- Reading electric bass tablature found on the Internet

Reading Internet Bass Tablature

Tablature or Tab for short, is a system of notation for the electric bass, and guitar. This reference will focus on the type of tablature that is found on the Internet. While Internet tablature has many things in common with tabs found in magazines and books, there are many differences as well.

For more information on reading guitar tablature, be sure to check out the guitar version of this lesson at

Lines in tablature

Tablature for a standard 4 string electric bass will consist of 4 lines, one for each string of the bass.

G:-------------- --> 1st string
D:-------------- --> 2nd string
A:-------------- --> 3rd string
E:-------------- --> 4th string

Some tablature will have 5 lines if a 5-string bass is being used, or 6 or 7 lines for guitar. But all of the examples in this reference will be for a standard 4 string bass.

The bottom line in tablature will represent the 4th string of the bass. The 4th string is the thickest, lowest sounding, and closest to the ceiling if you are holding the bass in playing position. The top line in tablature will represent the 1st string. This is the thinnest, highest sounding, and closest to the floor.

G:-----1st string---- --> thinnest...highest sounding...closest to the floor
D:-----2nd string----
A:-----3rd string----
E:-----4th string----
--> thickest...lowest sounding....closest to the ceiling


This is how the electric bass would look if you where holding it in your lap.
bass guitar picture


Numbers in tablature

The numbers in tablature represents the frets where you will place your left hand fingers.

For example: 3 means the third fret. So you would press down the string just to the left of the 3rd fret bar. (See picture above) A 0 (zero) would mean that you play that string open (not pressing down the string with your left hand).

      3rd fret    open string
G:-------3------------0---------- -->1st string
E:------------------------------- -->4th string


The order that the notes are played

Tablature is read from left to right. If you see something like the example below, just play the notes in the order that you see them.

Here is how you would play the example below

first you play the 3rd string...7th fret
then the 2nd string...5th fret
then 2nd string...7th fret
then 1st string...5th fret
then 2nd string...7th fret

G:--------------5-------- -->1st string
E:----------------------- -->4th string


More that one note played at the same time

When you see 2 or more numbers stacked up on top of each other, you will play the notes at the same time. So in the example below you would play the 1st string...5th fret, and the 2nd string...5th fret at the same time.

G:----5------------------ -->1st string
E:----------------------- -->4th string


What fingers to use

Tablature does not indicate what finger you should use to play each note. You will have to make that decision on your own. But as a general guide, think about this. You have 4 fingers, use one finger per fret in a 4 fret area. So if you have something like the example below, use your 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers.

5th fret---1st finger
6th fret ---2nd finger
7th fret ---3rd finger
8th fret---4th finger

G:----5--6--7--8--------- -->1st string
E:----------------------- -->4th string

Keep in mind that this is a very general guideline, and not everything is as clear cut as the above example.


More tablature details ahead

Knowing these basics about tablature will help you get started playing a wealth of songs available on the Internet. But there are some more specific symbols that you need to be aware of when on your bass tablature journey. One thing to keep in mind, is that this system of notation is far from being standardized. I will try to show you the most common symbols used, but the person who wrote a particular piece of tablature sometimes uses their own non standard symbols. They might even use the wrong name for a particular technique, which can be very confusing. Get a recording of what ever song you are working on, and use your ear along with the tab to help.

Page 2, Information about tuning and rhythm in tab


How to read tablature
Jump Zone

Intro to Tablature
Tuning and Rhythm
Other symbols used in tab

Reverse bends

Ghost notes and optional notes
Right Hand Tapping
Rhythm click or Muted string

Natural Harmonics
Other Harmonics
Palm Mute

Slaps and pops

Bass Course

Slap Bass Funky Fundamentals
How to play fun great sounding slap bass lines following a step-by-step system.

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