Mike Oldfield A dedicated tab site

How to read tabs files

On this section I pretend to make you clear how to read the tab files I made. However, I guess there are people who is going to read this and have quite a lot of knowledge, while other ones will find many new concepts in here. Therefore I tried to cover some basics (but not the most basic things), to help the people that is beginning. If you are just interested in know which symbol is a vibrato, a bend or a hammer on (it means, you already know about this things), then you can go directly to the summary of symbols and techniques.

All the tabs I make have the same format, so if you understand one of them, you can read all. On the tab files we can find information about tunes, chords, and even sometimes lyrics. Before going further, let me introduce some concepts to the people not so much familiar with this.

A tab (or tablature) is a kind of music notation that shows how to play a piece of music. Instead of showing the different pitches (as in classical music notation), a tab shows the position of the fingers on the frets of the guitar
When two or more different pitches are played at the same time (in the guitar, playing more than one string at the same time)
The marker that divides the neck of a stringed instrument into segments

The above definitions are short extracts from Wikipedia. For more information check it there.

Tab information

On the top of the tab file you will find some information about the tab file and the song reflected. The information you will find, in order of appearance is

Name of the tabbed song
Album where the tabbed song is included
Name of the author of the song (that will be of course, Mike Oldfield in most of the cases)
Tab work information
It is a paragraph that explains what the tab is, and what to expect about it. It says: 'This tab is just my interpretation of the song, and probably it does not show the real author's work. If you find any mistake contact me, please.'
Contact information
You will find here a my name (Moisés Ferrer Serra), my e-mail address (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), and a link to this site and page

Strings and frets: the basics of a tab file

A guitar usually has 6 strings, no matter whether it is a classic, acoustic or electric guitar. This 6 strings are represented on the tabs as shows the figure 1, where each string is represented by one line.


Figure 1. Every line represents a string

The top line of the figure represents the thinnest string on the guitar, it is, the one with higher pitch (when playing the guitar, the string at the bottom). The last line on the figure is the thickest string on the guitar. Then, from up to bottom of the lines of the figure, represent the lines of the guitar from bottom to up.

So now we know how to identify the strings. Then, what is the meaning of the symbols on every line? First of all, let's check the capital letters, placed at the beginning of every line. This letter is telling us the tuning of that string, where every letter means a different tuning. The tuning is the note (roughly speaking, the sound) that the string will make when played "on the air", it is, when we are not pushing any place on the guitar neck. In figure 2 you can see the meanings of these symbols.

C Do
D Re
E Mi
F Fa
G Sol
A La
B Si

Figure 2. Music notes and their symbols

On figure 2 we can see the notes ordered by ascending pitch. After B it comes again C, but a C with a higher pitch than the before one. Between the represented notes there are more "sounds" that can be represented by the symbol # and the symbol b. Then, for instance, C# is a note which pitch is higher than C but lower than D. If you want more information about this then you should consider buying some book about music.

Let's go back to figure 1. Now we can understand that the first string (top line of the figure = bottom line on the guitar) is tuned as E (Mi), the second one is tuned as B (Si), the third as G (Sol), the fourth as D (Re), the fifth as A (La), and the sixth one as E (Mi). Note that the first and the sixth strings are tuned with the same note, but the first string has a higher pitch.

The tuning showed in figure one is actually the most typical one, and if you search some information about chords, they normally assume that kind of tuning. However, this tuning can be changed to any other plausible combination. You can even tune strings with modified pitch notes, as C#. For this reason, you will find always the tuning on the beginning of every line of a tab (even almost always will appear this one).

Right after the note (tune) of the string we will find a vertical bar '|'. This one is just a delimiter, as it is the same symbol at the end of the line. It is just a line delimiter, and it doesn't necessarily have meaning about the timing on the music. I repeat, is just showing the start-end of the line. Sometimes you will find it in the midle of the line, like it happens in 'Red Dawn' tab, and it is just a delimiter for make it more clear the flowing of the song (in that case is showing a part where a chord is used).

