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Guitar Lesson, Playing Tab

Guitar tab - how it works

The six strings on the guitar are each represented by a line, with the thinnest string (1) on top line and the thickest string (6) on the bottom line. The numbers tell you which fret to play in.

When there is a vertical stack of notes, you know that it's a chord, and all notes should be played at the same time. If you need some more help with guitar tab, check out my other hubs, such as Guitar tab 101. Guitar tab is most useful for riffs and melody lines. I prefer chord grids for chords as they are much easier to read.

On the guitar tab diagram below, each line is a separate example.

On the first example I've tabbed out an intro to a 12-Bar Blues in the key of E. Although it's not on the tab, you can fill out the sound by playing open string 6 (E) with your thumb underneath the descending chords - let all the notes ring as much as possible.

The chords are E7, A7, B7 after this intro. I've shown the same thing in chord grids too, so it should help connect up guitar tab and chord grids. The last grid shows you the notes of a Blues Scale that fits an E7 blues sequence.

The second example is a very similar intro, this time for the key of C. It will work on old-timey songs (like those on Eric Clapton's Unplugged album) or for 12-Bar blues in the key of C.

If you replace the last 2 chords, and play C sharp 9 and then C9, it makes a good outro or ending for a song in the key of C.

The third example is a bit harder, it's a Robert Johnson style intro for a Blues in the key of A (Chords will be A7, D7, E7)

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Riff on strings 3 and 4

This is a very well known smoky guitar riff that works well over a low G bass. Try using a flattened first finger for this riff. This kind of riff is known as a double-stop - a very common thing in rock riffs from the riffmeister Chuck Berry onwards.

Power chords

A more heavy rock or grunge exercise for using power chords, or 5 chords, over an open E bass note. Just play the lower strings, and try to palm mute the strings with your right hand. Strum each chord 4 times or 8 times for best effect.

The last example is a Chicago style Blues riff, which then repeats across one string. Try 4 on the first riff, 2 of the second, 2 on the first again, followed by Em7 Dm7 Am7 E7. This will give you a 12-Bar sequence in Am. It's in a shuffle rhythm, which goes "humpty-dumpty, humpty dumpty..."etc

12 Bar Blues chords for different keys


I chord

IV chord

V chord
















Chords info

The relationship between the chords is the same, regardless of the key.

  • The distance between the chords is the same, so IV chords are up 5 frets, and V chords are up 7 frets.
  • As this is such a common progression, it's a good idea to memorise it in all keys.


Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on November 27, 2010:

Hi, you're welcome.

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on November 27, 2010:

Good basic guitar 101. Thanks!

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