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How to Read Guitar Tabs and Chords

How to Play Guitar Tabs

Ok, so you’ve got a guitar, it looks great! But how do you play it?! The first thing you should know is this lesson works for both accoustic guitars and electric, but bass players are going to have to find another place. Ok, now that’s cleared. Here we go.

There are two different ways of writing down or reading songs. There is the professional way, with all the fancy note symbols and there is the basic, more common way. I will be teaching you how to read the basic type. These are called Tablatures.

The basic structure for a tablature (or tab) looks like this:


This may have confused you. Firstly, ignore the letters on the left. You have six lines. Each one of these lines represent a string on your guitar. Ok? The bottom line represents the top (thickest) string on your guitar. The top line represents the bottom (thinnest) string on your guitar. Look at this:

Thinnest     |-------------
2nd Thinnest |-------------
3rd Thinnest |-------------
3rd Thickest |-------------
2nd Thickest |-------------
Thickest     |-------------

Does that make sense? Now for the frets. This is the really awkward part. I will try and explain. A fret is the area between the two (usually metal) bars on your guitar. If you were told to play the first fret on the top string then you would push down on fret 1 on the top string with your finger and pluck the string. I’m really hoping that made sense.

The first fret is the furthest away from you. There are usually 21, 22, 23 or 24 frets on a guitar. If you look, they all get thinner as they get closer to you. There are also marks telling you what fret is what. There is a dot on the third fret, the fifth fret, the seventh fret, the ninth fret, the twelve fret, the fifteenth fret, the seventeenth fret, the ninteenth fret, and the twenty first fret and maybe more. This is to help you get around your guitar quicker. Now to put frets into a tablature:


What this tab is telling you to do is first, to put a finger (The Index Preferably) on the first fret on the top/thickest string. Then you pluck the string. If you are pushing hard enough onto the fret you shall find that you get a nice, deep note. Next, you put your next finger (preferably your middle finger) onto the second fret on the top string. Now hit the string. You should get a nice, slightly higher pitched note.

Then you put your next finger (your ring finger) onto the third fret, if you are pushing down hard enough you will find that when you pluck the string you will get a slightly higher pitched note again.

Then you push your next finger (your pinky) down hard onto the top string pushing it down into the forth fret, pluck the string and you will get another, slightly higher pitched sound. If you followed this carefully you should be getting the idea.

Look at this:


On this one, you are doing the exact same as the last one but you are put your fingers on, and hitting the thinnest string. You should get a very high pitched sound.

Try this:


Had a good try? If you’re stuck, what you’re doing is putting your fingers on the third thickest string, the third one away from you.

So what about this?


A 0? What do you do with a 0? Fear not! A zero simply means you pluck that string without putting your finger on a fret. This is fret zero. Make sense? Here are two, infamous and simple riffs, try them out:

Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple:


Ring a bell? Note that the whole song is played on the thickest/deepest pitch string.

Come As You Are by Nirvana:


This song is played on the top two strings of your guitar. It looks hard but do it slowly at first and you’ll have it in no time. These two riffs are the first things I ever learnt on guitar!

Now you know how to play basic tabs! Now the advanced bit: What does the EADGBE stand for? You may have noticed that between nearly all the tabs I have written here there is:


On the left of it. Why is this? Each letter represents a note. If you have ever played on a keyboard or a piano before you will notice that each note is written as a letter. C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. All the EADGBE is is different notes. The thickest string on your guitar is a low E, the thinest is a high E, in between them is A, D, G and B. You don’t have to remember this but if you do then you’re one more step closer to being a professional. I remember it like this:


It works for me! I hope it helps. Next, bends, slides, hammer ons and pull offs. Sooner or later you’re going to stumble on a tab with one of these three in it. I guarantee. It will help alot if you know what they mean.



What do I do? What do I do? Fear not. Firstly, put your finger on the forth fret ofD and play it. That is what you want it to sound like. Now, what you want to do is put your finger on the third fret, play the string and bend it so it makes the excact same sound as fret four. Got it? It’s not that hard.



This, too, is also simple. Put a finger on seven of string D, hit the string and quickly, making sure the finger is still pushing the string down onto the frets, slide your finger up to nine. If performed correctly you’ll get a nice sound rising in pitch.

Hammer On:


The “h” represents a hammer on, put your index finger on fret two of High E (the thinnest string on the guitar) and pluck the string, quickly slam your ring finger down onto the fourth fret. It will change pitch and be a bit quieter. That’s all a hammer on is.

Pull Off:


The “p” means pull off. Put your little finger on 9 and your index finger on 7, pluck the string, and quickly slide your little finger off in a downwards motion (this keeps the string vibrating) and the pitch will change quickly from 9 to 7. I hope you understood that, it’s hard to explain so please don’t flame me if you don’t get it. I hope this lesson helped you alot, tablatures are the most important thing you will come across when you try and learn guitar.

How to Play Chords

Knowing how to read and use guitar chord diagrams is really of extreme importance for every guitar player regardless if you are still a newbie, or if you are already in line with famous guitarists in the music industry. Guitar chord diagrams will help you a lot in learning those chords and putting them into rhythm – which is the way to becoming one of the best and competent guitar player ever!

What is this Guitar Chord Diagram all about?

   G CHORD            C CHORD            D CHORD
e|-----3-----|     e|-----X-----|     e|-----2-----|     
B|-----0-----|     B|-----1-----|     B|-----3-----|     
G|-----0-----|     G|-----0-----|     G|-----2-----|     
D|-----0-----|     D|-----2-----|     D|-----0-----|     
A|-----2-----|     A|-----3-----|     A|-----X-----|     
E|-----3-----|     E|-----X-----|     E|-----X-----|     

This is basically the graphical representation of a single guitar chord and is also known as a “chord box”. It looks like a rectangular box that will show you how to play the chord. It is actually a representation of your guitar’s fret board showing you the correct position of your fingers and which strings to strike in order to play it. Isn’t it amazing how much useful information is being crammed into a tiny package?

Reading the Chord Diagram

There are different variations of the styles and formats of chord diagrams, but all those kinds have these common essentials:

• Six lines that represent the strings of the guitar. Depending on the style of the chord box, the lines may fill up the page
vertically, which is the most common, or itcould also run across the page horizontally.

• For vertical presentations, the leftmost string represents the low E, or the thickest string; and the string on the
rightmost side is the high E, or the thinnest string.

• Series of lines going across the string lines forming a right angle are the frets.

• The string and fret lines go together forming a grid which is the guitar fret board.

• Circles or dots on the grid represent which strings to press and which fret to place them on.

With only those minute things in a chord diagram, you can already play any guitar chord. There is no need for you to read
musical notation or even guitar tablatures to understand what the diagram is telling you.

Additional features of the chord diagrams that even tell you more valuable information include:

• The thickest, topmost line represents the guitar nut or the end of the neck.

• The “x” symbol above the nut line means that you don’t need to play the string.

• The “o” symbol also above the nut line means the string is played openly, no parts pressed on.

• Numbers 1 to 4 on the dots or circles indicate the finger to use in that string. That is, 1=the index finger, and 4=the
little finger.

• Lines or bars running across two or more strings represent a “Barre Chord”, in which one finger presses a multiple of

Helpful Tips on Reading Chord Diagrams

1. This is the most powerful tool for learning and innovating your guitar play, so use it well!
2. Different individual chord diagrams can be combined to form you own chart. This will help you learn about the basic
chords, chord families and sequences, and songs.
3. Utilize the internet as your source of further information to learn about guitar chord diagrams and chord charts.

Now that you know how to read guitar tabs and chord diagrams, you are a step closer to playing guitar. Good luck!