Then we have on the lines numbers and a sequence of '-' symbols. The symbol is just used for knowing easily at every time at which line we are, so it is not more than a dummy helper (actually, it is like the lines on a pentagram). For instance, see figure 3, without this helper, and you will see that is somehow difficult sometimes to know on which line a number is (and try to imagine with even longer lines).

E| 0 |
B| 1 1 6 1 |
G| 0 12 11 2 |
D| 2 9 4 |
A| 3 7 4 1 |
E| 6 |

Figure 3. Not using '-' makes difficult to know on which line is every number

And finally we have the numbers on the lines. This numbers shows the frets that have to been pushed on every string. For instance, a 3 on the top line means that the first string has to be pushed on the third space (the third fret is tapping the string). A 0 number means that the string has to be played without pressing any place. And more than one number on the same vertical line (it means, on several lines = several strings) means that several strings have to been played at the same, or nearly the same time.

Then, we just need to know that the tab is read from left to right (and from the top of the file to the bottom). So for instance, if we check again figure 1 we can see that this tab is saying to play (in that order): the fifth string pressed on the third fret, the fourth string on the second fret, the third string on the air, the second string on the first fret ant the first string on the air. However, the tab does not provide information about the speed of every played note, or the time that we have to wait between notes. The only way to know that is to listen the original song I try to identify the different parts on the tab. As a help I sometimes add on the top of the tab lines a time code. Let's take figure 4 as an example.

(0:24)   (3:47)

Figure 4. Tab with time code added

On figure 4 we have the same tab that figure 1, but with time code added. The time code says when it is played (on the original song) the note that is on the same vertical line. So for figure 4, the first note is played at second 24, and the fourth note (second string, first fret) is played at minute 3, second 47. The addition of time code is just for make it easier to identify parts of the tab on the song (so it is easier to follow). Therefore I add time codes on two situations

  1. When there are clearly separated music parts on the running time (for instance, a guitar solo, and later a second guitar solo). I add the time code to know when every piece starts (so we can find on the song this part quickly).
  2. Or when a tune is too long, then I add the time code as a helper, to be able to keep track of the song on the tab easily.

This is all the information you need to understand the basics of any tab file. Despite this is my own style, you might find on the Internet many other tabs that are quite similar, since after all they are based on this basis.

You will also find some notes that are explicative and for your help in some tabs. They state if there are patterns (and when they appear), which instrument is being tabbed, and so on. With this notes will often appear time codes showing when some repetitive patterns sound, or when a song piece starts. Since this anotations are explicative/informative, they will be clear inside the context of the tab.


If we keep in mind the above definition of chord, we know that for play a chord we need to play more than one string at a time (actually, nearly the same time is also acceptable). This is shown on the tab file positioning numbers on the same vertical line. See figure 5 for examples of tabs.

E|---0---| E|---0---| E|----8---|
B|---1---| B|---0---| B|----8---|
G|---0---| G|---0---| G|----9---|
D|---2---| D|---2---| D|---10---|
A|---3---| A|---2---| A|---10---|
E|-------| E|---0---| E|----8---|

Figure 5. Guitar chords, from left to right, C, Em and C.

On figure 5 we have the whole information of how a chord is played on the guitar (I mean, which strings and where to push them). For instance, on the first chord the sixth string will not be played, while on the other two all strings will sound. On the second one, just 2 strings need to be pushed, while on the third one all of them need to be.

On the tab we will find the chord codifications nearly the top part. There you will find all the chords that are used for the song. It would be also possible to list all chords here and then just write on the tab the equivalent letter of the chord (A, C#m, Eb...). The reason I avoid to do this is because there are many chords, and several ways to play them. For instance, go again to figure 5 and see that the first and last chords are the same (and they are not the only ways to make a C chord). If we also remember that there are many ways of tune the guitar, then we find that there are so many combinations that lead to the same chord. Therefore I will put always the one I think is matching for every song on every tab, so the users of the tab don't need to try to depict which one it is.

