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How To Read Piano Tabs

Alot of my students ask me how to read piano tabs.

This is quite intriguing for me, actually. I have to admit, I am a piano teacher and have been playing piano for more than thirty years - yet I have never had to learn how to read piano tabs!! I have simply never had the need.

But it seems times have changed....the reality is, alot of contemporary music these days can use piano tabs for transcribing music. Coldplay piano tabs, the beatles tabs and evanescence piano tabs are popular requests. They are an alternative for sheet music, and easy to distribute on the internet.

While I do honestly believe that understanding traditional music notations is far better in the long run, it certainly doesn't hurt to know how to read piano tabs, simply because many people use them for transcribing their music.

Just keep in mind that piano tabs don't seem to be entirely consistent and there aren't any hard and fast rules.

I'll show you the most popular ways to write up piano tabs.

How To Read Piano Tabs

Firstly, what is a "tab"? Basically, tabs are a way to write down notes and chords (like guitar tabs).

Piano tabs use numbers, rather than musical notation (eg notes) that you find in sheet music.

Here is what a piano tab can look like:


This would be the equivalent on sheet music:


If both hands are playing a song, there would simply be another line beneath it and you'd read/play them at the same time with your left and right hands.

How To Read Piano Tabs

There are four main "elements" to piano tabs.

  1. The number at the beginning tells you which octave you need to play. Your starting point is the lowest C on the piano. So the second C would be 2, the third C up would be 3, and so on.

  2. The letter names will tell you which key on the piano to play (ie A, B, C, D, E, F or G). Lower case letters mean you play the white keys; upper case means you play the 'sharp' note which is the black key just to the right of the white key (there are a couple of exceptions to this, but this is a general rule). So, for example, F would mean F#, which is the black key just to the right of the F white key.

    'Flats' are not used (eg Ab), only sharps or the sharp 'equivalent' So, if you need to play a Bb, the piano tab would transcribe to A# instead.

  3. The "|" symbols  separate the different bars/measures.

  4. The "-" symbols are used to tell you how long you hold the note down for - eg one count, two counts etc. Sometimes the ">" symbols can be used. Depending on who wrote the piano tabs, it can also mean that you don't play anything at all.

  5. Back To Free Online Piano Lessons

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