Learning guitar tablature

Before we get started learning about the basic chords and taking on whole songs, there are a few things you're going to want to know how to do. If you're like me, you just haven't quite gotten around to learning how to read music yet. Well, don't worry — that doesn't exclude you from learning how to play the guitar. Fortunately for us, people have created this wonderful format called guitar tablature that's easy to learn and read. The other thing you'll want to know how to do before tackling chords is how to use a guitar pick.

Guitar tablature

Like I mentioned before, guitar tablature, or "tabs," provide an easy way to learn songs. With the glorious tool we call the Internet, you'll be able to look up tabs for virtually any song you want to learn, and you can teach yourself. But it will help if you know how to read them first.

First, let's talk about the strings on a guitar. Each of the six strings has a number and a corresponding note in standard tuning. The smallest string is on the bottom, and strings are progressively larger going up. For some reason, the strings are numbered from one to six starting with the bottom string. I say "for some reason" because for the rest of your natural life you will be counting backwards when talking about tuning the guitar.

That said, let's get into the tuning of individual strings. The sixth string, which is the thickest and is the topmost string, is tuned to E. The fifth string is tuned to A; the fourth string is tuned to D; the third string is tuned to G; the second string is tuned to B; and finally, the first string is tuned to E. Again, starting from the top, standard E tuning on a guitar is: E, A, D, G, B, E. Remember that. Burn it into your mind. Make up some mnemonic device. Do whatever you have to to commit that to memory, because you'll need it for as long as you play guitar.

OK, now let's move on to tabs. Most tabs on the Internet are done by amateurs like you and me, so the format may vary from tab to tab. Overall, though, there seems to be agreement on the main points of design. First, there's one quirk that doesn't make a lot of sense at first, but it pervades the tablature design. You'll find that most of the tabs list strings upside down — that is, on the screen you see sixth-string E (the big one) on the bottom and first-string E (the little one) on top. After much thought, I've come to the conclusion that this is because when you are holding your guitar, that's how they appear when you look at your hands. Most tabs are simply drawn out using keyboard characters, so they appear very basic. They tend to look a lot like this:

e ---0-----3-----0---

B ---1-----0-----1---

G ---0-----0-----0---

D ---2-----0-----2---

A ---3-----2-----3---

E ---x-----3-----x---

All right, now we're getting somewhere. This tab shows you how to play the chord progression C, G, C. The lines represent the individual strings (the first string uses little "e" sometimes to differentiate it from the sixth-string E). Each number represents the fret number where your fingers go to play whatever the tab is showing. For example, C (the first chord), is played by holding down the B string at the first fret; the D string at the second fret; and the A string at the third fret. The "x" indicates that you do not strum that string, while the zero means you play that string open. When the numbers line up vertically, as in this example, that means all of those notes are played at the same time — that is, they are chords. When numbers are spaced out, it means you play those notes separately.