How to read and use banjo tabs

Tablature(fig.1) is a series of written instructions indicating how and where to place your right and left hand fingers when playing a song on a stringed instrument. It’s a little like standard music notation but not exactly…

figure 1….tablature for the first part of the song “Cripple Creek”

The timing of the notes: In order to get started learning how to read tablature, we first need to look at the timing of the notes. Notice (figure 2) that in the first of the following two measures, there are four quarter notes. Each gets an equal amount of time: one beat. Count: One, two, three, four.

In the second of the two measures, the first four notes are eighth notes, and each gets one-half a beat. The last two beats of that measure each get a single quarter note beat. Count: One and Two and Three, Four…

figure 2

What do all the little numbers on the tab mean? In the regular tablature for Cripple Creek, you will notice numbers above the staff and letters below the staff. Now, what do the lines and little numbers and letters mean? Shown below (figure 3) is the tab of the third measure of the song “Cripple Creek”.

Each staff line represents a string. (The top line represents the first (“D”) string, and the bottom line of the staff represents the short fifth(“G”) string.)

figure 3

The numbers on the staff line tells you which fret to place your left hand finger at(this assumes you are playing the banjo as a “RIGHTY”. Obviously you will have to reverse everything if you are a lefty).

The red numbers above the staff refer to the fingers of the “fretting” hand-the left hand. “1” refers to the first finger, “2” refers to the left hand second finger,”3″ refers to the left ring finger, and “4” refers to the pinky.

The blue letters below the staff refer to the fingers of picking hand-the right hand. “T” refers to the thumb,”I” refers to the index finger, and “M” refers to the middle finger.

special left hand movements: Look at the next two measures(fig 4.). Note that within the staff lines are the letters indicating some special left hand movements:”Sl” refers to a “slide”, “Po” refers to a “Push-off” and “H” refers to a “Hammer-on”.

figure 4


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