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How to read Power tabs


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The tablature notation used in Power Tab scores is very similar to the notation found in North American tablature books and magazines. (in fact, it's based upon it) Users who have previously bought issues of Guitar World, Guitar (for the Practicing Musician), or have bought music books published by Hal Leonard or Cherry Lane should have very little trouble understanding the tablature. If you're unfamiliar with these materials, read on!

The Tablature Staff

The foundation upon which all tablature notation is built is the tablature staff. The tablature staff is a graphical representation of an instrument's fretboard. Each line on the tablature staff corresponds to a string on the instrument. This means that a six string guitar will always be notated using a tablature staff of six lines, and a four string bass will always be notated using a tablature staff of four lines. The lines on the staff are numbered, from top to bottom, starting with the number one. ;

When notating a guitar, the 1st line (topmost) on the tablature staff corresponds to the thinnest string on the guitar and the 6th line (bottommost) on the tablature staff corresponds to the thickest string on the guitar. The following diagram illustrates how a six string guitar is represented in tablature notation. (The numbers at the bottom of the picture of the guitar fretboard on the left represent the matching line numbers on the tablature staff in the picture on the right -- in your mind, turn the picture of the fretboard to the left 90 degrees and you should get the idea!)

A head-on shot of a six string guitar's fretboard, and its corresponding tablature staff representation.

Now that the strings have been represented, we can move on to the other important piece of data on an instrument's fretboard, the frets. Frets are notated on the tablature staff by using numbers. Fret numbers are numbered from nut to bridge starting with the number one. A special case is made for the number zero, which is used to represent an open string. When a fret number is drawn on the tablature staff, it is always drawn centered on the staff line for the string that it represents. The following diagram illustrates how an E major chord played on a six string guitar (standard tuning) is represented in tablature notation. (The red dots in the picture of the fretboard represent where the fingers of your fretting hand are placed in order to play the chord)

A head-on shot of an E major chord on a six string guitar's fretboard, and its corresponding tablature notation representation.

The final piece of information required in order to begin properly representing music notes is the timing of the notes. All note durations are represented using standard music notation on a staff that appears directly above the tablature staff. The following diagram displays how four quarter notes played on a six string guitar are represented using a combination of standard and tablature notation.

A sample measure notating four quarter notes played on a six string guitar.

The above diagram can be broken down into the following instructions:

  1. Pluck the 5th string on the guitar, and hold it for one quarter note amount of time.
  2. Place a finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, pluck the 4th string on the guitar, and hold it for one quarter note amount of time.
  3. Place a finger on the 3rd fret of the 3rd string, pluck the 3rd string on the guitar, and hold it for one quarter note amount of time.
  4. Place a finger on the 4th fret of the 4th string, pluck the 4th string on the guitar, and hold it for one quarter note amount of time.

If you need help on understanding timings and other standard notation theory, search for "music theory" at a popular search engine, like www.google.com.

Tablature Symbols

The following is a listing all of the tablature symbols used in Power Tab notation. The definition for each symbol appears to the right of each diagram. The definitions are taken from a tablature explanation page found in an old guitar magazine.

Chord Diagram

The chord diagram is a graphical representation of a section on the fretboard. (A five fret area) ; The leftmost vertical line in the diagram represents the thickest string on the guitar, (6th string) and the rightmost vertical line in the diagram represents the thinnest string on the guitar. (1st string). The horizontal lines in the diagram represent the frets on the fretboard. A thick line at the top of the diagram represents the nut on the guitar. If there is no thick line at the top of the diagram, the fret number representing the top line is given on the right side of the diagram..

The solid dots on the lines represent where to place your fingers (on the fretting hand) in order to sound the chord properly. A hollow dot above the top line of the diagram represents an open string. An "x" above the chord frame represents that the string is not played.

Bend Strike the note and bend up by the number of steps indicated. (1/2 step = 1 fret) The term "Full" refers to a whole step bend. (2 frets)
Bend and Release Strike the note and bend up by the number of steps indicated, then release the bend back to the original note. Only the first note is struck.
Pre-Bend Bend the note up by the number of steps indicated, and then strike it.
Pre-Bend and Release Bend the note up by the number of steps indicated, strike it and release the bend back to the original note.
Vibrato Vibrate the note by shaking (bending and releasing) the string with the fretting finger.
Wide Vibrato Vibrate the pitch to a greater degree with the fretting finger or vibrato bar.
Legato Slide Strike the first note and then with the same fretting finger slide up the string to the second note. The second note is not struck
Shift Slide Same as above, except the second note is struck.
Slide Into (from below) Slide up to the note indicated from a few frets below.
Slide Into (from above) Slide down to the note indicated from a few frets above.
Slide Out Of (downwards) Slide out from the note indicated to a few frets below.
Slide Out Of (upwards) Slide out from the note indicated to a few frets above.
Hammer-On Strike the first (lower) note, then sound the higher note with another finger by fretting it without picking.
Pull-Off Place both fingers on the notes to be sounded. Strike the first (higher) note, then sound the lower note by pulling the finger off the higher note while keeping the lower note fretted.
Trill Very rapidly alternate between the note indicated and the small note shown in parentheses by hammering on and pulling off.
Tapping Hammer ("tap") the fret indicated with the picking hand index or middle finger and pull off to the note fretted by the fretting hand.
Natural Harmonic With a fretting hand finger, lightly touch the string over the fret indicated, then strike it. A chime-like sound is produced.
Artificial Harmonic Fret the note normally and sound the harmonic by adding the picking hand thumb edge or index finger tip to the normal pick attack.
Tremolo Bar Using the tremolo bar, drop the note by the number of steps indicated, then return to original pitch.
Palm Mute Using the picking hand, partially mute the note by lightly touching the string just before the bridge.
Muted Notes Lay the fretting hand across the strings without depressing them to the fretboard; strike the strings with the picking hand, producing a percussive sound.
Pick Slide Rub the pick edge down the length of the string to produce a scratchy sound.
Tremolo Picking Pick the note as rapidly and continuously as possible.
Pickstroke (down) Strike the note using a downward motion.
Pickstroke (up) Strike the note using a upward motion.
Rhythm Slashes Strum the chords in the rhythm indicated. Use the chord diagrams found at the top of the first page of the score to determine the fingering to use for each chord.
Single-Note Rhythm Slashes The circled number below the slash indicates which string to play. The number beside it represents the fret number.