Are the numbers on the strings of guitar on the tab to be applied for fret strings and the chords at the same time?

For example how I read this tab and to know G chord at the first bar:

  Si -    lent  Night            Ho -     ly   Night

1 Answer 1


There are oodles of tab-reading tutorials out there so I'll keep this basic (just google-search "how to read guitar tabs").

The "lowest" string on the paper is your "lowest" string pitchwise (your low-E) but the "highest" string physically (closest to you). Each number represents the fret number to hold down and play. We move from left to right and play each column of notes simultaneously. Thus the first thing we play in the tab above is "3RD FRET on LOW E, 2ND FRET on A, OPEN D, OPEN G, 3RD FRET on B" -- all at once! Note that you should not play the high E string on the opening strum. After you have played the first column of notes move to the next one to the right -- in this case just an "OPEN G".

As we move from left to right we'll notice that there is relatively little to go on rhythmically. We have bars separated by the column of '|' symbols. Other than that we have placement within the bar. Most tabbists will try to get the spacing of notes relatively proportional but you should use your ear as a final guide if the notation is ambiguous.

  • Yes, I've always knocked tab for lack of timing - unless it's accompanied by proper dots. However, looking at the example above, how simple to use 12 dashes instead of the 16 there, and put the numbers in the appropriate positions?
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 6:49
  • Yeah, you can be as accurate as you want. You want to include triplet 32nd notes? Just include 48 dashes per measure! Septuplets are almost as easy! Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 3:56

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