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Tablature is a form of musical notation designed for string instruments. Tablature is frequently referred to as tab.

Tablature is commonly written for the guitar, but in principle it can be used for any plucked stringed instrument, including bass guitar, ukulele, mandolin and banjo. It is commonly used in notating all kinds of popular music, and is often seen in folk music, but rarely in classical scores.

Concepts While standard musical notation represents the pitch and rhythm of each note in a piece of music, tablature is instead a diagrammatic representation of the strings and frets of the instrument, showing where the player should put his fingers to produce the required notes. Tablature therefore represents the performance of the music, rather than the music itself.

Like standard notation, tablature consists of a series of horizontal lines forming a staff (or stave). Each line represents one of the instrument's strings (so standard guitar tab has a six-line staff). Numbers are written on the lines, each number representing a fret on the instrument. For instance, a number 3 written on the top line of the staff indicates that the player should press down the high string (not the "top", or "thick" string) at fret 3.

Tablature vs standard notation Tablature has several advantages over standard notation. Since it is a direct visual representation of the instrument's fretboard, it can often be easier and quicker for the player to interpret, and eliminates the need for the player to 'learn the language' of standard musical notation. Many guitarists, particularly in the popular music tradition, are much more adept at reading tablature than standard notation.

However, tablature is instrument-specific, while standard notation is generic. This limitation means, for instance, that only a guitarist can read guitar tablature, while a melody written in standard notation can be played by any suitable instrument.

Another limitation of the simplest form of tablature is that it does not represent the rhythm of the notes, only their pitch. In practice, this is not much of a limitation; some players read tablature and standard notation in tandem, while others listen to a recording to get the 'feel' of the music before consulting the tablature for instructions on how to play. Furthermore, several more sophisticated variants of tablature have been developed which do include information about rhythm, and these variants are becoming increasingly common.

Guitar Tablature A tablature for a six-string guitar with standard guitar tuning[?] begins with a staff of six lines. The tablature for the shape of a C major chord looks like this:

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

The number on each line corresponds to the fret on the neck of the guitar to be played. Fret "0" means that string is played open, or without any fingering. Fret one is the first fret from the headstock[?]. Guitar tablature is done from high-to-low and left-to-right, like a musical staff. The bottom line on tablature corresponds to the "thick" E string, the one producing the lowest note. The low E string is not played (denoted by x) during a C major chord.

For arpeggiated chords, the notes will be in a progression. For instance, the song "Everybody Hurts" by REM uses arpeggiated D major and G major chords through the chorus of the song. Here are a D major chord and a G major chord written in tablature form:

       D       G
 e |---2-------3---|
 B |---3-------3---|
 G |---2-------0---|
 D |---0-------0---|
 A |---x-------2---|
 E |---x-------3---|

The progression of the intro to "Everybody Hurts" looks like this:

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

Tablatures often signify the chord being played, above the staff. Fingering the entire shape of a chord rather than the individual notes is a fundamental part of basic guitar knowledge.

Other techniques, such as hammer-ons, string pulls (or pull-offs), slides, and bends are also shown in tablature. Hammer-ons are usually shown with an "h" in between the fret to strike and the fret to hammer on. String pulls are shown with a "p". "Tribute to the Greatest Song in the World" by Tenacious D is one example of a song that uses both of these:

     Am (A minor)
 e |-------------0-0-0-0-0-0-----0-------0-0-0-0-0-|
 B |-------------1-1-1-1-1-1h3p1p0h1-----1-1-1-1-1-|
 G |-----0h2-----2-2-2-2-2-2-----2-------2-2-2-2-2-|
 D |-0h2-------2-2-2-2-2-2-2-----2-----2-2-2-2-2-2-|
 A |---------0---0-0-0-0-0-----------0---0-0-0-0-0-|
 E |-----------------------------------------------|

Slides are shown in the same format, but with a slash (/) in between the fret to slide from and the fret to slide to. Slides are used primarily in blues music and country music. "ATWA" by System of a Down is a song that uses these:

("ATWA" is played in Drop D tuning[?])

 e |----------------------------------------------------|
 B |----------------------------------------------------|
 G |----3-----2-----5-----7------8------7-----5-----3---|
 D |----------------------------------------------------|
 A |----------------------------------------------------|
 D |--5---5/3---3/7---7/8---8/10---10/8---8/7---7/5---5-|

Bending is shown by a letter b (not to be confused with a capital B for the B string). In tablature, a bend can show how far the string is to be bent, when the string is to be released (denoted by an r), or that it is a bend to an unspecific note. Examples:

 e |---------------------------------------|
 B |---------------------------------------|
 G |--5b7--------5b7r5--------5b--------5br|
 D |---------------------------------------|
 A |---------------------------------------|
 E |---------------------------------------|

In the first example, a note played at the fifth fret on the G string (the note C) is bent up one full step so that it sounds like a note played at the seventh fret on the G string (the note D); secondly, the same note is played, but the bend is released so that the string again sounds a C note; thirdly, the string is bent to an undetermined note; fourthly, the string is bent to an undetermined note, and released back to the C note.

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