We have developed this guide to learn how to read bass tablature. In it we will explain what a tablature is, what types there are and what each symbol means, so that you can understand them easily and quickly.
Tab tablature is a notation system that is basic for the beginning bass player. If you know how to read tabs you can learn to play in a fun way with your favorite songs and bands.
Bass tabs for beginners (PDF)
Here you have the easy songs to learn and get started on the electric bass, with them you will know how to read the bass tabs in an easy, fast and fun way, while you discover the secrets of this instrument.
Do not hesitate to consult our tablature catalog and reading guide as many times as you need.
Tablatures for 4-string electric bass pdf
How to read electric bass tabs
Bass Tabs are incredibly easy to read and understand tools or documents. With them you can learn to play your favorite songs on the bass without needing to know music theory or solfège.
But do you want to know how to use them and read them easily and quickly? The first thing is to understand what a tablature is, what types there are, and what the numbers, symbols and letters used in them mean. We’ll explain in detail what everything is, how the most commonly used bass techniques are represented, and where you can find the best tablature to start playing. Ready?
What is a bass tablature
A tablature (TAB) is a form of simple musical notation for transcribing instruments, such as the electric bass guitar, and through this simplified musical notation system we can know the position and placement of the fingers on the neck. This allows beginner bassists to do without advanced musical knowledge to learn to play songs, so thanks to the tablatures we can read and write compositions for bass easily and quickly, just by knowing the different symbols used in the TABS:
- The most common notation system among beginners and amateurs.
- Relative ease of reading.
- Large number of tabs available on the Internet.
- Text document easy to transcribe, copy and distribute over the network.
Tablatures vs Sheet Music (standard notation)
Unlike sheet music, the classical musical notation system, tablatures are characterized by being much simpler, in fact, they are often criticized for being very inaccurate. In fact, they are often criticized for being very inaccurate, as many lack information about the rhythm of a song, the figures or even the techniques of expression.a tablature can simply consist of a text file that simply indicates the fret and string where to place the finger. While a sheet music is always going to be a complete and accurate notation system.But this does not mean that all tablature is an incomplete tool and of worse quality than sheet music.There are several types of tablature for bass guitar, and some of them are as complete as sheet music.Want to know what types of tablature exist?
▷Types of bass tablature
When we talk about tablature, we usually think of a standard document with lines and numbers, because all types of tablature have, in essence, a similar format, but if you look closely you can see some notable differences between them. On the Internet there are different types of tablature for bass guitar, depending on the page you are looking at. And, most probably, when you look for the TAB of a song you will find one or another type of tablature indistinctly.
These are the Main types of bass tablatures:
Bass tabs in text format
Text format bass tabs are the most basic, and the first type of bass tab to become popular on the Internet.They are very simply formatted tabs, and are written in a simple text file.Because they are created relatively quickly, and require nothing more than a keyboard with alphanumeric characters, the first tablature websites used only this format. In fact, today they are still very popular on forums and pages with a large collection of tablatures.Of course, in our opinion, these tablatures are the most complicated to read by beginner bassists, as it requires knowing the meaning of the symbols used in this type.In addition, the main disadvantage of these tablatures is that they do not include information about the musical Rhythm and musical figures. So they are very inaccurate compared to other tablatures or scores, and you need to be guided by ear to know how to play the bass.
TIP: if you are a beginner bass player, and you still don’t know much about electric bass, avoid these tablatures as they are more focused to experienced bass players who already have developed their ear, and use them just to guide them quickly.
Bass Tabs in TAB format
The next type of tablature is what we call TAB tablature (sounds redundant, but it is a way to differentiate them), a much more complete and useful type of tablature than the text format, or the previous ones, since they include all the information about bass playing, and completely dispense with the standard notation (score), and include information about figures, rests and expressive techniques. This means that in them you will find a combination of symbols different from the text ones, and common to the sheet music (like rests).Don’t worry! In this guide we will see the symbols of both types so that there is no confusion.In our opinion this is the best, since you combine both ways of reading music in the same line, and as you practice you are also acquiring knowledge of music theory and classical notation.
Interactive bass tabs
Different programs like Guitar Pro, or sites like Songsterr and Bigbasstabs, use a type of interactive tablature that is perfect for beginner bass players, and its design is totally different from text format tablature, and almost the same as TAB format (with the same symbols), but obviously they are playable so you can practice while they sound. The disadvantage of the interactive tablature is that many of them are paid.
