Guitar Tab and Chords FAQ

Jun24

Guitar tab is a popular place for beginners to start when they are just getting started on guitar. It’s easy to use and share with other guitar players.This page answers some of the common questions we get from beginners about guitar tabs and guitar chords.

How do I play a song using tab?

Guitar tablature is one of those things that once you know how to read it, you never forget it. There are six horizontal lines. The bottom one is the sixth string, the low E, and the top one is the high E. The rest are just the ones found in-between in order. The numbers on the lines only tell you what fret to play that note on, but not what finger to use. The writers of tab expect you to figure out the best way to play the notes they wrote.

Take at look at the beginning of Happy Birthday:

Happy Birthday

To play this on guitar, you would fret the B string at the third fret and play it, play it again, then fret the same string at the fifth fret, and so on. Even if it is not marked, the time flows at even intervals from left to right. The last thing represented in the tab above is a chord, in this case the D7 chord. You have to fret and strike all of the strings marked at the same time. In this case it’s pretty easy because two of the strings are ‘open’ – struck without being fretted.

We have more detailed lessons on tab here on Guitar Noise. You might want to look at Absolute Beginner Part 1: Chords.

How do I figure out songs without using guitar tab?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could figure out any song by ear without the help of tab? With a bit of practice, hearing chord changes will become second nature over time. You will need to spend time and energy on ear training and be aware that it is much more of a puzzle than a mystery.

You can take a lot of the guesswork out of learning a song by ear. You might want to begin by reading the following lessons:

Rather than relying solely on transcriptions, we want to see you learn guitar and begin to figure out songs on your own. Check out our growing series of lessons on ear training.

What is fretboard mapping?

Those of you who have read my columns know I tend to chant “write things down” over and over like a mantra. “Write things down.” A terrific example of the usefulness of this advice is when you are messing about with open and alternate tunings.

Perhaps it’s easier for you to remember the really olden days, back when you were just starting to learn the guitar. It may or may not have been difficult to memorize the standard chord fingerings, but you undoubtedly had access to chord charts of one sort or another. Imagine if you had to start from scratch each time you picked up the guitar! Well, unless you have books or charts for open or alternate tunings, that’s precisely what will happen. If you have the foresight to make yourself a map you won’t find yourself wrestling monsters each time you change tuning. Even though they may seem mysterious and foreboding, open and alternate tunings are fun. “Map making” is not hard; it takes but a moment of your time and, most importantly, will help you to develop your theory skills.

For a complete lesson on fretboard mapping check out the article Open Tuning – Part 2.

What are Nashville Charts?

As far as I can tell (and fair warning, I may be wrong about this), Nashville “chord charts” aren’t actually chords or charts per se as much as they are a way of being able to play a song in any key. If their intention was to not have to read music they made it a lot harder on themselves.

In a nutshell, whatever key a song is, is #1. Then the other numbers are the chords according to the scale in that major key. So, for instance, if you are all agreed that you want to play in D major, then you’ll have this:

1 = D
2 = E
3 = F#
4 = G
5 = A
6 = B
7 = C#

Now what I can’t tell you is whether or not they distinguish between major and minor. Technically, if you are in D, as I’m sure you know, things should look like this:

1 = D
2 = Em
3 = F#m
4 = G
5 = A
6 = Bm
7 = C#dim

Maybe they write “2m” or something, I don’t know. If they assume it’s a major scale and use the normal minors, then what do you do when you grab a chord outside of the scale. How would a Bb fit into the key of D, for instance?

I can tell you that, to make matters more interesting, “7″ “9″ or even “sus” may come after the number (“1sus” for instance would be Dsus in our example) and that they also use the “/” symbol to indicate a bass note other than the one normally used. “1/5″ would be a D chord with the A note in the bass. “4/1″ would be a G chord with a D in the bass.

When I was in Europe I ran into something kind of like this in that someone would tell me that a song was in “Re” or “La Minor” using the “Do, re, mi…” as substitutes for C, D, E… but at least that didn’t shift for each key. My guess is that a lot of Nashville folk played backup to numerous singers and had to be able to play a song in whatever key was best suited to a given singer. It’s simply transposing, that’s all.

Now, “Nashville tuning” is another matter altogether.

Where can I get scales tabbed for guitar?

The easiest way to get a TAB of scales is to do one yourself. No lie. This is what I do with my students. First we will take a scale and analyze it and then we will chart it out on the fretboard.

