Reading Tabs

Tablature, commonly referred to as Tabs, is a form of musical notation that was invented to make reading music easier. It is a form of musical notation that shows where to place the fingers and in what order. Unlike traditional music notation, showing rhythm, duration, and pitch, tabs show where and when to place the fingers on the instrument, however there is no notation showing where to stop the sound, so the player needs to have familiarity with the piece being played either by already knowing the tune or listening to it.

For example of tabs, here is the first four measures of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with the music notation on top and the tabs on the bottom.

The “0” denotes an open string. The 1 on the E string means that you place your first finger on the first fret on the E string, and so on. As you can see from the example, violin tab eliminates the need to read music, and allows you to pick up and play the instrument almost immediately. Learning to read tablature is a good skill to develop if you are interested in playing the instrument quickly.

For someone new to the fiddle, tabs can help the player learn positions and individual notes quickly and efficiently. Violin tablature depicts the four strings rather than actual notes. The tabs are laid out from the lowest open note or string on the bottom (the open G) to the highest on the top line (the open E). Numbers are placed on these lines to represent the left-hand fingers on the strings, making it easy for someone who can’t read standard notation to play.

  • 0 = open string
  • 1=1st finger – index finger
  • 2=2nd finger – middle finger
  • 3=3rd finger – ring finger
  • 4=4th finger – pinky finger

To indicate the sharps and flats in a song, you will usually see an “L” and an “H” for the “Low” and “High” fingers. For example, if you see a “2” on the second line, this would be a normal 2nd finger on the A string, a C# note. But sometimes you may need to play the regular C note that is between the 1st and 2nd finger position markers. So, in tablature, this will be indicated with an “L” below the 2 meaning, “low 2”. If there is an “H” below the 3, this would be a “high 3”. That is, the third finger will be placed just between the 3rd and 4th position markers.

Here is a helpful violin fingering chart you can download for free which I found at Stepwise Publications:

Here is a Blank Tabs Form I created that I use to transcribe traditional music notation to Tabs.

And, here are a few links to some beginning fiddle tunes from Sean Bolton.

More free fiddle Tabs can be found online at various websites, and there are plenty of books available as well.

Violin and Fiddle Tab Resources on Amazon

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