So, you want to know what the deal is with country TABs for guitar?

You’ve come to the right place! 

In this article, I’ll teach you how to learn country songs from guitar TABs.

We’ll go through everything you need to know about those lines, numbers, and the assortment of funky symbols found on tablature. 

(There, now you already know what TAB is short for.)

Here’s Pickup Music’s country guitar instructor Liam Kevany ripping through a solo that would be a lot easier to learn if you had the country music guitar TABs for it. 

Spoiler alert: We do have the TABs and we’ll come back to this piece later. 

Expert advice about reading TABs for country guitar players (beginners to intermediates)

When I started learning guitar parts from TABs, the biggest problem I had was figuring out how the TAB I found online matched the actual recording. 

Some TABs are just as wild as Nashville's best acoustic bluegrass flatpickers.

I found them pretty confusing at times but after putting in a little work and learning how to use them, they became a huge help.

Not only was I able to learn from other people’s transcriptions, but I started using TAB to transcribe guitar parts myself. 

Let’s make sure you walk away from this article feeling confident to use easy country guitar TABs all the way up to advanced country guitar licks on TABs.

In this article, I’ll walk you through:

  • What TABs are.
  • The biggest problems with TABs and how to deal with them.
  • Where to find easy country songs guitar TABs.
  • How to read and write them.
  • How they compare to sheet music and chord charts. 

Why bother with guitar TABs for country songs?

There comes a time in every guitarist's life when we realize chords aren’t going to cut it.

If you want to learn that fancy guitar part during the chorus of Take Me Home, Country Road, guitar TABs will make your life a whole lot easier.

The same is true when you go searching for the early country guitar masters. 

Classic country guitar TABs will help you understand and pick apart their playing styles.

“There is a country method of playing that I wish more kids would learn”, Brad Paisley said in an interview with SiriusXM“You had guys like Merle Travis, they would play and they did not need a band. They would play the bass line with their thumb and the high notes with their index finger.”

Learning all these intricacies by ear is awesome but not everyone can do that.

This is where tablature comes in handy.

Especially when you’re learning popular songs like Sixteen Tons  by Merle Travis, Mud on the Tires by Brad Paisley, or one of my favorite country songs: Fancy by Reba McEntire.

Chances are someone with a good ear has taken the time to learn the part and write it out for others to learn. 

This means you can

  • Print the TABs out.
  • Read along while listening to the audio.
  • Take your time learning a guitar part note for note.

And you don’t need to be able to read music.

Speaking of reading music…

Let’s go over the differences and similarities between TABs, sheet music, and chord songbooks. 

Sheet music vs. guitar TAB

Both sheet music and TAB are forms of standard music notation.

  • The goal is to convert music into a written format and vice versa.
  • Sheet music is commonly used in the world of classical music.
  • When you see an orchestra perform, every musician has sheet music in front of them.

When it comes to country, pop, rock, and other types of popular music, people tend to use sheet music primarily in the context of recording sessions and sometimes jazz performances.

Why use music notation?

There are a number of reasons the notation is so valuable.

  • Musicians don’t need to memorize long parts.
  • It’s a shorthand that can be read quickly with little rehearsal.
  • It’s universal among instruments.

There is a considerable learning curve to be able to ‘sight read’ though.

TAB, on the other hand, is exclusively used for stringed instruments.

  • It includes fret numbers which makes it less suitable for quick sight reading but a great tool for transcribing and studying guitar parts.
  • There’s no need to know the names of notes.

Here’s an example of what sheet music looks like:

And here are the same country guitar riffs in TABs:

Guitar chord songbooks vs. TAB

When you’re looking for lessons on beginner and easy country guitar TABs, you might stumble upon songbooks.

These are great resources when your mission is to strum chords, and maybe do a bit of fingerpicking.

You can easily find books with lyrics and chords to popular country songs. 

Hal Leonard for example publishes a vast array of songbooks.

Country Hits” includes lyrics and chords for songs like:

Chord songbooks are perfect for beginner guitar players who want to play rhythm guitar.

Here’s an example of what chord charts look like. 

As you can see, the information is pretty minimal. 

But chord songbooks or chord charts won’t tell you exactly how the chords are played.

They also don’t cover any lead guitar parts.

TABs, on the other hand, are capable of capturing lead guitar parts and combinations of chords and fills.

What do the symbols mean on guitar TAB?

Guitar tablature uses six lines to represent the six strings of the guitar. 

Usually, the lines are horizontal and the lowest line is the low E string.

Reading TABs is much like reading a book (in the Western part of our world):

You read from left to right.

Here’s the E minor pentatonic scale in open position:

The numbers refer to which fret you’re supposed to place your finger on.

In the example above, you play:

  • The open low E string
  • The note on the 3rd fret of the low E string
  • The open A string
  • The note on the 2nd fret of the A string
  • And so on.

