How Guitar Music Is Written

Monday, December 25, 2006

Written music can serve many purposes. It can help us remember what we have heard oncebefore. But it can also help us learn something we’ve never heard—and thus expand ourmusical horizons.

Luckily, guitar tablature—the easiest way of writing down music for the guitar—is simple tounderstand, once you know the basics. It can be your doorway to an entirely new world ofmusic. So let’s spend a few minutes familiarizing ourselves with the basics of tablature.

Guitar Tablature
In the earliest days, music for the guitar was written in a form known as tablature. Thissystem indicates exactly where the fingers are to be placed by showing the strings as six lines,with numbers (or letters) representing the frets. Here is an example:

  • The word TAB is conventionally placed at the beginning of the line to distinguish these lines from those of the musical staff. Here, the lines represent the six strings, the first string being the top line.

  • “0” stands for open string. Play the first string with the right hand; do nothing with the left.

  • “1” stands for the first fret. Place a finger behind the first fret on the same string. Play the note.

  • “3” stands for the third fret. Finger the third fret, play the note.

  • The vertical line marks off the measures, as in conventional notation.

Note that the numbers have nothing to do with the fingers. In this example they happen to coincide, but they refer only to the frets.

Now try playing these examples in succession:

If something sounds familiar, you’re doing well!

The rhythm can be expressed in various ways in tablature, but before discussing this we need to learn some basics in this area.