But actually I don't add so much chord information to my tabs, since I am mostly interested on the tunes. However, you can find chords on some vocal songs (as 'Moonlight Shadow' or 'Pictures In The Dark') or some songs where the tune is strongly based on a chord sequence (see 'Cuckoo Song', 'Red Dawn' or the start of 'Sunset Door' as an example). In any case, you will find the chord information placed on the tab lines (as the time code was), or down of it, and it usually means that from that point, that chord is being used (even the guitar is not sounding). On vocal songs you might find this information also on the lyrics, showing again which chord is being used. In any case, the chord is used until the next chord appears, or the tab section is over.


There is not so much to say about this. When the song has a vocal part then I might add the lyrics also. Then, I might add some chord information above it, as I said before (but not always it is). The lyrics don't tell us so much about how to play the guitar, so it is more like an extra to the tab than other thing. Anyway it is sometimes useful to have both the guitar playing codification and the lyrics on the same file, so you can practice it more easily.

Guitar techniques

There are several guitar techniques that are more or less commonly used, and you might be or not familiar with them. These techniques enrich the songs and makes the music to flow more smoothly. I will try to explain them here, but I guess it is a little difficult. If you don't know about them and have a friend who plays guitar, then it would be a good idea you ask him about it.

For every technique there is a special symbol on the tab. Let's introduce first of all, the whole set of techniques you might find codified on the tabs

This technique is made by pressing the string on some fret, picking the string, and then going to another fret without taking the pressure off. Therefore you will listen several notes while making the slide. The slide can be done in both directions.
Hammer on
In this technique 2 notes will sound, but only once we will pick the string. What we do is pick the string fretting somewhere, and then we play a higher note (it usually is 2 notes higher, but not necessarily), just by hammering on the desired fret.
Pull off
It resembles the hammer on, but the second sounded note is lower than the picked one. We achieve this by first picking one string pressing somewhere and then pulling off the finger, while keeping another finger on a lower fret. Then the last note will be sounded.
For this technique we will pick the string at one fret, and then bend the string (normally bend it up) until the sound matches the note we want to get, always keeping the pressure on the string. Then there is always continuity from the starting note until the last note. Usually bending is made until get the sound of the next fret or the next one, but this is not a limit. There is complete freedom about it.
This technique is related to the other one, and is somehow the opposite. What you do is make exactly as before, without picking the string. It is, you bend the string without picking it. Then you pick it. After that then you might apply another technique, wich will be probably bending and/or bending release.
Bending release
It is just to bring back the string to normal position after a bending or a pre-bending. When bringing it back, keep the pressure on the string.
Palm mute
For that just put your right hand palm on the bridge and play as usual. The sound will be muted.
Unpitched mute
It is another way of muting. For this, instead of make enough pressure on the fret of the string, just damp the string and pick it as usual.
This technique consists in perform repeatedly a kind of small bends on the same place, at a constant rate (but usually quickly). What we do is to slightly change the pitch of a note repeatedly, and for do this you constantly shake your hand slightly, bending with it the string.

If these techniques are new to you I recommend you visit some other site about techniques that are more detail, or find a book about guitar techniques.

Here there is a resume of the available techniques and the symbol used on my tabs, as some examples. After the table you will find a more extended explanation about the examples, and also some more elaborated examples that might appear on the tab files.

Sliding (1) s -6s8- -9s3-
Sliding (2) < -8<- -<8-
Sliding (3) > -8>- ->8-
Hammer on h -3h5- -0h2-
Pull off p -9p7- -4p0-
Bending b -3b5- -8b9-
Bending half tone b^ -3b^- -8b^-
Pre-bending ( ) -(7)10- -(9)10-
Bending release r -9r8- -5r3-
Palm mute x -5x- -8x-
Unpitched mute u -5u- -8u-
Vibrato ~ -12~- -17~-

Table of equivalences of guitar techniques and symbols on the tab

With 's' we mark an sliding. For instance, -6s8- means slide from 6 to 8. The symbols '<' and'>' are used to express a special sliding effect. With '<', as in -8<-, we mean that we pick while pressing fret 8 and then we make a slide down, an undetermined number of frets. If we see -<8-, then it means that we start making the slide from somewhere (undetermined place) fret up of 8, and stop at 8. Similarly, -8>- means pick at 8 fret and slide up an undetermined number of frets, and ->8- means pick somewhere down (again undetermined) of 8 fret and go until exactly 8.

