Bass Exercises

How to read Bass Tabs

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Level: Beginner

Type of instrument:4 String Bass


Guitarists and Bassists have created their own method of music notation, guitar tablature which, while admittedly flawed, provides a simple and easy to read way of sharing music with other guitarists and bassists.
TAB or tablature is a method of writing down music played on guitar or bass. Instead of using symbols like in standard musical notation, it uses ordinary ASCII characters and numbers, making it ideal for places like the internet where anybody with any computer can link up, copy a TAB file, and read it.
The tablature will show you what notes to play, which string to hit and which fret to fret it at. You will be able to see the tunning and information about the use of capos. But you won't be able to see other details such which fingers you use to fret which note and note lenghts of the notes, so in most cases you will have to listen to the song yourself, with the TAB in front of you to work out the ryhthm of the notes. This is where TAB differs from standard notation. With tabs You won't be able to read about picking and strumming so you will have to decide for yourself or simply watch some strumming pattern in to learn about it.

Symbols used in TAB

Here are some of the little details that you'll need to know to fully understand how to read guitar tablature. Be aware that some of these symbols vary, depending on who created the tablature.

Hammer Ons:

It's most common to see the letter h representing a hammer on, located within the tablature between the original fret, and the hammered on fret (eg. 5h7). The concept of the hammer-on is fairly simple - playing a note, then, WITHOUT re-picking, playing another note on a higher fret on the same string. See the example:


Pull Offs:

The pull-off is a BASS technique that is, in a way, exactly the opposite of a hammer-on.
Similarly, the letter p is generally used to represent a pull off, also found in the same location within the tablature (eg. 9p7) Pull offs look very similar :


In the example above the open strings would be sounded by pulling off.


Generally, a / symbol is used to notate a slide up, while a \ symbol is used to notate a slide down. It is also not uncommon to see the letter s used to notate a slide.


In this example you need to slide *up* from 1th to 5th fret then slide down from 5th to 1th fret.

Slaps (slapping and popping):

Slapping (or Thumbing) the bass is a technique used by many bands since at least the 1920s and came into popular use in the 1940s. Slap bass provides a strong downbeat when the string is plucked and a strong back beat when it slaps back onto the fingerboard of the bass. It creates a very percussive sound and adds a lot of drive that is particularly good for dance music.

On bass guitar it usually refers to a technique that consists of hitting the string with the thumb of the strumming hand near the base of the guitar's neck, often combined with snapping the strings usually with the index or middle finger of the same hand, (the latter more specifically called "popping", i.e. "slapping and popping"). Some bassists use other fingers of the strumming hand to achieve this sound, such as bassist Abraham Laboriel, Sr., who conversely uses his thumb to pop the strings, and his other four fingers to slap the strings.
Generally, the letter S is used, under or over the note, to notate a slap (or thumb).

    S    S    S    S       

Generally, the letter P is used, under or over the note, to notate a pop (or pluck).

    P    P    P    P       

Palm Mute:

The palm mute, also known as palm muting or chop, is a playing technique for the guitar or bass.
Palm mutes are executed by placing the side of the picking hand below the little finger across all of the strings very close to the bridge and then plucking the strings with the fingers while the damping is in effect. This produces a muted sound. The name is a slight misnomer, as the muting is usually performed by the side or heel of the hand.
Generally, the letters PM is used, over the note, to notate a palm mute.

    PM         PM   PM   PM        

Tie Note (or Legato):

In italian the word 'legato' (literally meaning "tied together") indicates that musical notes are played smoothly and connected. The note is audible but isn't attacked.
Generally, the letter L is used, instead the note, to notate a tie note (or legato).


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