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Music Theory - Tablature

TAB Archives

Tablature, or Tab for short, is a form of musical notation developed for the guitar which represents where the notes are on the guitar in a very direct way. Rather than use an abstract mechanism they are presented as they would be played on the guitar. The basis of guitar tablature can be seen in the diagram below:


The diagram represents the neck of the guitar and each line represents a particular string. The top string in the diagram is the highest pitched string of the guitar (normally tuned to high E) which means the head and tuning pegs of the guitar are to the left.

Notes are placed on the strings on which they are played, and are given a value equal to the fret at which they are played. Notes are placed from left to right across the tablature diagram in the order they are played.

For example, successively playing each string from the low E string (top-most) to the high E string (bottom-most) while fingering an open E chord with the left hand would be depicted as:

   -|-----------------0--|  bottom string (highest pitch), open
   -|--------------0-----|  2nd string, open
   -|-----------1--------|  3rd string, 2nd fret
   -|--------2-----------|  4th string, 3rd fret
   -|-----2--------------|  5th string, 3rd fret
   -|--0-----------------|  top string (lowest pitch), open

The main drawback to tablature is that it conveys no timing information. In the example above, we can't tell how fast to play the notes or for how long each note should sustain. For this reason tablature is most useful as an accompaniment to standard notation or to depict how a known piece of music is played on the guitar.

The image below shows a bar of tablature with the standard notation above it.
(It's actually a bar from Pink Floyd's "Is There Anybody out There?").

Guitar tablature


The tablature will usually also give an indication of any alternate tuning has been used (often by providing the note names to the left of the strings. In addition certain guitar playing characteristics such as bends, hammer-ons and pull-offs can be more easily represented in tablature.

The need for guitar tablature is not simply that guitarists are too stupid to read music. The one thing that standard notation does not provide is an indication of voicing.

What this means is that whereas on a piano Middle C can only be played in one place, on a guitar it may be played in several. How many will depend on how the guitar is tuned. While the note may be the same wherever you play it there are in fact differences - the most obvious being the difference between an open and a fretted note.

TAB Archives on the Internet

Although a number of sites have met with copyright problems, there is still a wealth of tablature available for free on the Internet. Most is an interpretation of a piece by a third party and some are a little dubious.

OLGA (On-Line Guitar Archive) is one of the biggest and can be found here:

Others you might try are:
My Guitar Tablature Archive
Rocking with the Cross - Christian Guitar Tab
Bass Tab Archive
Harmony Central

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