For notation, I use tablature (“tab”), sometimes written tabulature, because it’s easier to learn and (I think) better for beginners than standard notation. The six lines are the strings of your guitar and the number is the fret where you have to press the string down. (You need non-proportional characters, otherwise the pre-formatted tabs will look awful!).

The problem of tablature is that you can’t get the length of a note, so you have to listen to the song before you try to play it (or use both tab and notes). The problem of standard notation is that a tone can be played on several positions on the fretboard – so it’s not definite where to play. Guitar-specific techniques can not be shown with it. So I’ll take the tablature. Sometimes it is useful to see the fretboard positions of all note that belong to a scale. These graphics are a like a direct view on the fretboard, they are no tablature.

For this tutorial it is important that you understand tablature!

Tab examples:

The well-known E-chord looks like:


All notes are played at the same time.

A short lick (Layla) looks like:


You start picking the A string pressed down at he 7th fret,
than pick the string again at the 10th fret. Now pick
the D string at the 7th fret, do a hammer-on to the 10th
fret and a pull-off back to the 7th fret. Than pick the
A string at the 10th fret and finally the D string at the
7th fret.

Tab legend:

/    slide up:
5/7 slide from 5th fret up to the 7th fret, /5 slide into 5th fret from somewhere
\ slide down:
7\5 slide from 7th fret down to the 5th fret
b bend up:
5b(7) is a full-tone, 5b(6) a half tone bend, quarter bends are just noted b
rb release bend:
(9)rb7 means full tone bend before picking, then pick and release, 7th fret
br bend and release, pick, bend quarter tone and release without picking twice:
7br, full tone bend and release: 7b(8)rb7
hb hold bend:
5b(7)hb(7) pick, full-tone bend, hold bend and pick again
pb pre bend (bend up silently, then pick string):
5pb(7) pick after full-tone bend from 5
~ vibrato, not every vibrato is noted, listen to the music:
h hammer on:
5h7 hammer on from 5th to 7th fret
p pull off:
8p5 pull of from 8th to 5th fret
tr triller, combination of hammer-on and pull-off:
5tr8 is 5h8p5h8p5h8.... (as long as the song needs)

How to write tab

At first you need a CD-player which can repeat parts of a song. You can also use a freeware like Audacity (see software section), select the difficult part (mouse), copy it (ctrl-c), copy to a new track (ctrl-v) after clicking with the mouse into the free space below the track, select it and slow down using effect – change tempo (not change speed!).

Now try to find out the key by just playing some chords while listening to the song. Most Blues standards are in E or A. Once you know the key, you also know the scale. Start with song pieces of about 5 seconds (depending on the song speed) and find out which fingering pattern of the scale is used. If you have picked the right note, write it down using the following way:

  • you can use one of these guitar tab programs, but it’s easier to use one of these freeware notepad replacements programs like NoteTab light, EditPad, Notepad+ etc.
  • Draw a line like
    and make 5 copies. (The length depends on your monitor resolution, this is a short example).
  • for web pages, put the tabs in <pre> tags
  • press down the insert key of your keyboard, so that you are in the overwrite mode.
  • type in the notes using the tab notation
  • it’s a good idea to add a lime-line to the bottom of a tab
  • you can also add the chord to the top of a tab.