I understand E A D G B e And the meaning of the letters above. Which I can play like the c chord and em . But I don’t understand the numbers. Is it for the fret. Like where I should be playing on the fretboard because it doesn’t make sense to me, if I’m going to be playing the C chord. The arrangement and finger placement is different.

enter image description here

4 Answers 4


But I don’t understand the numbers. Is it for the fret.

This kind of notation is called tablature, and essentially, yes - the number tells you which fret to play.

it doesn’t make sense to me, if I’m going to be playing the C chord. The arrangement and finger placement is different.

There are many different ways to play each chord - there's not just one 'C chord', but dozens of different voicings and ways to arrange the notes rhythmically.

You can think of the chords at the top as a kind of 'summary' or 'rough guide' to what you will be playing, but the tablature (assuming it is accurate) shows you more precisely what to play.

  • 3
    Further to this, the chord names at the top enable someone on a different instrument (say, a keyboard or a ukulele) to play along, and would also help them improvise if necessary.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 18:29

There are a few advantages of having both:

  • the tablature can tell you exactly what to play

  • the chords help if you want to transpose. With the tablature, it's easy to transpose up with a capo, but it's not too easy to transpose down when open strings (0 in the tablature) are used.

  • working on a specific tablature might help with a few similar songs, but working on a clean, fast transition between C and Em will help for thousands (millions?) of songs.

  • sometimes, only half a chord is played, and only the corresponding strings and frets are written on the tablature. But if you happen to play another string with the strumming hand, it might sound really bad and not fit at all. If you form the whole chord shape, it won't be a problem if you inadvertently play 3 strings instead of 2.


Tablature, or tab for short, is what those numbers are. It's an extremely simple notation where each line is a string and the number is the fret to play on that string. Tab generally doesn't including timing information line standard notation does but sometimes attempts to.

In cases like these including the chords above the tab is to

  1. Help with the basic shapes of what you're playing. Usually a chord chart will include the voicings of the chords they use at the top so you can get the fingering of each chord down. Remember all it takes is 3 notes to make a chord, you can play those 3 notes in any one of hundreds of combinations on a guitar so you could play that C chord as an open position cowboy chord, a 3rd fret barre chord, triad form in any number of places. Having the voicing tells you which one to use. Having the tab can also imply which voicing to start with.
  2. Help indicate the harmony. If you just wanted to fake things for a party or invite your friend on some other instrument to jam with you. You could easily reverse engineer the chords from the tab but it's easier if you don't have to. Also having the harmony right there it becomes easier to transpose the song if you need to for a vocalist's range.

Including tab in addition to just chords also:

  1. Helps indicate the strumming pattern and flourishes of the actual song. A chord name above the bar is giving you the basic chord shape you're using but doesn't indicate how the player is supposed to strum that chord...fast, slow, on beat, hitting all the notes, or favoring the higher strings...lower strings. Notice in the tab that you included there are also a lot of notes outside the chord shape being played to add interest to the part. Like, open D isn't part of a C chord...but it's there in tab and if you don't play them it's not going to sound like the song you're trying to play but might sound like the mockbuster version of the song. The tab also includes all the hammer-ons and pull-offs the player is supposed to do while changing chords to give the song flair and interest. Just the chords puts a lot on you as a player to figure out exactly how to emulate the parts while the tab can give you those details.

Those numbers are indeed fret numbers. They tell which fret on the appropriate string/s to press and play.The chord names aren't necessarily reflecting what's played in each bar, but if you look at the 2nd bar, 2nd line, that's just what happens. Hold the whole chord down, and pluck accordingly.

The chord names show what fits each bar, and could be used by another guitarist, pianist, banjo player, etc, to accompany.The numbers here could also translate as to which fingers to use, especially if you play 'one finger per fret'.

The 'h', I guess is for the note to be hammered on, where the fretting finger hammers down on the appropriate fret.string, instead of being fretted and plucked.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.