TABs and rhythm notation

Everything related to rhythm in TAB is borrowed from standard music notation.

You might encounter:

  • A time signature
  • Different note lengths
  • Rests

Let’s talk about the time signature first.

You’ll notice two numbers stacked on top of each other that look like a fraction.

  • This is a time signature.
  • The top number answers the questions: How many beats per measure?
  • The bottom number answers the questions: What unit is each beat?

Example: 3/4

  • Each measure has three beats – 3/
  • Each beat is a quarter note – /4
  • Next, there’s the note length.

In TAB, we can’t really distinguish between whole, half, and quarter notes. 

The last note simply gets a line and the context informs us it’s a half note.

Below is an example of 8th- and 16th-note rhythms as well as rests.

All together, the measure above adds up to 4/4 aka four quarter notes.

For a deep dive into the nuances of rhythm notation, check out our article How to read guitar sheet music for beginners.

TABs and expressive techniques

There’s a lot more to playing guitar than just fretting notes.

This means you’ll encounter a whole collection of symbols that refer to how a note should be played.

The most important symbols you need to know to play country guitar riffs from TABs are these:

Vibrato

Add vibrato when you see a wavy line next to a note.

Hammer-on

The letter “H” indicates a hammer-on.

Pull-off

The letter “P” indicates a pull-off.

Bend

The first arrow indicates a half-step bend that is released back to the original note.

The other two arrows indicate a whole-step bend without release.

Muted note

The X represents a muted note.

Slide

A diagonal line between notes and/or “sl.” indicates a slide.

You can find a full list of TAB symbols in our blog article The ultimate guide to reading guitar TAB.

Can you learn country guitar techniques from TAB?

You can absolutely pull up some of the top country guitar TABs and learn common techniques that define the genre. 

Learning music from TABs exclusively will give you a lot of information about how a guitar part should sound.

However, play along to the recording with the TABs for the best results.

What is the Nashville number system?

TABs rely on numbers and country music is associated with Nashville, but the Nashville number system has nothing to do with TABs.

It has to do with harmony analysis.

Instead of calling chords by their letters (C major, D minor, etc.), the Nashville number system uses numbers.

The numbers refer to the scale degree each chord was built on.

For example, in the key of C major, the chords would be:

C - Dm - Em - F - G - Am - Bdim

The Nashville number system instead would refer to them as:

1 -2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7

Most commonly the numbers are used to reverse-engineer a chord progression.

  • A 2 - 5 - 1 in C major would translate to Dm - G - C.
  • A 2 - 5 - 1 in F major would translate to Gm - C - F.

My 5 top tips for country TABs

#5 – Find a source you can trust

Free country guitar TABs are great, but I have struggled to make sense of TABs online that look like this:

When you find TABs uploaded by random people, more often than not, you’ll end up with more questions than answers.

  • What’s the time signature?
  • Where are the measures?
  • How long is each note?
  • Are there no bends, slides, etc.?

Before you start learning a song, look at the TAB and decide whether it actually has enough information or if you’d likely be wasting your time.

Especially if you’re looking for more advanced and complicated country lead guitar TABs, sticking to these sources might be a good idea:

  • Books by reputable publishers.
  • Education websites like Pickup Music.
  • Professional musicians on YouTube.

#4 – Compare TABs with the original recording

It’s always a good idea to compare the TAB with the music source.

Especially if there’s no information about the rhythm, you’ll have to figure out how the written version matches up with the actual recording.

You might want to draw some vertical lines to indicate which measure the notes belong to – this will help you understand the timing.

#3 – Ignore bends, slides, etc. – at first

Country guitar solo TABs can be pretty daunting.

There are all these extra symbols on top of the fret numbers.

If you’re new to learning guitar from TABs, it’s best to concentrate on the essential information first.

Feel free to learn the notes to a solo first, and once you’re comfortable with the melody, add slides, bends, and other expressive techniques.

#2 – Find the context for each phrase

What are you actually playing?

TABs can be an invitation to learn a guitar solo by only looking at the fret numbers and never thinking about how the melodies tie in with the harmony.

Once you figure out how to play a phrase, zoom out to make sure you can see the bigger picture.

  • Are those notes part of a scale shape you know?
  • What are the underlying chord changes?
  • Are you possibly playing arpeggios aka chord tones?

Answering these questions will help you memorize the guitar part.

You’ll also be able to use phrases in a different context more easily.

#1 – Transcribe solos and write your own TABs

The best way to become more familiar with TABs is to make your own.

Start out with transcribing easy country riffs for guitar to TAB.

Then work your way up to collecting signature licks from your favorite players. 

Take it phrase by phrase and before you know it, you’ve become a country guitar pro at TABs.

Country guitar-playing techniques 

Let’s look at some typical techniques that you’ll encounter when digging through beginner country guitar TABs.

