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Bass Lessons — How To Read Tab bass tabs

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Q. What is tablature?
A. Tablature, or tabs is a form of music notation that anyone
can read with little experience with their instrument. Tabs
are by—ear, note for note transcriptions of recorded songs
that anyone can have access to. Having access to the recording
is important as tabs are much more simplified than standard
music notation and will usually not tell you things such as note
length, which fingers you use to fret which note, and will usually
not tell you anything about picking and strumming, etc.

Q. How do I read the tabs?
A. Tabs are written in with each line representing one string
on the guitar or bass, usually 6 or 4, respectively. In tablature,
the highest line represents the highest (pitch) string. So
the "top" string is actually on the bottom when you hold a guitar.
If this is confusing, imagine having the guitar strapped on
and then flipping it up to your face, you would essentially be
looking at the guitar upside down, and the thinnest/highest
pitch string would be on top. Trust me, just practice and it gets
easier :)

Two more things you should know about tabs.
1) The number displayed is the fret, counting from 0, an open
string, and increasing one for every fret.
2) Most tablatures will tell you the tuning of the instrument,
with the letter tuning of the string to the left of it. If there
is no bar showing tuning, it is either implied to be standard
tuning, or will probably be indicated in the introduction to
the tab. With that said, lets look at a basic tab (guitar on left,
bass on right)

G|——0—————————— G|——————————————————————————
D|——0—————————— D|———————————2——3—2————————
A|——2—————————— A|—————2——5———————————5——2——
E|——3—————————— E|——3———————————————————————

On the left is the open position G chord on the guitar, on the
right is the first bar of a 12 bar blues pattern, in the key of G
on the bass. These two examples tell you something very important
about tabs the notes are read left to right, and if they are on
top of each other you play them simultaneously.

As mentioned before, the numbers correspond to the fret that
you play. On the guitar tab, you play the chord by pressing down
the 3rd fret on the low (pitch) string, 2nd fret on the next lowest,
open on the next three, and 3rd fret on the highest string.

For the bass tab, play one at a time, the third fret on the lowest
(E) string, then the second fret on the second lowest (A), then
the 5th fret on that same A string, etc.

Also keep in mind that these are by ear transcriptions, the tabber
had to listen to the song to write it down and it is important that
you listen to the song to get the timing of the notes.

What other common symbols can be seen on tabs?

h — hammer on
p — pull off
/ — slide up
\ — slide down
b bend string
r release bend
~ — vibrato
t — right hand tap
x — play 'note' with heavy damping

Note: When the x is listed in a tab it indicates that you should
play a ghost note, i.e. play the note with your other fingers
resting on the string to give it a muted, percussive sound. But
when giving a chord shape, the x will indicate that the string
should not be played. For example:

Means that you should play each unfretted string with your fingers
resting on it. On the other hand:

Is equivalent to:

This shows an A chord, indicating that you should not play
the low E string.

Here is an explination for some of the most common tablature

h — hammer on
p — pull off

With hammer—ons and pull—offs you might find things like these:

Which would mean play the E string, 5th fret and then slam another
finger down onto the 7th fret. Then play the A string, 5th fret
and slam a finger onto the 7th fret, etc. No need to strum or pick
the note right after the h as the act of slamming gives the string
more energy.

A Pull off is pretty much a backwards hammer:

For each pull off you only pick the first note of the pair with
the right hand — so in this example you would start with one finger
on the 7th fret, and one on the 5th. Then pick all the notes on the
7th fret, and lift up that finger leaving the finger on the 5th.

As stated before, you give the string an extra bit of energy when
you hammer on or pull off, so you only need to play the first note.
It should be noted that it does take a fair amount of finger strength
and dexterity to sound a clear tone with this technique.


b bend string
r release bend

When bends are involved you need to know how much to bend the note
up. This is indicated by writing a number after the 'b'. For example,
if you see this :

it means strike the B string at the 7th fret, then bend the note
up two semitones (one whole step) so that it sounds the same pitch
as a note fretted at the 9th fret would do. (Sometimes the bend
is written with the second part in brackets, like this ———7b(9)———
) Something like this :

means play the note at the 7th fret, bend up two semitones, strike
the note again whilst it is still bent, then release the bend
so that the note has it's normal pitch.


/ — slide up
\ — slide down

For a slide you start off plucking the first note and slide on
the string up or down to the second. Oftentimes the slide down
symbol ( \ ) is never used and the slide up ( / ) is used to indicate
any sliding at all. For example:

You would play the A string, pluck it at the 3rd fret and then,
without releasing pressure, slide your finger up the fret board
to the 7th fret
Tablature player for this song:
Bass Lessons - How To Read Tab Bass Tab


8 years, 3 months ago
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What about when two numbers are right next to each other? Just play those two frets in a quick succession? Or what. (I'm new to bass if you can't tell)
7 years, 5 months ago
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In schism by tool it shows colon marks, n i dnt see them in ur legend. What do they represent?
7 years, 5 months ago
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N can we not have a beib face?

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