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How to read transcriptions at Whotabs

About this page

Overview of tablature method employed at Whotabs. Includes sections on alternate tunings and use of capo.

Introduction

All the transcriptions I do are written in tablature (TAB), chord chart (CRD), or a combination thereof. There are plenty of resources available on the web to give you the details on how to read and write tablature. I will attempt to give a brief overview to get you started on interpreting transcriptions. For more information, including detailed tablature descriptions and music theory, you can check sites such as harmonycentral.com.

Litgo
August 1999

How to read transcriptions

Tablature (TAB) is a method of notating music played on guitar or bass, but instead of using musical symbols like in standard notation, TAB uses ordinary ASCII characters and numbers, so anyone with any computer can read the transcriptions.

Chord charts, or CRD files, are an even more basic form of tablature. In CRD files, the chord names are written out and placed above the corresponding lyric.

To read transcriptions, you need a word processor or text reader with a monospaced typeface. All the transcriptions at this site are posted as .txt files. Select all and change the font to “Courier 10” or an equivalent. If you don’t, everything will align incorrectly, and you’ll be wondering why you can’t understand any of this.

All transcriptions are written so that 70 characters can fit on a line. This means that, with Courier 10 as the font, your left and right margins should each be set at 1.25 or 1.00 to accommodate the 70 characters.

Here’s an example of a line length:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

You can always extend the margins once you’ve viewed or downloaded the transcription.

In the case of wrapping, where lines of the transcription are broken, you can extend the margins. If that doesn’t work, and there are still broken lines, you may have to manually remove the line break characters.

For example, if you see this:

|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|---------
---------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|---------
---------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|---------
---------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|---------
---------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|---------
---------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|---------
---------|

Extend the margins and remove the offending paragraph marks to get this:

|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|------------------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|------------------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|------------------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|------------------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|------------------|
|---------|-----------|-------------|---------|------------------|

TAB versus standard notation

A difference between TAB and standard musical notation is that TAB can only tell you what notes to play in which order and how they are played (hammer-ons, vibrato, etc.); however, it can’t tell you how long the note is played, as in standard notation.

Which means, it’s a good idea to listen to the song with the transcription in hand to fully understand how the transcription is laid out.

Notation

TAB is simple to read once you understand the basics.

The six lines (unlike the five in standard notation) correspond to the six strings of the guitar. The generally accepted order is descending from high to low (i.e., E, B, G, D, A, E), top to bottom.

Here’s an example:

E----------------
B----------------
G----------------
D----------------
A----------------
E----------------

The numbers that appear on the lines indicate which fret to play. So, a “2” that appears on the “A” line is instructing you to play the second fret of the 5th (A) string, or a “B” note. A “0” means open string.

E----------------
B----------------
G----------------
D----------------
A-2--------------
E----------------

Moving from left to right, the TAB gives you the order of the notes played in a particular riff:

E----------------
B----------------
G----------------
D----------------
A-2-4-5----------
E-------0--------

Here, you would be playing, on the 5th or A string, B, C#, D, then on the 6th or E string, open or E.

This format can also be used for chords. When notes are to be played together, they’re stacked on top of one another:

E--0-------------
B--1-------------
G--0-------------
D--2-------------
A--3-------------
E----------------

This indicates you should play an open C chord.

Furthermore, notes of a chord can be written so as to indicate they are played “arpeggio” style:

E------0-----
B-----1-1----
G----0---0---
D---2-----2--
A--3-------3-
E------------

This is the same “C” chord, yet it’s played so that each note is played slightly after the previous note, but all the notes continue to ring together.

When indicating leads, the individual notes may be written in a similar manner; however, they don’t all correspond to a note within the chord. This is where familiarity with the song in question is invaluable.

E----------------
B------------1-5-
G--------0-2-----
D------2---------
A--3-5-----------
E----------------

This indicates a run in a C major pentatonic scale (you’ll have to look elsewhere for music theory...).