Tablatures and standard notation
Tablatures with standard notation are those in which classical notation is combined with simplified TAB notation. You will find them in almost all books with tablature for bass, i.e. in the upper half you will find the score (staff and standard notation), and below the song transcribed in tablature format. One particularity is that, while the score includes all the details of the transcription, the tablature simply includes the lines and numbers. In such a way that the TAB serves to guide you in the placement of the fingers, and the score guides you in the rhythm.Many bassists think that these tablatures are the best as they mix the best of both types of musical notation. No wonder, since they include the most information on how to play a song on the bass.If you don’t know how to read standard notation, you can simply ignore the top staff and read the bottom staff from Guitar TAB.
▷ What the lines mean in a bass tablature?
It is indisputable that, visually, the most similar thing between tablature and sheet music is their design based on lines, an aspect that, if it were not for the fact that they do not coincide in number, would be identical. But of course, sheet music always has 5 lines and tablatures can have 4, 5, 6, 7….
So… why can they have different lines, what do they mean?
Lines and strings
The first thing you should know about tablatures is their basic design: the lines, that is, regardless of their type (text, TAB or interactive), they are all composed of horizontal lines that represent the strings of the bass.
- The bottom line (1st line) is always the lowest pitch string (bass): 4th string of the bass.
- The upper line (4th line) is always the highest pitched (high pitched) string: 1st string of the bass.
There can be as many lines as there are strings on the instrument:
- A Tablature for a 4 string bass will have 4 horizontal lines.
- A Tablature for a 5 string bass will have 5 horizontal lines.
This way you will be able to find 6 horizontal lines tablatures for 6 string bass, which will differ from the guitar tablatures by their tuning.
It is very common that, next to the horizontal lines, some letters in capital letters appear at the beginning of each line indicating the tuning of each string, as shown in the following image.
REMEMBER: it is important to keep in mind that the top line of the tablature is the highest string of your bass, and the bottom line is the lowest. If you have doubts about the tuning of each string check our Tuning Guide for electric bass.
▷ What the numbers mean in a bass tablature?
As we have just seen, each of the tablature lines matches a string on your electric bass. But what are the numbers written on them?
The numbers that appear on the tablature indicate the fret to press on that string. That is, each number is the position instruction where a specific note is located on each string.
- The numbers represent the frets of the bass. The number 0 indicates an open string, while the number 7 indicates the seventh fret.
Of course, the numbers can be written in different ways. For example, they can appear alone, in sequence, or stacked on top of each other. Do you want to know what these numbers mean in each case?
Numbers and musical notes
As we have just seen, each number on the tablature indicates the fret you have to press on a string to get a note.
Remember: in Lesson 3 of the course we taught you what are the Notes of the 4, 5 or 6 string bass, the accidentals, and the best method to learn how to locate them on the fretboard of your electric bass.
Therefore, the TABS numbers are the closest thing to the notes of a staff, but indicating them according to their position on the fretboard of the bass.For example, the representation of the 7 musical notes in a bass tablature would be:
When the tablature numbers are next to each other (within the same line, or in different lines), the tablature is telling you to play the notes in the natural direction, from left to right.
Numbers, chords and arpeggios
When in a tablature you see numbers stacked one on top of the other, in the same vertical line, it means that you should play them at the same time.this is very common in guitar tablatures, and it is just the way to represent, for example, a chord.in bass tablatures it is less common to find chords. However, it is quite common to see two or three numbers together, which in the end is practically the same thing.As for arpeggios, when representing them there is not much difference with normal notes.You will only know if you are in front of an arpeggio if you know the sequences of notes of a chord or scale, since after all it is a normal sequence of numbers.
- Chords: it is represented by 3 or more numbers stacked vertically on top of each other, in their respective lines.
- Arpeggios: it is represented with a sequence of numbers just like the notes, equivalent to the notes of a chord or musical scale.
▷ Representation of Classical Notation in bass tablature
After understanding the meaning of the lines and numbers, it is worth noting that:
- Both in the interactive tablatures and in the TAB format, other symbols are also used to represent details such as the rhythm, the figures and the rests of the song.
For that reason, when we spoke of the types of tablatures, we commented to you that these are the best tabs to learn. They contain a very complete musical transcription and “similar” to sheet music, but with the comfort and simplicity of a TAB.
Lokk now ! How the standard notation is represented in a TAB
Rhythm (tempo and time signature)
Most often the first thing you will identify in a complete tablature is the tempo and time signature of the song.
Remember: in Lesson 4 of our course we talked in depth about musical Rhythm and all the components that make up its structure.
- The rhythm, air or tempo is represented by the symbol of the figure “Negra” preceded by an “=” and the value in BPM (number of Negras per minute).
