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MUSIC THEORY - Lesson 4 - Guitar tabs

Andrei Moraru

New Student
Nov 11, 2019
418
884
andreilucianmoraru.com
10
So like, guitars go to bars and the bar owner keeps tabs for them?

  1. Topics of discussion
  2. Guitar tabs explained
  3. The middle C conundrum
1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial, we are going to talk about guitar tabs, while also figuring out a conundrum regarding the middle C note on guitars. So, let's have some fun

2. Guitar tabs explained

When it comes to guitars, be it bass guitars or regular ones, you can represent notes in another way besides sheets. And that way goes by the name of guitar tabs.

A guitar tab looks somewhat similar to a musical staff. You will once again have a set of horizontal lines. But instead of using circles on those lines, you use numbers. And the numbers represent a position on the fretboard (basically, the number tells you what fret needs to be pressed).

Here is a tab version for the C chord:

E|----0----|
B|----1----|
G|----0----|
D|----2----|
A|----3----|
E|---------|

Whenever you see 0, that means that the string is to be played open, without pressing any fret. The notes we play for this chord are, from bottom to top, C, E, G, C, and E. We'll talk about notes on a guitar in a minute.

As you can see, you will have a line for each guitar string. The notes at the beginning of each line tell you the tuning of the guitar. The standard tuning for a guitar is, from the thinnest to the thickest string, E4, B3, G3, D3, A2, and E2.

Of course, as is the case with sheets, when you see numbers on top of each other like in the example above, that means you need to play those strings at the same time. Otherwise, you will play a single string.

Since this is a guitar website, I am fairly confident everyone knows how notes function on guitar. Basically, each fret you press produces a different note. Two notes located on consecutive frets are separated by a semitone or half-step. And the difference between two notes separated by two frets is a tone or step. We will discuss these concepts in a future tutorial.

3. The middle C conundrum

The final thing we need to understand with regards to note representation is with regards to the middle C note on the guitar. If you've ever used software that shows you both the tab and the music sheet for your guitar parts, you'll have noticed that the C note on the A string, 3rd fret, is shown as middle C on the sheet.

However, pitch-wise, this is not exactly true. If we were to be entirely correct, then the middle C on guitar is actually the C note played on the B string 1st fret.

The short version is that this is a convention put in place some time ago. And the convention appeared because guitar sheets are usually only represented on G clef staffs. And if we were to actually respect the pitch of the C note on the A string, 3rd fret, you'd be drowning in leger lines.

And that about covers it for this tutorial. In the next one, we are going to talk about note lengths and rests. See you then.
 

Ed Seith

Supreme Galactic Overlord
Staff member
Nov 11, 2019
2,125
1,967
50
Marana, AZ USA
35
interesting. I always thought "Middle C" was the same C note, regardless of instrument, because it was the middle C note on a full 88 key piano.
 
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Lindsey

Free Bird Player
  • Nov 16, 2019
    419
    944
    The Netherlands
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    I didn't know that about the middle C either.
    Makes me wonder if it would be more correct to play that note on the B string when using sheet music in treble clef, if possible.
    I usually play the lower notes on the lower strings. (If I ever use notesheets...)

    Thanks for sharing.
     

    Andrei Moraru

    New Student
    Nov 11, 2019
    418
    884
    andreilucianmoraru.com
    10
    I didn't know that about the middle C either.
    Makes me wonder if it would be more correct to play that note on the B string when using sheet music in treble clef, if possible.
    I usually play the lower notes on the lower strings. (If I ever use notesheets...)

    Thanks for sharing.
    Pitch-wise it would be correct yes. But take it from someone who has played guitar music sheets: it would require you to have Reed Richards levels of elasticity in your hands for you to do so.
     
    • Like
    Reactions: Lindsey