While you still can’t necessarily discern the length of a note based on TAB, the space after a note can generally be determined by how much space there is in the TAB until the next note is played.

You can generally assume the time within the measure that the note is played corresponds to the number’s position within the measure, and how many notes are in that measure.

So when you see this:

E|---------|--------|
B|---------|--------|
G|---------|--------|
D|---------|--------|
A|0---0----|5-7-5-7-|
E|---------|--------|

...it can be thought of as:

  1 2 3 4  1 2 3 4 
E|--------|--------|
B|--------|--------|
G|--------|--------|
D|--------|--------|
A|0---0---|5-7-5-7-|
E|--------|--------|

Again, tablature isn’t an exact science. You’ll have to listen to the record to hear specifics.

Timing

One element I’ve tried to incorporate into many transcriptions are stave bars — those lines that indicate the end of each measure. For example, every fourth beat in a song that is in common or 4/4 time would have a bar.

  1 2 3 4  1 2 3 4 
E|--------|--------|
B|--------|--------|
G|--------|--------|
D|--------|--------|
A|--------|--------|
E|--------|--------|

This can also give you a sense of the point during the measure at which the note is played. More on this below.

Again, this is not consistent in all my transcriptions, let alone those submitted by others.

Another symbol you’ll see in relation to song construction include repeats. Because it’s a pain to keep writing (and reading) a repeated passage over and over, I’ll use repeat symbols. These look like this:

In tablature:

   C       D       x2
||--------|--------||
||--------|--------||
||.-------|-------.||
||.-------|-------.||
||--------|--------||
||--------|--------||

In chord chart format:

                     x2
||:C       |D       :||

In these cases, the double bars with colon (“||:”) indicate the start and stop of the repeated passage, so everything in between would be played again. The x2 indicates the number of times that you should repeat the passage. Twice in this case.

Another method is to use the “%” symbol instead of rewriting a passage:

   C       D 
||--------|--------||--------|--------|--------|--------|
||--------|--------||--------|--------|--------|--------|
||.-------|-------.||--------|--------|--------|--------|
||.5-7----|7-9----.||--------%--------|--------%--------|
||--------|--------||--------|--------|--------|--------|
||--------|--------||--------|--------|--------|--------|

Here, instead of the “x2”, you would play the repeated passage three times, because there is the initial two measures (between ||: and :||), then four more measures, with the “%” symbol, which indicates that each set of two measures should be played identically to the previous set.

Again, this is not consistent among all transcriptions from various contributors.

Other symbols

To indicate the various ways you play a note, there are certain symbols that correspond to hammer-ons, bends, etc.

The most widely used are as follows. Keep in mind, these may not be consistent from each contributor, but it gives you a general idea of what symbols mean.

Tablature symbol legend
Symbol What it means Example
h or / hammer on generally looks like:
--5/7-- or --5h7--
p or / or \ pull off generally looks like:
--7/5-- or --7p5--
^ bend string up generally looks like:
--5^--
^(8) indicates the note you bend up to generally looks like:
--5^(8)--
(^) Prebend: bend the note up before sounding the note generally looks like:
--(^)5(8)-- or
--(^8)5--
<12> natural harmonic; sometimes indicated with “harm.” ----<5>-----
\ release bend, when used after a “^” symbol looks like:
--5^\-- or
---5^(7)\---
, which indicates the note you bend up to, then release.

