Why Are Guitar Tabs Upside Down?

Guitar tabs tend to be the first approach to learning a song. 

Many musicians who want to start with guitar, like to do it by playing their favorite songs. 

So, a tab comes in handy. 

But those who are completely unaware of music theory may find tabs a bit unusual. 

After all, why are they upside down? 

Guitar tabs are upside down because they resemble a guitar lying flat with its neck pointing to the left. The bottom line represents the lowest string on the guitar, while the upper one is the highest in pitch or first string.  

If you are just placing your first steps with guitar, then this article is for you. 

Stick with us till the end and you’ll learn everything you need. 

Why do new guitar players struggle with tabs?

It is common to see new guitarists struggling with tabs. They are not easy to understand at first sight. 

However, once you get then hung out of them, you can read a tab effortlessly. 

The main challenges come from facing something that is completely new. 

One finds numbers and letters and bars in some lines… what are even those? 

What should I do with them? 

Of course, it’s just a matter of getting used to them. Once you understand the symbols in a  text-based tab, you will know what to do with them. 

Put it this way. Most beginner programmers have issues when seeing a source code for the very first time

Also, think about a student learning Chinese from scratch. 

The same logic applies to guitarists with guitar tabs. 

It’s chaotic, to say the least. So, do not worry if you find trouble reading a guitar tab. 

Just trust in the learning process and everything will fall in its right place.   

Are guitar tabs really upside down?

Guitar tabs are not upside down. However, it feels as if they were. 

See, the tabs look as if you took a guitar and place it laying flat on a table. 

Actually, picture it that way. 

You put your guitar on the table, with the headstock pointing to your left. 

Therefore, you’ll have the lowest string (sixth string) pointing to you. 

That’s it, the lowest line you see in a text-based tab is the lowest string on a guitar. 

The rest of the lines correspond to the rest of the strings, from the fifth to the first one. 

It is said that they are upside down just because they are compared to whenever you play guitar. 

When you play the guitar, you look from up to down. So, it is logical that one sees the tabs upside down.  

How should you read guitar tabs?

Guitar tabs are read from left to right. 

The tabs are meant as if the guitar was laying flat in front of you with its headstock pointing to the left. 

The upper line illustrates the highest string. In other words, the first string of a guitar. 

The lowest line represents the lowest and thicker string. More specifically, the sixth string of the instrument. 

In the case of bass guitar, you’ll only spot four lines, representing the four strings. However, the logic is the same for both instruments (or any string instrument). 

Now, each line has a corresponding number. 

Whenever you see a zero (0), it means that it is an open string. That is to say, you play that string without placing your finger on the fretboard

Then, when you see number one (1) on the lines, it means that on such string you must place your finger on the first fret. When you see number two (2), you place it on the second one, and so on.

The same logic applies to the rest of the numbers. 

Moreover, you may encounter some letters such as h, b, or p. Each one represents a guitar technique. 

New learners may find them strange, which is no surprise at all. 

However, once you learn what those techniques consist of, you’ll feel comfortable the next time you read them. 

Lastly, a characteristic worth mentioning. 

Guitar tabs resemble musical sheets because both present the higher register of the instrument with the higher lines on the sheet. 

If you understand one, then you might get an idea of the other one. 

Needless to say, music sheets involve more knowledge of theory than guitar tabs.  

Do you get used to tabs being upside down?

The simple answer to the question is yes, you do

Keep playing and keep learning. 

Consistency is a must for understanding and reading guitar tabs. 

Even if you feel uncomfortable with them, you’ll get used to the fact they are upside down. 

It will become second nature

How to read guitar tabs faster?

I know that many of you may be struggling with reading guitar tabs. That’s totally understandable. 

Now, with this in mind, you may be looking for a quick solution to that problem. 

This is your day of luck because there is one magic trick to learn tabs faster. 

And the trick fits in one word. That magic word is practice

Yes. I know this is not what you wanted to hear, but it is a fact. 

There is no quick solution. There isn’t a fast approach to reading guitar tabs. 

All you have to do is sit down in front of one, take your guitar out, and practice. 

Keep practicing until you feel comfortable with them or until you understand what’s in front of you. 

If you happen to find a letter or sign that you don’t understand, you can always make a Google search or ask a friend for help. 

Again, it is just a matter of getting used to them. The more you do it, the faster you’ll understand them. 

Are guitar tabs the best way for learning new songs?

Undoubtedly, guitar tabs are a great tool for learning songs. 

It’s probably one of the greatest first approaches. Sure enough, it is worth highlighting the words first approach

See, a tab is a fast solution to learning a riff or figuring out the exact notes in a guitar solo. 

Just google the name of the song, and then copy on the guitar what you are seeing on the screen. Done! 

Nonetheless, the best way to learn a song is by doing it by ear

Of course, for the majority, such a task requires lots of effort and practice. If you are a novice, then it is not a simple task to figure a song out by yourself.

That’s why guitar tabs are a better choice for starters. They help you understand the instrument until you are good enough to learn songs by ear. 

Another approach you can take is watching youtube tutorials that come without tabs. 

Paying attention to the position of someone else’s fingers on the fretboard is great for reinforcing both your ear and sight. 

In my opinion, watching tutorials (with no tabs on the screen) is in the middle between guitar tabs and learning by ear. 

This means that a great exercise could be starting with tabs, then moving on to tutorials, and finally playing by ear. 

Never forget, honing your hearing is a skill and not a gift that you are born with. 

You can always improve it, so don’t get discouraged if you find it hard at the very beginning. 

Just be patient


Playing guitar is an uphill journey. It involves lots of challenges and pleasures. 

Sometimes, you’ll feel you are a real guitar hero. You’ll learn a song by ear, or create a wonderful riff that you are very proud of. 

The next day, you may struggle with a solo. You’ll find lots of friction in perfecting a skill or technique. 

However, what differentiates a musician from a wanna-be is consistency. 

It is normal to feel frustrated when failing to learn a song. It is also natural wanting to avoid such frustration and stay in the comfort zone, replaying the same boring songs over and over again. 

That is if you even take the guitar at all. 

Take it easy. Take your time, and take your breaks from playing when necessary. 

You’ll find some tussle when reading a tab for the very first time, and the second, and sometimes, even the third one. 

The fourth one, though, will be easier, and so, and so. 

I don’t want to fall into the “never give up” cliché, but it happens to be true. Just keep practicing, and you’ll reach mastery.