The hammer on and pull off are not so much complicated. -3h5- means hammer on from 3 to 5, it is, pick while pressing on 3 and then hammer on 5 (ni pick again). -9p7- means press both 7 and 9 (7 will sound, since it is over 9), then pick, and release the finger pressing 9, so 7 will sound. Note that -0h2- is valid (I mean, start without pushing anything), as it is -4p0- (finish without pushing the string). It is quite common to see these techniques concatenated, as in -7h9p7p5h7-. In here we will pick just once the string and then make hammer on and pull off as it is said (pick when pressing at 7, then hammer onto 9, pull off to 7 (without picking), pull off to 5 (without picking) and hammer on to 7 (without picking)).

The bending and the related techniques (pre-bending and bending release) are a little complicated to understand, so let's see the examples. -3b5- means pick while pressing fret 3 and bend to 5. -(7)10- means bend the fret on 7 to 10 and then pick. -3b^- means to pick from fret 3 and bend, but just a little, so we even do not reach the sound of the next note, just half-way. It is really a kind of "micro-bend", where we bend just half tone. -9r8- means pick on the current fret (that has to be bended until 9) and bring it until it sounds like in 8 (note that it might not be fret 8). It is clear that the last example needs more information, since there is no way to be a release bend without a bending or a pre-bending. Let's see with more detail that cases.

If we find -8b9r8- it means "pick when pressing fret 8, then bend until 9 and then release until 8", so roughly, 3 notes are involved (8-9-8). We can find also -(8)9r8, what means "pre-bend from fret 8 to 9, then pick (will sound 9), and then release to 8", where 2 notes will be involved (9-8). We can concatenate this elements and make complex compositions, as -(5)7r6b7r5-, what means "pre-bend from 5 fret to 7, then pick and release until 6, bend again until 7 and release until 5". On that case again only once we pick the string, but many notes are played. As you can see, this can be very complex, but reading carefully it is not so much difficult to understand.

Next I present some examples of bending notations that are quite common on my tab files. -(7)9-(7)9-(7)9r7- means that we pre-bend from 7 to 9, then pick 3 times, and then release until 7. -7b9-(7)9- would mean pick at 7, then bend until 9, and then pick again (when releasing until the normal position of the string, don't keep the pressure, so it will not sound). In the previous example can be seen that the second pre-bend means keep the state of the previous bend (do not release). Nearly similar example is -(7)b9-(7)9r7-. It is played in the same way, but at the end, when releasing the string, keep the pressure, so it will sound also the bend release.

The muting is also not so much difficult. -5x- means to press on the fret 5, while releasing the other hand (the palm) on the bridge, and then pick the string. Another variant of muting is expressed as -5u-, and done by dumping the finger (just make a little pressure) on the fret 5 and picking the string.

At last, the vibrato has not so much secret. -17~- means a vibrato on the 17 fret. About how to make the vibrato, check the above explanation.

Also interesting...

How to read tab files

If you are beginning with guitar playing, tab files, or just you don't understand the meaning of the symbols that appear on the tab files, then I recommend you to visit this section about how to read the tab files.

Tabs policy

The tabs that are listed in this section are made by me and are just my own interpretation of Mike's songs. I try to keep them as accurate as possible, so please, if you find any mistake on them or you think something is different, feel free to send any suggestion to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


If you have any suggestion, request or anythin else, feel free to contact me anytime on surffer3d@hotmail.com.

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