- The time signature is represented as in the classical notation system with fractions: 44; 34; 78; etc.
In our opinion, a fundamental part of any tablature are the indications of the figures, because, while the notes refer to the pitch of the sound, the rhythmic figures indicate its duration. Thus, in the most complete tablatures, the musical figures are represented by vertical and horizontal lines. For example, this would be the representation of the 7 figures in a bass tablature (the duration of the note):
- Round: it is represented in the tablatures without any vertical line.
- White: it is represented in the tablatures by a short vertical line.
- Black: it is represented in the tablatures by a long vertical line.
- Quaver: it is represented in the tablatures by a long vertical line and a horizontal line that links it to the next figure.
- Sixteenth note: it is represented in the tablatures by a long vertical line and two horizontal lines that link it to the next figure.
- Fuse: it is represented in the tablatures by a long vertical line and three horizontal lines that link it to the next figure.
- Semifusa: it is represented in the tablatures by a long vertical line and four horizontal lines that link it to the following figure.
As you know, rests are indications of when not to play or make a sound. And, in any music, they are as important as the notes and the figures.in fact, the rests, like the figures, indicate the duration or time during which nothing should be played. For this reason, for each figure there is a rest with the same time value, and its denomination carries the same name preceded by “silence”.Thus, in the most complete tablatures the musical figures are represented by the same symbols as in the standard notation.For example, this would be the representation of the 7 rests in a bass tablature:
- Round rest: it is represented with the same symbol as in classical notation, hat down.
- White silence: it is represented by the same symbol as in classical notation, hat up, and may be accompanied by a short vertical line.
- Crotchet rest: it is represented by the same symbol as in classical notation, and may be accompanied by a long vertical line.
- Eighth-note rest: is represented by the same symbol as in classical notation, and may be accompanied by a long vertical line and a horizontal line.
- Sixteenth note rest: it is represented by the same symbol as in classical notation, and may be accompanied by a long vertical line and two horizontal lines.
- Fuse rest: it is represented by the same symbol as in classical notation, and may be accompanied by a long vertical line and three horizontal lines.
- Half note rest: it is represented by the same symbol as in classical notation, and may be accompanied by a long vertical line and four horizontal lines.
Remember that a triplet is the indication that three notes have to be played in the space of two, and in a tablature this is represented by a horizontal line and the number 3 in the middle.
▷ What the symbols mean in a bass tablature
Now that you know what the lines and numbers mean, and how the symbols of figures and rests are represented, it’s time to move on to the next level: the symbols exclusive to tablature.we are going to see the symbols of the most used expressive techniques in electric bass (hammer-ons, palm-muting, slides, etc.).and we will do it by reviewing how they are represented in 2 types of tablature:
- Symbols used in TAB format tablatures.
- Symbols used in tablatures with text format.
So no matter what bass tablatures you find on the Internet, you will learn the two most used groups of symbols to know how to read tablatures correctly.
Main symbols you will see in tablature
Wondering what the “h” in bass tablature means, or that curved line joining two numbers?
A lowercase “h” in a bass tablature represents a Hammer-on. In TAB format it is indicated by a curved line joining two numbers.
Text format: letter “h” between two numbers.
TAB format: curved line over two numbers.».
- An “r” in a bass tablature represents lowering the string to its natural position (release). In TAB format it is indicated by an upward curved arrow followed by a downward curved arrow.
- A “pb” in a bass tablature represents a pre-bend. In TAB format it is indicated by a straight up arrow followed by a curved down arrow.
Although you should note that the representation of the bend in TAB format specifies the size of the curve:
- A “12” means to make a bend to go up half a tone.
- The word “full” means to make a bend to go up 1 full tone.
- A “1 12” means to make a bend to go up 1 1/2 tones.
Wondering what “~~~” means in bass tablature?
The “~~~” in a bass tablature represents a Vibrato. In TAB format a symbol is used which is a wavy line.
- Text format: small “~~~” characters after the number.
- TAB format: wavy line above the last line of the TAB.
Thumb slap (“T”)
Wondering what a “T” stands for in bass tablature?
A capital letter “T” in a bass tablature represents a Thumb slap (thumbing). In TAB format it is also indicated in the same way.
- Text and TAB format: letter “T” below the tablature, although it can also be placed on the top line.
It is also common to see this technique represented with the letter “S”, as a reference to Slap, but we believe that it is more correct to use the “T”, since Slap is technically known as Thumb slap. And, in addition, what is commonly known as Slap technique, is actually the combination of 2 techniques: the Thumb slap, and the Popping that we will see next.
