Things To do when Tabbing

Things To do when Tabbing

One of the most important considerations when typing in TAB is to make it clear and easily readable.

There are a few simple things you can do to make things work.

Use spaces

It's amazing the difference it can make if you insert a few blank lines in the right place. If you are used to writing the words above or below the lines of TAB make sure you leave a few lines free so that it's clear whether the words belong to the line of TAB above or below.

Space out the individual lines of TAB and the whole thing will be a lot easier for others to understand.

Define the symbols you use

It would make everybody's life a lot easier if everyone used the same symbols for hammer ons, bends etc.

BUT - if you are convinced that your particular way of writing bends and slides makes much more sense than anyone else's, that's OK as long as you tell everybody what system you use. It makes very good sense to start your TAB file with a list of symbols used.

The list of most commonly used symbols is below :

  • h - hammer on
  • p - pull off
  • b - bend string up
  • r - release bend
  • / - slide up
  • \ - slide down
  • v - vibrato (sometimes written as ~)
  • t - tap (with strumming hand)
  • x - muted, struck string

When you get on to harmonics , you might see a variety of symbols used. Even in standard music notation, an accepted way of writing natural and artificial harmonics has never been agreed!

However, using brackets is the standard way of writing harmonics, so a natural harmonic at the 12th fret would be :


Normal brackets () are sometimes used for grace notes or optional notes so 'pointy' brackets <> is the usual choice for harmonics.

Label bits of the TAB

It makes things a lot easier if you can see where the 'verse' and 'chorus' parts of a song are, so put a few labels in certain places to guide people through it.

Many songs will have clear 'verse' and 'chorus' structures - so you can tab out the riffs / chords or whatever for these just once, and then indicate where these are repeated. Or there maybe a couple of important riffs which are used - so TAB these out and label them 'Riff One' and 'Riff Two' - then when they come up later in the song you can just say 'repeat Riff One four times' instead of tabbing the whole thing again.

As long as it's clear which bits of TAB go with which label, you will save yourself time this way as well as making it easier to read for others.

Include Artist / album

It's useful for others to know where to find the original song, so at the beginning of each TAB include some information on the artists who recorded the original, and the album on which the song can be found.

General comments

It's also useful to include a few lines at the beginning of the TAB to explain the style of the song, or to point out important features such as alternative tunings, use of capos etc.

A few words along the lines of "use a staccato, funky kind of strumming style for the chords, then change to a sustained feel for the lead line" will help people to get an idea of how to approach the playing style.

Information on the type of guitar (electric/acoustic, 6 string/12 string) and effects used would be useful.

One point on the use of capos and alternative tunings :

It's a lot easier for people to understand chord names etc if they are written as though played *without* a capo.

For example, if you have a D shape chord played with a capo at the 2nd fret you should write it as D major even though you will actually be fretting notes at the 4th and 5th frets.

Also - for TAB using a capo, it's standard practice to write the numbers of the frets *relative* to the position of the capo.

So again, if you had a D major chord with a capo at the 2nd fret the TAB would be :



Even though you actually fret the notes at the 4th and 5th frets.

It's similar with TAB for guitars tuned a semitone or tone lower than usual. If a song should be played with the guitar tuned to Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb, and it has this chord :


It makes things a lot easier to understand if the you call the chord 'E' rather than Eb.

That way, if you decide to play in standard tuning, you don't get confused.

Timing information

You may want to get really serious and include details giving the precise rhythm of the piece. This will involve a lot more typing, but it means all the information necessary to play the piece is given explicitly.

One way to approach this is to write a line of dashes interspersed with numbers which count the beats.

So in 4-4 time, you would have :

1---2---3---4---1---2---3---4--- etc

Under this you can write a line of d's and u's to represent down and upstrokes.

Here is a simple example where the rhythm is 2 crotchets (quarter notes) followed by 4 quavers (8th notes)

1---2---3---4---1---2---3---4--- etc


You could expand on this to use upper and lower case letters to indicate accents and so on.

If you use this method make sure that you clearly separate the 2 lines of rhythm information from the 6 lines of TAB !!!

One other way of including timing information is to use one letter/symbol for each note type.

For example use e for 8th note (quaver), s for 16th note (semi-quaver) and so on. The letters you use may well differ depending on whether you're used to the american system of quarter notes, 8th notes etc or the english system of crotchets and quavers, but the method is the same.

If you're not sure of the 'translations' here they are :

  • whole note - semibreve
  • half note - minim
  • quarter note - crotchet
  • 8th note - quaver
  • 16th note - semiquaver
  • 32nd note - demisemiquaver
  • 64th note - hemidemisemiquaver

Simply write the letters above the corresponding note in the TAB. (Make sure you define which letters/symbols you use)

Here's an example of what this looks like :

This is the opening riff from the Beatles' Ticket To Ride

q e e t t t q e e t t t


Here I've used q for quarter note, e for 8th note and t for triplet quarter note.

If you want to send in a TAB with rhythm information like this then it's *essential* to explain the system you use. I've seen a lot of different systems of letters and numbers of varying degrees of simplicity and readability. Whichever you choose to use, you'll have to explain all your symbols to make sure others can work out what the hell you're on about.

If you want to give a few clues as to the rhythm of the TAB, but don't want to get too involved, use of bar lines is an effective way of conveying timing information.

Simply insert a vertical line of |'s to indicate the end of a bar. So using the national anthem example I had before, with bar lines it looks like this :



It's a lot easier to follow a piece of TAB when you've got at least some of the lyrics to follow, and you can match up the notes / riffs in the TAB to the lyrics.

Try to include lyrics for at least the first verse and chorus. There are literally hundreds of websites now offering free lyrics (most of them illegal we might add!)

NEXT...Things to avoid when tabbing...


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