---(^)12\----
indicates prebend and release.
/ slide up and slide into generally looks like:
---5/7--- or ---/7---
\ slide down ---7\5--- or ---\5---
\/ indicates you should either use the vibrato bar or bend the neck forward while holding the body of the guitar, producing the same effect. Do this at your own risk: no guarantees if you snap your guitar’s neck or body while doing this! ------------
------------
------------
------------
------------
-----0\/----
~ vibrato (shake the note after it is sounded) generally looks like:
---5~---
...... indicates that you should hold out the note or repeat the previous pattern; this is not consistent among transcriptions ----5~......---
pm or p.m. palm mute (dampen the note as it is played)  
x indicates the note is played without being fretted (essentially gives a clicking sound) ----------
--x-------
--x-------
--x-------
----------
----------
xxxx pick slide/scrape ----------
----------
----------
----------
--xxxxx---
--xxxxx---
5/5
5/5
2/2
2/2
0/0
indicates rapid chord strumming, usually a flourish preceding the beat, a PT trademark. See “Leading in front of the first beat” for more information.   A5 |A5
--5/5|5---
--5/5|5---
--2/2|2---
--2/2|2---
--0/0|0---
-----|----

Chords

In either CRD or TAB transcriptions, you’ll usually find a chord chart at the top. This gives you a sense of how the chords are fretted in the song. In many of my transcriptions, there are multiple ways to play a chord. Usually, I’ll indicate that a voicing is for a chorus or verse if they are different.

A typical chord chart looks like this:

C    x32010
D    xx0232

Moving from right to left, you can determine how the chord is voiced. Each number corresponds to the string and fret at which it is played. The x’s indicate that no note is played on that string.

string:  EADGBE
C        x32010
D        xx0232

If the same were written out in tablature, it would look like this:

E|0---2-----|----------
B|1---3-----|----------
G|0---2-----|----------
D|2---0-----|----------
A|3---------|----------
E|----------|----------

The x’s don’t appear in the tablature form because the unmarked string indicates that no note is played on that string.

Occasionally, you’ll see numbers in parentheses in chord charts (e.g., (2)x0232). This can either mean the note is played occasionally or that it is played by the bass and indicated in the transcription to give overall chord voicing. In this example, it would be a D with an F# bass. The same thing can be indicated with a “/” to symbolize the bass note, or polychord. The Who’s songs often contain such chords, so there will be plenty in the transcriptions. For example: D/F# would be D with an F# bass, or 2x0232.

For more detailed information about the way Pete fingers chords, see Chord fingering – Pete style

Chords versus tablature

Overall, you’ll find chords written above the corresponding lyric in both chord and tablature transcriptions. The chord (or CRD) transcription is used if the song patterns (or the transcription itself) are basic enough not to warrant using tablature.

Many times, transcriptions to complicated songs still will not use tablature. This is usually because either the leads that would’ve been indicated in tablature were either not transcribed or the transcriber felt they were not an integral part of the song and preferred to transcribe the chords only.

Capos

A hallmark of Who/PT songs is the use of the capo. At least one third, if not more, of songs written by Pete employ the capo. This means that a song can be played with open chord forms even if it’s in a different key than one that would normally allow for open chording (open chording are chords that have some strings that are played without being fretted: D: xx0232. The open D string [the “0” at the fourth string] means this is an open chord.)

What a capo does is essentially moves the nut. So, instead of the nut being at “zero” fret, it moves to whichever fret the capo is at.

Although I don’t do this in my transcriptions, a capo at the third fret would mean the strings would be notated like this:

 G|-----|
 D|-----|
Bb|-----|
 F|-----|
 C|-----|
 G|-----|

If a capo is needed for a song, my transcriptions indicate this at the top, before the chord chart. Although this practice is open to debate, my chord charts indicate the chord relative to the nut, not the capo. This means that the number in the transcription corresponds to the actual fret played, not the fret played relative to the capo. In other words, a 5 on the “G” string is still a note on the fifth fret of the third string, regardless of where the capo is.

So, if a capo is on three, and the chord is listed as F: xx3565, the “3” will be played as an open string, the “5” and “6” will be played at the 5th and 6th frets, respectively.

In some of my transcriptions, I’ve indicated the chord shape relative to the capo in parentheses, which ends up looking like this:

Capo on 3rd fret:
Chord (shape with capo)
F     (D)     xx3565
C     (A)     x35553
G     (E)     355433

What this means is that, with the capo on the third fret, to make an “F” chord, you’d play an open “D” chord shape.