Wondering what a “P” stands for in bass tablature?
A capital letter “P” in a bass tablature represents a Popping (or simply pop). In TAB format it is also indicated in the same way.
- Text and TAB format: letter “P” below the tablature, although it can also be placed on the top line.
Natural harmonics (“<<“)
Wondering what “<>” means in bass tablature?
The “<>” in a bass tablature represents a natural Harmonic to be played on the fret indicated by the number. In TAB format it is also indicated in the same way.
- Text and TAB format: a number between “<>”.
It is possible, though rare, that you will also see references to harmonics with the letters “N.H.” (natural harmonic), and “A.H.” (artificial harmonic), on the top line of the tablature. And, in certain occasions, also “Harm
Ring out (“()”)
Wondering what a note in brackets “()” in bass tablature means, or that curved line that joins 2 equal numbers?
A note in brackets “()” in a bass tablature represents a note that is pressed and allowed to sound. In TAB format it is indicated by a curved line joining 2 equal numbers, or by a number in parentheses.
Text format: parenthesis “()” surrounding a number.
TAB format: curved line over two equal numbers, the last one with parentheses (pressed only once) or without parentheses (the note is pressed again).
Plectrum and Contrapason (“^” and “⋁”)
Wondering what a “⊓”, “^”, or a “⋁”, “v” below or above numbers in bass tablatures?
A circumflex accent, canopy, or umbrella “^” above a note in bass tablature indicates a note that is plucked downward. While a lowercase “v” above a note indicates a note that is plucked upwards.In TAB format, two proper signs are often used also placed above each note: “⊓” (downwards) and “⋁” (upwards). Which means plectrum and contrapúa respectively.
Text format: symbol “^” and “v” above each number.
TAB format: symbol “⊓” (pressed down) or “⋁” (pressed up) above each number.
6. Summary of bass tablature symbols
After seeing in depth each one of the symbols, we leave you a quick guide of the most common symbols in the bass tablatures with text format, because, in our opinion, they are the most complicated to understand for beginner bassists. That’s why we at Rimcustombasses think it might be useful for you to have the following list at hand.
List of symbols to read and write tablatures
This list of symbols, as we have already mentioned, is based on the tablatures in text format. There are 19 symbols that represent the most common expressive techniques among bass players:
- h = hammer-on
- p = pull-off
- h y p = legato
- tr. = trill
- / = slide up
- = slide down
- PM = palm mute
- ^ = pick down (⊓)
- v = pick up (⋁)
- x = muted note
- b = bend
- r = release
- pb = pre-bend
- ~~~ = vibrato
- t = tapping
- T = thumb
- (S) = slap
- P = popping
- <> = natural harmonic
- () = Ring out (let the note ring)
Surely, in some occasion you will find some other symbol that does not appear in this list. But with the above list we are sure that you cover the essential knowledge to read 99% of the tablatures you will find. Of course, if you want to know what a particular symbol means, and we don’t have it here, feel free to leave us a comment so we can answer you.
How to make bass guitar tablature
Have you composed a bass line and want to write it down in TAB format so you won’t forget it, can’t find a tablature and want to make it yourself, just curious about how to make a bass tablature? Making bass tabs can be something relatively simple and fast, if it’s a matter of jotting down small compositions that are born while rehearsing or practicing at home, but making tablatures of songs depends on the difficulty of the songs, your experience as a bass player, and the fluency you have to read them.
But even if you are a beginner and don’t know much yet, try to create your own tablature, there is no better way to learn than practicing! And, to make it easier for you, here are some templates and tablature sheets to download and print.
Find bass tablatures online
Great bass player! Now that you know everything you need to know to read bass tablature, it’s time to start practicing to get used to this notation system and become fluent. Leave this page open if there are still some concepts that you are not very clear about. You will be able to solve your doubts quickly and get used to the different symbols, thanks to this guide.
Finding bass tablature is quite easy. Just type in your favorite search engine “Bass tabs”, and you will get hundreds of results to choose from. If you are looking for a specific song tablature, our recommendation is to type the name of the song followed by “bass tab”:
Best bass tabs pages
Despite the large number of sites you will find on the Internet, only a few of them take the prize for the best bass guitar tablature sites. The most common thing is to find websites with a lot of guitar tablature.
And because of that, sometimes finding good bass tabs seems like mission impossible. That’s why we have written this Guide to the best bass guitar tab sites. In this article we detail which are the best tablature sites for bass players. If this is what you are looking for, don’t hesitate to check it out.