Read bass tabs in minutes – Beginners how to read Tablature

How to read bass tabs

Classical scores are a beautiful method of reading and writing music. It has been for hundreds of years. It is though greatly time consuming and takes deliberate practice to maintain and perfect. A revolutionary alternative today is the Tablature (bass tab). Today we show you how to read bass tabs. We also include our preferred method on learning music at the end of the post.

read bass tabs

Example musical score 10 points if you can guess what song this is!


What are bass tabs?

A bass tab is a music staff that has been replaced with numbers. These numbers correspond with the exact fret position as to which note you should play and where.

The bass neck is laid out with the strings in descending order from top to bottom. Almost as if you were holding your bass and looking down at it.

Battleship tab method

Imagine a game of Battleship, where you call out numbers that are labelled on a grid. The grid in this case if your bass fret board. The numbers represent the frets. That’s the premise for how to read bass tabs.

The example we are using is The Offspring’s Bad Habit from the 1994 album SMASH. The intro to this song has a fantastically easy 3 note bass line to learn.

read bass tabs

Looking at the tab, read the numbers left to right and play the notes in that order. In the example, look for the first note. It’s on the E string and on the 3rd fret. Fret this note and pluck once.

The second note is on the A string and numbered 0 (zero). Zero is an open string. This does not need to be fretted. Pluck an open A string.

The third note is on the G string and is 2nd fret. Fret this note and pluck.

Try playing the third notes in succession at a slow pace. You should sound like record. Congratulations you have just learned how to read bass tabs !

Bass tablature for beginners

Bass Tablature has many advantages over classic notation. It also has many downsides too but many of these can be overcome with practice.


  • No notes – You don’t need to know the note names to play the song
  • Transferable skills – There are patterns in many songs that are easily transferable into other songs, styles or genres.
  • Shareable – Extremely easy to write and share amongst other musicians (hand written or typed out in text)
  • Quicker learning time – In comparison to standard notation it is much quicker to learn on tabs. There are also digital platforms which reproduce the sound (commonly in MIDI) and play along with you at varible speeds.


  • Inaccurate – Tabs are user submitted. They represent the musicians interpretation of the song and are prone to errors.
  • Less information – Rhythm is commonly missing from tabs. There are no instructions how to play the song.
  • Further research is needed – You will need to be familiar with the song in question to understand the finer parts of the song. Timbre, harmony, rhythm and dynamics.

How to use bass tabs to learn music


Find a tab for a song you want to learn. Practice fretting the notes directly onto the fretboard. At this stage don’t worry about speed, it’s all about adapting to the finger positioning of both hands.


Once familiar with the general sequence of the notes, break it down in to sections. Intro, verse, chorus, bridge etc. Learn each section in part.

Pause and play

When comfortable, put the song on and play the section with the record. Hit pause and do it again. Are you playing the rhythm correctly? Is it the right intensity? Keep trying to replicate the sound you hear. If you aren’t sure, try breaking it down again. Play along with each section individually.


At this point you should be very familiar with the song and know how to play it. You may even recognise notes that could be missing from the tab. At this stage, look back on the sections you’ve learned and consider the patterns and progressions that you can use for yourself.

Guitar Pro software

Guitar Pro is a digital musical score editor. You can create your own tabs and it will play it back in MIDI. Later versions have the Realistic Sound Engine which is a digital representation of the real sound.

The beauty of Guitar Pro 6 is that it you can write the tab for your whole band simultaneously. Add the drummers parts, the guitarists parts even the keyboard players parts. The program will then play the band as a whole and you can play along.

This tool has changed the way musicians can write, learn and play music.

  • Slow down classic tunes and learn at your own pace
  • Visually see the fretting sequence play before you
  • Copy and paste sections, insert new ones in a few clicks
  • Mix and mute instruments
  • Write for dozens of other instruments (keyboards, strings, woodwind, drums)

Our influence

Guitar Pro has influenced many musicians in our WhichBass circle.Playing music has never been the same since.  It has helped many of us to read bass tabs and learn other instruments. We highly recommend you try out the Guitar Pro demo.

We haven’t come across a faster way to write your own songs and learn a whole host of others. These tabs are designed to show you the FULL picture of the song. It also allows you to ask the question “What if I played it like that?”. All of these questions can be answered.

Guitar Pro is €59,95 (£52)* and by using our special affiliate link you can help support us at no extra cost to yourself.

*Exchange rates may vary