How to Write Sheet Music for Guitars

By Carl Hose ; Updated September 15, 2017

Sheet music for the guitar can be written like sheet music for any other instrument, with the addition of a couple of symbols. The most popular sheet music format, written specifically for the guitar, is a music notation called tablature (TAB). Tablature can be used for electric, acoustic or bass guitar and is used by beginners and experienced players alike. For guitar players, tablature is the preferred method of notating for the guitar. Learn how you can use tablature to read songs by other people and to write your own songs down in sheet music form.

Draw a graph on a standard piece of paper consisting of six lines. Use a ruler to keep the lines straight. Drop down an inch and draw another set of six. Put as many of these groupings on a piece of paper as you can, with only half an inch between each line in the set. These lines represent the six strings on the guitar, with the top line of the group representing the thinnest string.

Place a number on the lines to represent the notes you play. The number indicates the fret on which you play the note. This means that a number 3 placed on the first line is played on the first string at the third fret. Play the numbers separate when they are successive and at the same time when the notes are lined up together. A zero (0) on the line means to play that string without fretting. Some tab writers will use traditional music note tails to indicate rhythm.

Learn special ornamental elements that tell you what to do in special situations. A short line angled up between two numbers indicates to slide from one note up to the next. The reverse of this ornament means to slide down from one note to the note below. A short curved line followed by the notation "1/2" or "1" means to bend the string when you play it, either a half step higher or a whole step. A curved line without a number means to bend the string as you want. A squiggly line means to use vibrato, and an "X" means to mute the string with the palm of your hand.

Write chords above the strings if you want to include them, either by writing them out in their letter form, such as "Am" or as guitar neck diagrams. Since the chords are already notated in the TAB, including them here is strictly for quick visual reference.

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.