Guitar Music Notation Primer
Guitar music can be notated in four different ways: standard notation, tablature,
rhythm/slash notation and neck diagrams/grids.
What follows is a quick overview. Later lessons will provide you with more details.
Standard notation indicates the pitch of a note and also its duration. In standard
notation the first symbol you will encounter is called a clef. A clef is a symbol used
to indicate the pitch of a particular line.
Guitar music is written in the treble clef. The treble clef is sometimes called the
“G” clef because it indicates the position of the note G. The musical alphabet
consists of the first seven letters of the alphabet: A-B-C-D-E-F-G. An easy way to
remember the notes in the treble clef is to use the following mnemonics:
Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (notes on lines)
F A C E (notes in spaces)
Don't worry about the details of standard notation right now. Later lessons will go
into more detail. Our main focus will be on tab and fretboard diagrams.
A Quick Overview of Tablature
In tablature, or tab, each horizontal line represents a string.
The strings are numbered from the thinnest (1) to the thickest (6).
The numbers on these lines represent the frets that you need to place your fingers
To make sure that this makes sense, we will now take a look at the melody line for a Christmas carol I’m sure you’ve heard: “Good
Below you will see the tablature and standard notation for the first four measures of the melody…
Let’s walk through how to play the tab shown above…
The first note is played on the 3rd string. The “0” means you simply play the open string. An open string is a string that is played
without any fingers on it.
The second and third notes are the same as the first, so you play the open 3rd string two more times.
The next note is also on the 3rd string, but this time you play the note found on the second fret of the 3rd string.
Next you play two more open 3rd strings and then play the open 4th string.
Now play the second fret of the 4th string and then play the 4th string open.
Next play the second fret of the 4th string and then play the fourth fret (also on the 4th string).
Finally, play the open 3rd string twice.
There it is. That’s how you play the first four measures of “Good King Wenceslas”. As you can see, reading tab is easy.
The slash is used to represent the notes in the chord; while the stems and beams, indicate the duration of the notes. With
rhythm notation, you can look at the chord diagram and simply strum each chord with the appropriate rhythm.
This is obviously quicker and easier than having to read the actual notes in the chord. We will look at this in more detail in later
The following fretboard diagrams represent isolated sections on the neck of the guitar. The vertical lines represent the strings,
while the horizontal lines represent the frets. The strings are numbered from the thinnest (1), to the thickest (6). Numbers
found beside the grid indicate specific frets. If there are no numbers found beside a grid, assume that it represents the first five
© Copyright 2012 Don J. MacLean. All Rights Reserved.