Frets Are Numbered On A Guitar Neck

What are Guitar Tabs For Beginners?

Guitar tabs are simplified music notations that enable guitar players to quickly learn songs and music. Guitar tabs or Guitar Tablature show you what to play in a simplified method using the guitar number system. Tabs can be used to learn leads, chords, phrases, melodies, practice exercises, and a lot more.

Example Guitar atblature or Guitar Tab

How Do You Read a Guitar Tab For Beginners?

Guitar tabs consist of horizontal lines. Each horizontal line represents a string on a guitar. For 6-string guitar, there will be 6 horizontal lines on the guitar tab. The top line on the guitar tab represents the 1st string and the bottom line on the guitar tab represents the 6th string.

How Strings Are Numbered In Guitar Tabs

Frets are represented on tabs using numbers. 1 represents the first fret, 2 represents 2nd fret, and so on. Number 0 in tabs represents open fret.

Fret numbers are placed on the horizontal lines in guitar tabs to indicate the particular fret that needs to be played on a particular string.

So for example, if you are given the below tab

Practice Guitar Tab

You will play 3rd Fret on 1st String, 1st Fret on 2nd string, 3rd string open twice, 6th fret on 4th string, 2nd fret on 5th string, and 6th string open twice.

What Does 0 Mean in Guitar Tabs?

Zero refers to open fret. Zero means that you play the string open and do not fret that string. E.g., If a guitar tab states 0 on the 1st string that means you play the first string open, without fretting it.

What does 0 mean in Guitar Tabs Image

What Are Chords?

Simply put, chords are two or more music notes(also called 'pitches') played simultaneously. Depending on the note choice, chords can be consonant or dissonant in nature.

There are several chord types like major chords, minor chords, augmented chords, 7th chords, etc. All these chords can easily be learned with chord diagrams.

What is a Chord Chart or Chord Diagram?

A chord chart also known as a chord diagram, helps represent a chord shape on a piece of paper or music sheet. Similar to guitar tabs, chord charts also use the guitar number system to simplify reading, learning, and playing chords.

Chord Chart Example - D7 Chord

How to Read Chord Diagrams?

Chord charts or chord diagrams consist of vertical lines. These vertical lines represent strings on a guitar. The rightmost line represents the 1st string on a guitar and the leftmost line represents the 6th string on the guitar.

These lines are divided into different blocks using horizontal lines. These blocks represent a fret on a guitar neck. The thick top horizontal line represents the 0th fret, i.e., open strings. The first block represents the first fret, the second block represents the second fret, and so on.

Guitar Chord Diagram

Black filled dots, marked on vertical lines, indicate which fret needs to be fretted on the particular strings. Dots without fill indicate open fret. Generally, dots are also marked with numbers 1,2,3,4. These numbers indicate the left-hand finger that is used to fret.

Guitar Diagram FMajor Chord

If a chord shape starts from a higher fret, then the starting fret number is stated in the chord diagram. A straight line across all strings represents a bar chord.

A Major Bar Chord Diagram

Now you know the basics of reading guitar chords and tabs. Now, you can easily learn to play any piece of music on guitar by reading guitar tabs.



What is the difference between guitar tabs and chord diagrams?

Guitar Tabs can be used to represent any form of music that can be played on guitar. It could be lead lines, rhythms, chords, harmonies, etc. Chord diagrams on the other hand are only used to graphically illustrate guitar chord shapes.

Should I learn tabs or chords?

You should learn both. Beginners often confuse guitar tabs as lead playing and guitar chords as rhythm playing. Guitar tabs or guitar tablature can be used to represent any piece of music in a simplified manner. It can be lead phrases, chords, rhythm, arpeggios, etc. Guitar tabs can contain chord charts within them, and you should be comfortable reading both guitar tabs and chord diagrams.

Are tabs a good way to learn guitar?

Guitar Tabs are one of the easiest and most efficient ways to learn to play the guitar. Unlike music notations or music sheets, learning to read guitar tabs is very easy. You can easily find guitar tabs for music that you wish to learn and start learning within few minutes.

What is the difference between a tab and sheet music?

The main difference between guitar tabs and sheet music is the ease of understanding. Guitar Tabs use a numbering system, making them very easy to read and understand. Music Notation, used in sheet music, is far more complex and difficult to understand for beginner musicians.

The purpose of both guitar tabs and sheet music is to transcribe any piece of music in written form.

That being said, sheet music is still the conventional way to learn music.

Should I learn sheet music or tabs?

If your goal is just to play the guitar and produce music for yourself. You will do fine learning just Guitar Tabs. If you wish to play as a session musician or produce music professionally, you should consider learning to read sheet music as well.

Are tabs or sheet music better?

Both guitar tab and sheet music are equally good. The purpose of both guitar tabs and sheet music is to transcribe any piece of music in written form. Earlier Guitar Tabs used to lack the ability to convey the rhythm of the music. With the advancement in tab writing software programs, guitar tabs can also convey the rhythm using a hybrid of tabs and conventional music notation.

Do guitar players need to read music?

The ability to read sheet music is always a major advantage as a professional musician. Most session musicians are well versed in reading sheet music. Given the complex nature of sheet music and the learning curve, a guitar player should learn to read sheet music only if he/she wishes to perform as a session musician with other producers/orchestras.

Are guitar tabs cheating?

In no way, guitar tabs are cheating. You are learning music and that should be your main goal. Guitar tabs make getting started and learning music easier, so you should learn to read guitar tabs and use them.


Do professional guitarists use tabs?

Professional guitarists use guitar tabs often. The usage of guitar tabs completely depends on the musician and the scenario he/she is working with. E.g., if a professional musician is  working on a rock/pop music track that he/she is producing, she is free to use either guitar tabs or sheet music. On the contrary, if a professional musician is playing a classical piece with an orchestra, he/she might be handed over sheet music only.

 Where can I get free guitar tabs?

To get free guitar tabs, head over to the following websites

  1. Ultimate Guitar
  2. Guitartabs CC
  3. Songster

Which is the best guitar tab software?

Guitar Pro is one of the best software for writing and working with Guitar Tabs and Music Notation. It is easy to use and learn. 


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1 comment

  • avionkingb

    Great teacher,I do like guitar lessons

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Udeeksh Sood on

Udeeksh is an Audio Engineer. He loves to produce music, research music gear, play guitar, go on treks and road trips.