Sheet Music Formats Explained – Part 3: Guitar TAB

Sheet Music Formats Explained – Part 3: Guitar TAB

Posted on 01. Nov, 2011 by in Tutorials & Articles

In two earlier posts about sheet music formats, we looked at how, when and why you should use lead sheets or piano vocal guitar scores.  In this – the third part the series – we examine the guitar tab score.

What is it?

Guitar tablature (“tab”) is a type of music notation that shows guitar fingering instead of the pitch of each note. A guitar tab stave has 6 lines – one representing each of the strings of the guitar. There is also bass guitar tab stave which has 4 lines to represent the strings of the bass guitar.

Guitar tab

The top line of the tab stave represents the highest string on the guitar and the bottom line, the lowest string. Numbers are written on each line to show which fret the player should press down to achieve a pitch. A guitar tab chart can also include the song’s melody and lyrics.

Which styles of music use tab?

The use of tablature has been around since the 14th century and is commonly used to notate music played by fretted instruments such as the guitar or lute.  It has also been used to notate organ, harmonica and ocarina music. Nowadays, it’s frequently used to notate rock and pop style guitar charts and thousands of tabs (both legal and unauthorised) can be found online on websites such as Ultimate Guitar, or

What’s so great about guitar tab?

Because tab is a visual representation of the fretboard, it is relatively easy for beginners to use. Tab tells the player exactly where to place their fingers to sound the desired note and learning curve is not as steep as it is for reading conventional notation. Tab is a common language for amongst rock and pop guitarists and is frequently generated using a plain text computer file format called ASCII.

When should I use guitar tab?

Guitar tab can be used on its own – to create a guitar-only chart. A guitar tab stave can also be included in a regular score, whilst the other instruments are notated on standard 5-line staves.

When not to use guitar tab

Unlike standard notation, rhythm is rarely included in tab charts (especially if the charts were generated using the ACSII file format), so if you need to notate specific rhythms in your score, guitar tab may not be the best option.

Guitar tab in MuseScore

MuseScore version 1.1 doesn’t support guitar TAB, but it will be included in version 2.0. In their announcement about version 1.1, the MuseScore team said:

MuseScore 2.0 will support tablature notation for fretted instruments such as guitar and lute, as well as import of Guitar Pro files.

If you’re interested in testing out MuseScore tab feature, you can download one of the nightly builds here. Bear in mind though, that nightly builds are intended for testing only and recommended for experienced users.  You can also take a sneak-peak at the Tablature Creation handbook entry here.

Guitar image: Now That The Holidays Are Gone by Thomas Hawk 

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2 Responses to “Sheet Music Formats Explained – Part 3: Guitar TAB”

  1. Lasconic

    02. Nov, 2011

    If you try a nightly, you can give your feedback in the technology preview on :

    Reply to this comment
  2. Kedai Cenderahati

    25. Jan, 2012

    Wow! this is great. very helpful to beginners. Thanks!

    Reply to this comment

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