Fingerpicking

There are a lot of fingerpicking patterns and TABs can be incredibly helpful by providing a visual representation.

Here’s an example of a common picking pattern. 

  1. Start by learning the picking order of the strings without fretting a chord.
  2. Once you know which string to pick and when – add the chord shape.
  3. The last step is to use the picking pattern for a whole chord progression or song.

Hybrid picking / Chicken pickin’

Hybrid picking – also called chicken pickin’ – is a pick and fingers technique. 

Many modern electric country players prefer it over flatpicking. 

That’s right you’re using both simultaneously.

It’s a technique that country guitarists adapted from bluegrass banjo players.

  • Hybrid picking provides a lot of control over the length of each note, making it a great rhythm tool.
  • By picking with your fingers you can add some attitude and spankiness to your tone. 
  • It’s also an important stepping stone to nailing country-style double stops later on.

Try using your ring and middle finger to pick notes on the two (or three) highest strings. 

Pick lower notes with a pick.

Here’s a riff to try this technique with:

Double stops

Whenever you see two numbers on top of each other, it’s a double stop.

6ths are incredibly popular in country music.

Below is the G major scale harmonized in 6ths:

Slides

Here’s a lick that combines 6ths with finger slides:

Pedal-steel bends

When you see a whole lot of arrows on otherwise easy guitar TABs for country songs, you’re probably looking at a pedal-steel bend.

These bends are the gateway to that twangy tone that country music is know for. 

Here is an example:

FAQs

What TABs should I practice for country guitar?

Pick a song you like and search the internet for free TABs.

You likely already know the guitar part pretty well if you’ve listened to the song on repeat – but it’s ok if not.

I’ll walk you through two examples of classic country guitar TABs you can find on the internet for free. 

Song #1: A Country Boy Can Survive by Hank Williams, Jr.

Let’s take a look at an example of easy guitar TABs for country songs.

Say you want to learn how to play A Country Boy Can Survive with guitar TABs.

The search engine will most likely lead you to one of the most popular websites for guitar tabs: Ultimate Guitar

Turns out there are multiple TABs to choose from. 

  • You can pay for an “official” version and get country guitar TABs as a PDF download. 
  • For more complicated songs this might be worth it.
  • The song we chose only has two short riffs.

Let’s open the free version with the highest rating and most reviews.

Ultimate Guitar

Scroll past the chords for now and here’s the first of two riffs.

Ultimate Guitar

Now you’ll follow these four steps to learn the riff:

  1. Play just the notes according to the fret numbers on their respective strings. (The 0s are just open strings.)
  2. Add the pull-offs where it says “p” between two notes.
  3. Figure out how big of a bend the “b” stands for by listening to the riff.
  4. Since there is no rhythm notated, refer to the recording for the rhythm.

Song #2: Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver

We-hell, this one is a bit more complicated to learn. 

There are several guitar parts, sometimes played simultaneously.

Let’s go to YouTube for this song and see what a search for “country road guitar TABs” gives us.

A whole lotta videos.

Some familiar faces like Justin from the JustinGuitar channel are great sources if you want to learn the song by ear and you’re looking for instruction instead of TABs.

But that’s not our goal in this case.

  • You’ll see a bunch of arrangements inspired by the original.
  • Look for a video that also shows the TABs in real-time.

The video below would be a great choice for an intermediate player who wants to learn an instrumental solo version of the song:

Song #3: Jerry’s Breakdown by Jerry Reed

For this song, we’ll give the website Soundslice a try.

Anyone can use it to create TABs and you can find real gems here when it comes to country guitar solo TABs.

Like this transcription of a live performance featuring Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins soloing the heck out of their guitars.

The TABs are synced to the video which you can slow down to make practicing easier.

What TABs should I try for country soloing?

Pick your favorite player and see if anyone has transcribed their solo.

Some sources to check out: YouTube, Soundslice, Ultimate Guitar, and CountryTabs.

If you’re not sure what country lead guitar TABs to look for, try this solo that country guitarist Liam Kevany played for Pickup Music: 

Here are the TABs provided by Pickup Music’s transcription experts:

Wrapping Up

Country guitar TABs for beginners are a great tool to learn riffs, fingerpicking patterns, and guitar solos. 

You don’t need to be able to read music or know the names of notes on your guitar.

There are tons of free guitar TABs online, covering all kinds of playing styles from country blues guitar TABs to alt country guitar TABs.

However, not all TABs you can find online for free are correct and/or complete.

If you want to build your country guitar chops without digging through the internet’s wild west of TABs – sign up for a free 14-day trial for Pickup Music’s Country Learning Pathway.

Yes, I’d Love A Free 14-Day Trial Of Pickup Music To Learn Country Guitar From Experts >

Author: Julia Mahncke