Depending on the type of capo you have, you may have to adjust (slacken) your tuning slightly to be in tune. This is because the capo applies more pressure to the strings than the open nut does. And, a capo applies different pressure to each string because the size of the strings in relation to each other is different. If you have the luxury, you can have multiple guitars, each set with a different capo. However, depending on how tight the capo is (and how soft the wood of your guitar’s neck is), it can leave dents in your fretboard.

A Dunlop-style capo (the one with a nylon band attached to a plastic lever that fits into metal teeth) applies the most pressure and will require you to retune to be in tune. A Kyser-style — the squeeze/trigger-style — or the Shubb-style capos apply less pressure, but still will pull your guitar slightly sharp.

Alternate tunings

If a song is played at an alternate tuning, it is indicated at the top, before the chord chart. This means, to play the song as it is on record, you’ll need to retune your guitar.

Tuning down

For Who songs, this most often means tuning down a half or whole step. A step is equal to a whole tone (e.g., the space between an ‘E’ and a ‘D’) and a half step is equal to a semi-tone (e.g., the space between an ‘E’ and an ‘Eb’). Usually, the transcription will indicate the amount tuned down and the notes. For example, a transcription will say: “Tune down whole step to D: DGCFAD”

This means that, moving from left to right, you would tune down each string so that the open note equals the indicated note:

654321            654321
DGCFAD instead of EADGBE

Here is a partial list of Who and solo songs that employ such tuning methods. Refer to this key for tunings:

Half:           Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb
Whole:          D G C F A D
One and a half: C# F# B E Ab C#
Two whole:      C F Bb Eb G C
        
Songs requiring tuning down
Song Step down
Armenia City In The Sky Half
Bargain (electric) Half
Batman Whole
Coke 1 Whole
Coke 2 Whole
Doctor Doctor Half
Eyesight To The Blind (solo only) Half
Hall Of The Mountain King Whole
Here For More One and a half/drop D: B F# B E G# C#
Imagine A Man One and a half/drop D: B F# B E G# C#
I’ve Been Away Whole
Leaving Here Half
Love Reign O’er Me (electric) Half
Magic Bus Whole
Man Watching Half
Man With The Money Half
Mary Two whole steps
My Generation Whole
The Ox Whole
Quadrophenia (electrics) Half
Rael Whole
The Rock (electrics) Half
Sodding About Whole
Sparks One and a half
Sunrise Whole
That Motherland Feeling One and a half
Underture Two whole steps/
Left-ch acoustic:
Two whole steps/drop D: Bb F Bb Eb A C

‘Dropped D’ tuning

In addition, you’ll find songs with “Dropped D” tuning, whereby only the lowest E string is detuned one whole step. The notes are: DADGBE. Some examples of dropped-D tuning are:

Open tunings

Other alternate tunings can include open tunings. One Pete uses, DADADE (see I Am An Animal or A Friend is A Friend), means you have to tune the ‘B’ string up tone and a half to ‘D’. Be very careful when doing this, as strings tuned up have a tendency to snap. It may be a good idea to replace the ‘B’ string with a ‘E’ string tuned down to ‘D’ to avoid that possibility.

Here is a partial list of songs that employ open tunings, and their tuning:

Songs requiring open tunings
Song Open tuning
A Friend Is A Friend DADADE
A Man In A Purple Dress DGDGBC
Can You Help The One You Really Love? DGDADE
Collings DGDGAD
The Ferryman Possibly:
high C#, high G#, C# G# C# G#
(banjo-style tuning)
God Speaks of Marty Robbins DADADE
His Hands DGDGBD (capo 5)
I Am An Animal DADADE (capo 2)
I Am Secure DADADE
Mike Post Theme (acoustic) DGDGAD
Parvardigar CGCGCD
Praying The Game Possibly:
high C#, high G#, C# G# C# G#
(banjo-style tuning)
Save It For Later DADAAD
The Seeker DADF# DE
The Shout DADADE
Squeeze Box (electric) DGDGBD
Squirm Squirm DGDADE
Tea and Theatre DGDGBC
You Stand By Me DADADE

