The Basics of Bass Guitar Tabs

bass guitar tabs

Bass guitar tabs provide a quick and efficient way of learning songs quickly; however, their symbols can sometimes be confusing if you are unfamiliar with them.

Stacking numbers together signifies the simultaneous playing of two notes at the same time, or playing those notes simultaneously with any symbol such as H, P and B.


Bass guitar tabs are a form of musical notation which displays fret numbers for each string, as well as chords and rhythms of a song. They typically use four horizontal lines (or six for 6-string basses) to represent strings, with numbers on each line telling you which fret should be played for which note. Many guitar sites provide bass TABS alongside their regular guitar ones; there are even websites dedicated solely to providing these documents.

Tab is read left to right like standard notation, resembling a staff with strings at the bottom and neck of a bass on top. Numbered lines represent frets; with lowest pitch at the bottom and highest pitch at the top; strings without fretting are open strings unless indicated with numbers in their line; vertical lines on a bass tab are called bars, or measures; each of them has their own rhythm and melody that must be learned.

The basic type of bass tab uses numbers to show which frets to play a note on, while its accompanying curved arrow with numbers at its end indicates how far to bend a string when picking it – for instance 1/2 is half step, full is full step etc. Additionally, bass TAB may indicate when or if the bend should be released or held; bass strings tend to be harder to bend than other stringed instruments so it may be best to begin by only gradually increasing or decreasing bend.

Other symbols found in bass tab include’s’ to indicate a slide and ‘>’ for harmonics; additionally a “>” may also denote playing the string on the second fret while at the same time playing on the fourth fret; some tabs will indicate these differences by providing N.H./A.H. above or below their notations respectively.


A riff is an arrangement of notes played in an repetitive fashion. Riffs may be simple or complex and can drastically change the sound and atmosphere of any song. Bassists can create unique sounds by changing which finger plays each note, the position of their fingers on the fretboard and for how long each note is played.

Riffs can be an effective way to transition between chords in songs, or add extra punch to a bassline. Though challenging at first, with practice riffs can become much simpler to play. Many bass guitar TABS will feature charts detailing finger positions and how they should be played; making learning new songs and riffs much simpler.

First and foremost when reading a bass tab is to remember that horizontal lines represent each of its strings; starting from E at the bottom to G and A on top and so forth. A number written along each horizontal line shows which fret should be played – if no number appears then all strings should be played openly.

Bass tablature uses vertical lines to indicate bar counts, similar to traditional musical notation. Understanding these numbers is vital when practicing bass parts; knowing them helps keep you on rhythm. For best results, try practicing with a metronome or drum machine as this will keep your drumming on time and on beat.

Keep in mind that some symbols in bass tabs represent particular techniques or articulations techniques. Hammer-ons involve striking the first and third finger together for a distinctive sound; other articulation symbols in bass tabs include slides and pull-offs (when moving from higher fret notes to lower fret notes on one string), usually indicated with P or an upside-down arrow symbol, to indicate whether using popping techniques could produce better results.


Chords form the core of many songs and provide you with an expressive way to showcase yourself on bass guitar. While you may rely on knowledge of chord progressions and song rhythm to guide your playing, learning how to read notation will provide a greater understanding of when to play each note as well as helping you understand special symbols used in bass tabs.

Bass tablature differs from standard sheet music in that each line represents a string on a bass guitar, and numbers indicate which fret a bassist should place their fingers. For instance, 1 signifies playing the first fret of E string while 0 refers to fret-free playing or open strings on that string. Some bass tabs will include notes telling players when and how to play artificial harmonics while others use letters N or A (natural or artificial harmonic) to indicate which pitch the harmonic should be played on.

At first, bass tabs may seem confusing but with practice you should become familiar with them. One such symbol, known as the ‘t’ symbol in bass tabs, indicates when to tap rather than strike notes; this is especially useful when adding additional expression through chord playing with finger slapping on strings with your fingerstip. You may also encounter slashes before or after notes indicating when to slide fingers along strings.

Advanced bass players may benefit from consulting bass tabs which indicate when it is appropriate to mute, bend or slur notes. When practicing these techniques in a quiet setting and when there is plenty of time available, you will discover new levels of creativity in your playing that could prove invaluable when performing live.


Bass tab can be an invaluable way to learn the fundamentals of bass guitar playing, as well as an excellent tool for more experienced players looking to practice chords or songs they have been working on. Unfortunately, however, one major drawback of bass tab is that its rhythm does not always indicate in an exact fashion; so often times you must figure out your rhythm yourself either by listening to an audio recording or by using numbers and other symbols in the tab to figure out when to play each note.

There are ways around this challenge, though. Many websites allow users to upload bass guitar tabs for viewing on various sites; you may find additional versions that may be easier for you. Each site will display these with a star rating to indicate how well-written and accessible each tab is.

Keep this in mind when reading bass tab: the lines represent strings on a bass guitar and their numbers represent frets to be played; for example, 3 on one line indicates playing that fret with your left hand; similarly 0 means to simply fret the string as an open string would.

Bass tabs contain various symbols to aid you in reading music, with the most familiar being curved arrows, which indicate when and how much a note should be bent; each direction of an arrow indicates what type of bend should occur – such as “1/2”, which signifies half step bend, while “full” means the highest pitch possible bend.

Finally, bass guitar tabs often include numbers stacked one upon another to indicate chord notes that should be played together as one chord. The lowest-pitched string will always appear at the bottom line while higher pitched strings appear on top.