So if we go over the minor pentatonic scale, the student knows it is root, minor 3rd, 4th, 5th, b7th. Now let’s pick a key. E is the easiest, so let’s start there. Em pentatonic would be E, G, A, B, D. In first position, we’d have this:

E – 0 3 (E, G)
B – 0 3 (B, D)
G – 0 2 (G, A)
D – 0 2 (D, E)
A – 0 2 (A, B)
E – 0 3 (E, G)

Now the beauty of this is using both the guitar and your brain. If I think, “Hey, the root of this scale is on both the 1st and 6th strings,” then I can correctly assume that any minor pentatonic scale would use the same form. I would need to find the correct root. Since I know that G is the third fret on either G string, then I know that a Gm pentatonic scale (G, Bb, C, D, F) would be like this:

E – 3 6 (G, Bb)
B – 3 6 (D, F)
G – 3 5 (Bb, C)
D – 3 5 (F, G)
A – 3 5 (C, D)
E – 3 6 (G, Bb)

See how easy this is? This is why I encourage my students to write these out themselves rather than look for it on the net. You’ll remember it better because you put the effort into learning it.

Where can I find guitar tab for any song?

Guitar Noise is primarily a guitar lesson site. Our “text to tab ratio” is something we are proud of. Rather than teaching individual songs many of our lessons deal with techniques that you can apply to almost any song. Having said that, a search for complete guitar tablature transcriptions will lead you away from this site.

In 2006, The Music Publishers’ Association began legal action against web sites that contained guitar tablature. These actions, which consisted of takedown letters to website owners and their Internet service providers, proved to be very effective. As of this writing many of the once popular guitar tab sites have removed their content. Currently no “authorized” sites have replaced the void this has created.

Given the current situation, it doesn’t make sense to provide a list of links to free guitar tab sites. These sites could very likely disappear without notice. Rather than seeing you rely on guitar tab, we want to help you learn to figure out songs by yourself. Guitar Noise has a series of lessons on ear training.

If you are looking to buy books or digital sheet music with authentic tabs, Guitar Noise has has teamed up with Sheet Music Plus and Amazon.com to bring you the largest possible selection. Over the years we have sold thousands of books as an affiliate of these sites. Between these two online stores you will probably find authentic transcriptions for just about any song want.

Can you send me the tab for a song?

Do not email this site requesting songs. We do have any tab on this site, nor are we in the business of searching the net for you. There are enough instructions on here that you should be able to find what you are looking for by yourself. If you still cannot find what you are looking for, it probably doesn’t exist.

If you must ask someone you may post a message in the Guitar Noise Forums asking if anyone has it.

Let’s try to avoid turning the message board into a tab request forum.

Can I submit tab I’ve written?

Guitar Noise does not post guitar tabs, but we may link to places that do. You can try sending your songs to guitar sites that accept submissions.

If you already have a website with guitar tabs we might be interested in exchanging links. To set up a link exchange you need to fill out the form on our contact page.

Where did the guitar tabs go?

Easy Songs for Beginners lessons are back! Once again you can learn guitar the way you want to – with officially licensed songs from the music publisher. Read the official announcement. (updated November 3, 2011)

On February 11, 2010 we received a letter from lawyers representing the Music Publishers’ Association instructing us to remove guitar tab and lyrics from this site. You can read more about their original complaint here: Guitar Tab Takedown. And there is a more recent update on the blog here: Where are the guitar tabs?

Back in 2006, The Music Publishers’ Association began taking legal action against web sites that contained guitar tablature. These actions, which consisted of takedown letters to website owners and their Internet service providers, proved to be very effective. As of this writing many of the once popular guitar tab sites have removed their content. Sites with authorized tabs are slowly starting to return. There has been a lively and well informed discussion of this issue on the Guitar Noise Forums.

What are publishing rights?

Publishing rights is the right to control publishing – that is, printed reproductions of your music.

For more information on the different types of music rights, have a look at our FAQ What is the deal with music rights?

Where can I find more guitar tab resources?

Guitar Noise is, and has always been a tutorial website, where anyone in the world can receive free guitar lessons and advice. We primarily teach guitar techniques, music theory and most other aspects of learning guitar. You can find a good sampling of our lessons on the guitar columns page. We’re pretty proud of our “text to tab ratio.”

Here are some of our lessons that deal with guitar tab.