Lyrics and source information

Transcribers for this site, myself included, have generally tried to indicate the correct lyrics from the song. These lyrics have been, and should always be, attributed to the author in question. All lyrics and information are the copyright of the author in question or their publisher. In my transcriptions, the information at the top gives you the song’s source information:

Song title
Artist
>Source and year
Writer/author

For example:

My Generation
By The Who
>From The Who Sings My Generation, 1965
Written by Pete Townshend ©1965 TRO-Devon Music, Inc.

Remember, all transcribers and transcriptions herein the respective transcribing author’s own work and represent their interpretations of the songs. You may only use these files for private study, scholarship, or research.

Want to transcribe?

Here’s what I use:

  • A CD player
  • A graphic equalizer (to isolate frequencies to hear an instrument more clearly)
  • A balance control
  • A pair of studio-quality headphones
  • A guitar (usually)
  • A computer with a word processor or text editor
  • A lot of time

Note (5/2001):

I’ve now begun using Winamp, with its built-in equalizer, and the PaceMaker and LoopMaster plugins. This allows me to slow the pace or adjust the pitch (PaceMaker) as well as repeat a single passage automatically (LoopMaster), instead of keeping one hand on the “reverse” button while transcribing.

You can also use one of those tape players with speed/pitch control; however, I’m not sure exactly how they work and don’t have one.

There are also tab-writing programs available. I’ve never used one and couldn’t recommend a good one.

Then, turn on “invisibles” on your word processing program, change the document’s font to a monospaced font, such as Courier, size 10, and start with the basic structure of the song over the lyrics and add tablature where necessary by creating a line:

|----------------------------------------------|

...and copying it five times to get:

|----------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------|

Then, lock the door and get started.

Here’s a basic layout. Remember to use spaces to align chords to lyrics, not tab markers, which won’t convert to HTML.

Song title
Artist
>Source, year
Author

transcriber

chords
B      x24442
A      x02220
E      022100

[intro]
||:B   B   |A    A   :||

[verse]
|B     B    |A     A                |
 Verse lyric line verse lyric line
 Verse lyric line verse lyric line

[chorus]
|E      A    |E     B      A          |
 Chorus lyric line chorus lyric line
 Chorus lyric line chorus lyric line

[solo]                                          x2
|B     B     |A      A     ||:B    |A          :||
|------------|-------------||------|------------||
|------------|-------------||------|------------||
|------------|-------------||.-----|-----------.||
|------------|-------------||.-----|-----------.||
|------------|-------------||------|------------||
|------------|-------------||------|------------||

[repeat chorus]
Chorus lyric line chorus lyric line
Chorus lyric line chorus lyric line

Verse lyric line verse lyric line
Verse lyric line verse lyric line

[repeat chorus]
Chorus lyric line chorus lyric line
Chorus lyric line chorus lyric line

[outro]
|E      A      |E      B      A      |

Remember, it takes practice to be able to get used to doing this. The more you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel.

If you are going to give it a try, there’s a trick in Word (Mac and Windows) where you can copy a segment of a group paragraphs without copying the entire line by using the “alt” or “option” key. This can be helpful when you’ve got wrapping of a tablature line to longer than the margins will accept.

Hold down the alt/option key, click the segment of the line you want to copy, then, drag down all the lines you want to copy, click copy, then, making sure there are enough blank lines where you want to copy the segment, hit paste.

If you’ve got questions about transcribing, contact us.

If you’d like to submit a transcription to Whotabs for inclusion, Whotabs accepts all transcriptions for consideration, as long as it is your own work. Any transcriptions plagiarized from existing publications will not be accepted. For more information, see Submission policy.