How To Read Piano Tabs

Most people don’t know how to read piano tabs. Piano tabs are a great way to play your favorite songs without having to read sheet sheet music.

Tablature is a system of numbers that represent which notes the musician is to play. It is a lot like sheet music but it uses numbers instead of music notes.

A great thing about tabs is that they are very easily accessible online and for the most part are free.

How to Read Piano Tabs

When you think about tabs most people think about guitar tabs. Piano tabs aren't as common as guitar tabs but more and more people are starting to use them for the piano.

When learning how to read piano tabs you need to remember that each note on the keyboard is represented by a number. You name each key by which octave it is on. So if it is on the first octave it will be a 1, if it is on the second octave it will be a 2 and so on. The new octaves always start on a C. Look at the image below and see how the keyboard is labeled for tabs.

Piano Tabs

But how do you know what note to play? There will be numbers at the beginning of the row that will tell you which octave and then a note on that line. So for the tab below which shows the G major scale, it tells you to play a third octave g, a, and b and a forth octave c, d, e F#, and g.

4 I --------------c-d-e-F-g-- I
3 I ------g-a-b-------------- I

Easy enough right? If you haven't already figured it out the lower case letters represent the natural (white) notes and a capital letter represents a sharp (black) note. Why are there no flats? Because it eliminates the confusion between a “b” for b note or a flat symbol. So every capital letter will represent a sharped note.

Symbol Rundown

Lowercase Letters - represent the natural or white keys

Capital Letters - represent sharped notes. If you don’t know how to make a sharp note then check out this page.

Numbers - represent the octave in which you are supposed to play that note. a4 would mean to play an a on the fourth octave.

“I” - separates measures. If the song is in 4/4 then for every four beats the tabs will use a I to separate that measure

“-” - these represent the amount of time in between notes. If there are a few of these then you leave very little time between the next note. If there are a lot then you leave more time between notes.

R and L - Some tabs will have an R and L at the beginning. This tells you which hand is supposed to play that note. So if there is an R at the beginning then you use the right hand if there is an L then use the left.

R 3 I -g-a-b---I
L 2 I -a---g--- I
L 1 I -a---g--- I

Other Considerations

If you look at the image above you will see that there are numbers that are stacked on top of each other and numbers that are in a column by themselves. When numbers are stacked it means you are to play these notes all at the same time. When the are in a column by themselves it means you to play that note by itself.

So look out for full chords that are stacked up on top of each other.


This is a basic rundown on how to read piano tabs. Piano tabs are a fun easy way to play the piano. it will help you to quickly play you favorite songs without having to read sheet music.

So take your time and have fun playing the piano without the dread of learning to read music.

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