I have a tab book for "Black Sabbath" and the song "Iron Man" for example, it has a key signature of bbb. I know this song is played in standard E tuning, and eg the main riff starts with a B + F# power chord on fret 2 string 5. However, the book I have seems to have all the fret numbers bumped by 1, as though the guitar were downtuned a half-step.

Is it normal for key signature changes to modify what a tablature shows, or is this tab book wrong?

The book is "Black Sabbath Anthology" ISBN-13: 978-0-8256-1084-4 by Amsco Publications, for reference; attached is a photo of the 1st page.

Black Sabbath - Iron Man

  • I think you mean three flats (not 'bbb'), which is the key of Eb major/C minor. Starting the riff on the third fret of that string (C) is appropriate for that key signature. If the song is actually in another key (regardless of how close it is to Eb/Cm), then the tab will change. Dec 30, 2018 at 3:51
  • Most songs can be played in multiple places in the same key. Also, the guitar can be tuned differently thus making the true notes map to different frets than you are used to.
    – user50691
    Dec 30, 2018 at 12:39
  • Yes 3 flats... but I know this song is played in standard E tuning so that's where I get confused. There's nothing to indicate downtuning in the tab.
    – Derek
    Dec 31, 2018 at 3:57
  • The version of the main riff in your book clearly doesn't start with "a B + D power chord".
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 31, 2018 at 10:41
  • Yes sorry I meant B+F# (str 5 fr 2, st 4 fr 4), but it's indicating C+G (str 5 fr 3, st 4 fr 5). The song is definitely played in the former. The tab is wrong.
    – Derek
    Dec 31, 2018 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


Tab in itself has no direct reference to keys, key signatures or note names. There no need. It purely tells the reader where, on which fret of which string, to place fingers.

The key itself is a separate entity, and if a key changes, or there's an accidental note, it's shown directly as a different number , maybe on a different string, in the tab.

The factor to watch is the letter names at the beginning of the tab - not always EADGBe, or sometimes the legend - 'tune down a semitone to Eb', etc,

Better quality tab will have a stave as well, which helps with timing, and can occasionally clarify discrepancies in tab numbers.

  • There is nothing to indicate downtuning.
    – Derek
    Dec 31, 2018 at 3:58
  • 1
    That doesn't mean a great deal. Tab is sometimes not as good or as accurate as it should be, and things like the band has downtuned might miss the tab writer's attention. Reference to the original track is the best solution, and working things out without relying on possibly unreliable tab will benefit in the future.
    – Tim
    Dec 31, 2018 at 9:05
  • So the tab is wrong?
    – Derek
    Dec 31, 2018 at 18:55
  • Now that it's visible - no.
    – Tim
    Dec 31, 2018 at 20:12
  • But it's literally the wrong note at those frets in standard tuning. I'm also confused: at the top of the tab it has chord description; the F5 shows the root note on fret 9 (indicating downtuning half a step), but the E5 root note is fret 7 (indicating normal tuning).
    – Derek
    Jan 1, 2019 at 11:16

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