How to Read Bass Tab

Bass Tablature, or bass tab, is a simplistic system of writing music for the bass players to understand.  Bass Tab is easy to get started with, because it offers a visual representation of what where to play notes on your instrument,  rather than providing the tone of the note.  There are tons of bass tab resources found on the internet. Tab represents the strings of the bass as in the diagram below.  This diagram represents a 4 string bass guitar. (Tab can be written in any number of strings, however  4 string tab is the most common I have seen on the web.)

G —————————-
D —————————-
A —————————-
E —————————-

The diagram appears as if you took your bass and laid it flat on your lap with the strings facing up. The highest string occupies the top line, with the strings getting deeper in tone as you work your way down.

Here is the representation of a 5 string Bass

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

Show me which frets to play:
Tab represents which notes should be played by placing the number of the fret to be played on the appropriate line (string). For example playing the 1st Fret of the E string (which is an F) would look like this in tab:

G —————————-
D —————————-
A —————————-
E -1————————–
B —————————-

Note: Open Strings are represented by using the number 0. To indicate no fret is being played.

In this example you would play a major scale. Starting on the 1st fret of the E string.

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

The order of notes being played moves left to right, just like reading. If there are two number marked on top of each other it is an indication that you should play the notes simultaneously.

While bass tab is very simple to learn, and gets a musician up to speed on a particular song rather quickly. It does have its shortcomings. One glaring issue with tab, in regards to learning a song, is that you can’t account for time or rhythm. There is an attempt to remedy this, however its difficult to pull off with tab. By adding more numbers beneath the tab to indicate each beat of the song you can now attempt to get a sense of rhythm within the song.

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

While this method is not perfect, it is a step in the correct direction. Honestly, for me though. This is getting more complicated than it needs to be. I would rather learn to read standard notation.

For me the other markings that tab provides are very cool, here they are:
A forward slash ( / ) indicates a slide moving up in pitch.
A back slash ( \ ) indicates a slide moving down in pitch.
A caret (^) indicates a bend.
An X (x) indicates a ghost note.
An H (h) indicates a hammer-on.
A P (p) indicates a pull-off.
For markings beneath the strings:

Tab has many pros and cons, that I will allow you to figure out for yourself. I will just caution that you not simply learn tab, without attempting to learn how to read sheet music (standard notation), and how to read chord charts.

Say What?
The word tab originates from tablature which comes from the Latin word tabulatura. Tabula is a table or slate, in Latin. To tabulate something means to put it into a table or chart.