In this sheet there are some bars that only have one or two notes, instead of four. How do I read them? Do they last 1 unit of time as well?

In the case of the bars with only one note, does that note last for 4 units of time? Or only 1? And in the case of bars with only 2 notes?

enter image description here

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    There is no rhythm in this tab. Nothing makes it clear if a bar has two notes, the two should be equal. The tab gives you the notes, maybe you should listen to the original music to get the rhythm! – Tom Feb 16 at 10:11
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    This is too incomplete to tell anything. It doesn't even say if it's 4/4 or 2/4. To be really snarky I could guess it's 3/4 with a quadruplet and doublet over the measure. – ggcg Feb 16 at 19:08
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    I’m voting to close this question because to fully answer the question would require identifying elements of a recording, which is off topic here. – Aaron Feb 17 at 4:14
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    I dont think this is off topic. This situation is very easy to generalize, a guitarist will often have tabs which are incomplete like this, GENERALLY SPEAKING the correct way to approach this problem is exactly what is outlined below in the answers. This is a valuable lesson to a newbie guitarist. – gingerbreadboy Feb 17 at 11:19

There isn't any rhythm in that tab.

In the absence of any rhythm, and with the numbers written with even spacing which provides no visual hints at rhythm, I would just play even values per bar.

In this example it's mostly four notes per bar. I would treat it as 4/4 meter and play it as all quarter notes. In the bars with two notes play it as two half notes. One note bars play as whole notes.

There also is no tempo indicated.

Literally there is nothing for rhythm other than the sense of 4/4 meter.

In a lot of cases tab is short hand, partial notation that just gives pitch and fret/fingerings and it's assumed the player already knows the music or will use a recording to get the rhythm and tempo. You might be able to use a recording to get the rhythm.


This way of writing music is called 'tablature' or 'tab'. Sometimes, tablature has some indication of the rhythm, such as this example:

image from http://hubguitar.com/sight-reading/how-to-read-tab

However, tablature usually doesn't have any indiciation of the rhythm. Usually, you just need to listen to a recording of the piece to find out what the rhythm should be. From the title, it seems to be a simplified version of this piece:

If you can't work out the timing from the recording, then tablature isn't a suitable format for you to use.

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    I've rarely seen tab without note values. My exposure is to American folk music for guitar and banjo; in that world, rhythm is almost always indicated in the tab. I of course believe you that you seldom see tab with rhythm, but I'm curious what domain that is in. – Wayne Conrad Feb 16 at 21:48
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    @WayneConrad are you talking about music where you have standard notation and tab side by side? Or at least published tab? Perhaps I'm too used to the world of informally shared tabs... – topo Reinstate Monica Feb 16 at 22:47
  • Sometimes tab paired with standard notation, but more usually like the image in your answer (but stems pointed down instead of up). Here is an example for five-string banjo. The only tab I've seen for guitar is from dad's Travis-style fingerpicking books; those all have rhythm. But I went to try to find an example of guitar tab on the web with note values, and I learned that guitar tabs with rhythm appear to be rare on the web. So my world view was skewed by banjo, and by dad's unusual books. – Wayne Conrad Feb 16 at 23:01
  • @WayneConrad interesting! I suspect that over here in the UK we have less of a banjo-influenced culture. At least it's one of the instruments I haven't tried to learn yet... – topo Reinstate Monica Feb 16 at 23:03

What you showed us isn't complete notation. It's an aid for someone who knows the song already but just needs some help with where to put their fingers. Yes, we can assume a 4-beat bar, and we can assume that when there are four notes in a bar they will be short, two or one notes in a bar will be longer. But there is not enough information here to be any more precise about the rhythm. If you don't know the song, try to find a copy in tab notation with rhythms, or in staff notation.


Without any rests, indication of time signatures, or clues about rhythm I think it is a fairly safe bet to assume that this song is in 4/4 and most of the notes are quarter notes. In the bars with fewer notes tabbed we are likely looking at whole-notes or half-notes which likely fall on the 1 and the 3. So bar #20 you'd play a 5 on the 1-beat and hold for 4, bar #22 you'd play your 2 on the 1-beat and the 3-beat. That's how I would play it anyway.

There are likely an infinite ways to pick this apart if you really wanted to but it looks like a fairly straightforward rock line.

Alternative #1: Radical Time Signature Changes - if you like you could treat every note as the same length and assume that bar #20 and #24 are a quick switch to 1/4 with #22 and #23 being a dip in to 2/4. Very math-rock ;)

Alternative #2: Guess The Rests - If we assume all notes are the same length (all quarter-notes), and all bars are the same length (all 4/4), then there are some implicit rests (r). So bar 20 you could play as

  • r-r-5-r
  • r-5-r-r

But if in doubt I'd stick with my original suggestion ;)

EDIT: Having listened to a few seconds of the piece that Topo has linked in his answer, yes if this is indeed the piece of music it does appear to be a fairly straightforward 4/4 piece largely in line with my original suggestion.

BONUS EDIT: Really, the best thing to do is play with the music and see how you like to play it, how it feels under your figures. Obvs if you're playing this in a group you have that constraint but feel free to experiment where the notation is incomplete :)


As other answers say, this isn’t a complete or precise notation. But to pick out a key point: Almost certainly, every bar is meant to be the same length of time. That’s standard for tablature, and generally, for most notations that don’t give precise rhythm. So if there’s only one chord marked in a bar, it should last just as long as a whole four-chord bar.

There are plenty of pieces of music where not all bars last the same length of time — some individual pieces/songs notable for it (e.g. The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun), and also some genres in which it’s very usual. But within the mainstream Western tradition (classical, pop, jazz, etc…), you can generally assume that bars are all the same length unless the notation explicitly shows otherwise.

  • Chord? There's no chord notation here. – Laurence Payne Feb 18 at 13:19

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