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Guitar Tab

Guitar Tab, Neck Diagrams and Chord Diagrams

In order to take adavantage of the lesson materials provided on this site, you need to become familiar with a few of the ways that guitar music is written. There are four conventional ways of notating guitar music – standard notation, guitar tab, neck diagrams and chord diagrams. Standard notation will be covered in depth within the lessons themselves while a basic knowledge of tab and diagrams is essential before you start.

Guitar Tab

Guitar tab or tabulature is a very popular method of notating guitar music. What makes tab so popular is that, once you get the hang of it, it is very easy to read. In order to understand tab, you need to visualize a guitar neck laying on its side like so:

guitar neck


At first, this will seem upside-down to you, but this view positions the neck much the same way as if you are playing the guitar and looking down on the neck. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

Tab consists of 6 horizontal lines that represent the strings of the guitar:


The bottom line represents the low E-string and the top line represents the high E-string. So, from the bottom line to the top line, we have low E-string, A-string, D-string, G-string, B-string and on the top, the high E-string.

In order to tell you what notes to play, numbers are used:


This tab is telling you to play the note at the 5th fret on the low E-string.

Tab is read from left to right just like you’re reading these words. So if you see numbers spread out, it means to play the notes one after the other like a scale:

guitar tab

So, this tab is telling your to play the 5th fret on the low E-string, then the 7th fret on the low E, followed by the 4th fret on the A-string, 5th fret on the A-string etc…

If the numbers are stacked vertically, it means to play all the notes in each stack at the same time like a chord:

more tab

So this tab is telling you to play an A chord (Chords will be covered in great detail within the lessons. Right now you’ll just have to take my word for it.), followed by a D chord, then an E chord, and, finally, back to the A chord.

Now, notice the 0’s used in each chord. 0 means to play the string without putting a finger down on it. This is called an open string.

That’s it! Everything else you will need to know about reading tab is covered inside the lessons.

Neck Diagrams

Neck diagrams work a lot like tab, but instead of lines and numbers, a neck diagram is a picture of a guitar neck:

Just like tab, the bottom line represents the low E-string, and the rest of the strings follow in proper order. The grey vertical strip on the left of the diagram is the nut, the vertical lines are the frets and the diamonds along the length of the diagram are the position markers or “fret dots”. Scroll back up and take a look at the picture of the guitar neck if you are having trouble with this one.

Neck diagrams are used for showing how scales and chords “lay out” across the fingerboard. A scale can be shown like this:

A chord can be shown like this:

The squares and dots show you which notes are included in the scale or chord. If a square or dot lies to the left of the nut, that marking represents a note played on the open string.

Chord Diagrams

Chord diagrams are exactly like neck diagrams except that chord diagrams are arranged vetically instead of horizontally (honest….I’m not making this up just to confuse you). In order to read chord diagrams, you will need to visualize the guitar neck in this position:

The sole purpose of chord diagrams is to show how chords are fingered (which finger plays which note):

Again the dots represent the notes to be played. Clear dots are open strings and the numbers underneath the diagram tell you which fingers to use for each note of the chord.

A chord played further up the neck looks like this:

“3fr.” indicates that this chord is played at the 3rd fret. The arc over the top of the diagram is called a barre (pronounced bar). A barre indicates that you need to flatten your finger (index finger in this case) across all the strings inside the arc. To play this chord, you need to flatten your index finger across the A, D, G, B and high E-string in order for that finger to play the note on the A-string AND the note on the E-string.

If, after trying to play this chord, you decide to forget about learning to play the guitar and take up stamp collecting, you are not alone. But don’t give up hope. With practice, anything is possible. If, on the other hand you find this chord quite easy to play, don’t worry you’ll get what’s coming to you eventually. There are plenty of things down the road to challenge even the most gifted novice. Betcha can’t wait 🙂

There’s one last thing you need to know about chord diagrams before you go diving head first into the lessons. Only strings that have a dot are played. If a string doesn’t have a dot, don’t play that string. This takes a bit of practice on some chords, but if you don’t leave those strings out, your chords will sound like crap and you’ll think I don’t know what the hell I’m showing you.

That’s it! Now get at those lessons before your girlfriend (or boyfriend, as the case may be) decides they don’t like the idea of you spending all your time with your hands stroking a hunk of wood.

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