How to Convert Bass Tabs to Guitar Notes

By Carl Hose
Bass guitar

Tablature, or tab, is music notation used most frequently by stringed instrument players, in particular guitar, bass and banjo players. Though the basics of tab notation are the same regardless of the instrument, converting a bass tab to music notation for guitar requires some knowledge of both instruments and basic music notation skills. With these skills in place, you can turn any bass tab into traditional guitar notation or guitar tablature.

Identify the four thickest strings on the guitar and where those notes are located on the music staff. The four strings on a bass are the same as the four thickest strings on the guitar. The notes are E-A-D-G. Ignore the two thin strings (strings one and two) on the guitar when you are converting bass tab to guitar notes.

Identify the notes on the music staff where the four thickest strings of the guitar are notated. A basic printed music staff has five lines and four spaces. The E string on the guitar is notated by drawing three lines below the five line staff and placing the note on the space below that third line. The second line below the music staff is the A string of the guitar; the space below the basic staff is the D string of the guitar; the second line on the basic staff is the G string of the guitar. Use these open string note positions to guide your placement of the transcribed bass notes.

Convert the bass tab one note at a time. If you have a bass tab note that tells you to play the fourth string (E string) without placing your finger on a fret (referred to as playing an open string), this is an E note. Write that note on the music staff in the space below the third line under the basic music staff. If your bass tab indicates the fourth string (E string) at the third fret, this is a G note. Notate the G note on the second line of the music staff.

Continue to transcribe the bass tab using the open string positions of the guitar as your guide. The important thing to remember is to keep the notes in perspective. If a note on your bass tab is higher than a previously transcribed note, be sure the location you place the note on the music staff is higher as well.

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.