How To Read Bass Tabs

This is just a quick rundown on how to read Tabs for Bass. Bass tablature, or bass tab, is a pretty easy system of music notation for the bass. You can find bass scale tabs in music books, bass magazines, and around the internet.

Strings For Bass Tab
Bass tab shows the strings of the bass drawn horizontally. Most often bass tab is written for 4-string bass, but you may see it for 5-string and 6-string basses as well. That will depend on whether more strings are required to play the song.

The bass strings are drawn with the lowest-pitched string (thickest) at the bottom of the tab. Standard bass tuning from lowest to highest is E-A-D-G and looks like this:

G —————————-

D —————————-

A —————————-

E —————————-

Some music will require a different tuning or more strings, but the perspective stays the same with the lowest (thickest) string at the bottom of the tab.

Fret Numbers For Bass Tab

In bass tab, notes are indicated by fret number. The fret number is written on the string on which it is played. Most basses have between 20 and 24 frets. You may see fret numbers from 0 (the open string) up to 24.

In this example you are to play the 3rd fret on the E-string followed by the 2nd fret on the A-string, then the 5th fret on the A-string, and finally the 5th fret on the D-string.

G ——————————-

D ——————–5———-

A ——–2—-5—————-

E —3—————————

Bars In Bass Tab

Bars are usually marked as they are in standard notation with a vertical barline.

G —————————-|—————–

D —————————-|—————–

A —————————-|—————–

E —————————-|—————–


Rythem in Bass Tab

Many times the rhythm is not shown in bass tab. All you get is the order of the notes. In this case you are left on your own to listen to the track and piece it together for yourself. Other times rhythm is marked underneath with the count written under the fret numbers. In this bass tab example there is an eighth note count written underneath…

G ———————-|———

D ——————-5-|———

A ——–2—-5——-|——–

E —3——————|——–

 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Other Bass Tab Markings

Many of the other markings found in bass tabs indicate the way notes are to be played. These are not standardized by any means. You may see many variations. Often these markings have a legend somewhere at the beginning of the bass tab. Here are some common bass tab markings you may see:

For markings on the strings:

  • Forward slash ( / ) indicates a slide moving up in pitch.
  • Back slash ( \ ) indicates a slide moving down in pitch.
  • Caret (^) indicates a bend.
  • X (x) indicates a ghost note.
  • H (h) indicates a hammer-on.
  • P (p) indicates a pull-off.

For markings beneath the strings:

  • S indicates a thumb slap.
  • P indicates a pop.
  • T indicates a tap. Often which hand is used is marked with an L or R and assumes you are right-handed.