This is the tempo of the tune in beats per minute and you’ll see that on the first page of each of my tabs.
In this example, the tempo is 100 beats per minute.
Each line represents a string. There are 6 lines and you read from the 6th string on the bottom line (which is also the bottom string) to the 1st string on the top line.
This indicates the tuning with the pitch of each open string next to the corresponding line. You should read this from the 6th string (on the bottom line) to the 1st string (on the top line). So here, GBDGBD from the thickest to the thinnest string.
Also called a bar, each measure is defined by a vertical line.
5. Measure numbers
The number on top of each first left measure indicates the measure number and is a visual landmark so that you know where you are in the song. In this example, on the left you read the 4th measure of the tab.
6. Time signature
Usually appears in the first measure of the tab.
The top number indicates the number of beats and the bottom number the value of each beat. In this example, we are in 4/4 time.
The most common time signatures are:
4/4 : 4 beats within the bar with each beat being a quarter note (so 4 quarter notes within the bar, you count: 1, 2, 3, 4)
3/4: 3 beats within the bar with each beat being a quarter note (so 3 quarter notes within the bar, you count: 1, 2, 3)
6/8: 6 beats within the bar with each beat being a eighth note (so 6 eighth notes within the bar, you count 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3)
12/8: 12 beats within the bar with each beat being a eighth note (so 12 eighth notes within the bar, you count 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3)
7. Eighth note triplet feel
Sometimes, you see this eighth note triplet feel sign on top of the first measure:
That means you count the eighth notes like you would count triplets: 1 and a, 2 and a, 3 and a, 4 and a, BUT… you omit the ‘and’ so it becomes: 1…a, 2…a, 3…a, 4…a, which makes those 8th notes swing!
If that’s still confusing, the best way to understand a eighth note triplet feel is to HEAR it so feel free to check out some of my songs arrangements where i play with a eighth note triplet feel: for example, this one for dobro, this one for weissenborn, or any of my western swing tunes.
8. Chord name
This letter on top of the bar above the stacked notes indicates the chord that is either played or implied.
Here the chord is a C major.
You will sometimes see some of the following symbols in my tabs and they are used as navigation markers to prevent writing out extra measures and thus (hopefully) make the music easier to read.
repeat from the previous repeat sign facing the other way:
or if you don’t see that sign, repeat from the beginning of the tab.
If the passage is to be repeated several times, then there is this sign on top of the measure which indicates how many times you repeat:
You repeat the passage 3 times in this example.
2. Alternate endings
Used in conjunction with the repeat sign, these numbered brackets indicate alternate endings. In this example, you would play the bracketed section with the “1.” on top of it the first time, then on the repeat you skip the “1.” section and jump to the “2.” section.
This symbol is used in conjunction with the D.S. sign and indicates a section that is to be repeated once you see the “D.S.” sign.
4. Dal Segno (D.S.)
means “Dal Segno” in italian and it instructs you to repeat everything starting from the segno symbol in your tab.
5. Da Capo (D.C.)
means “Da Capo” in italian and it instructs you to repeat everything from the beginning.
A coda is used to exit from a repeated section and leads to the ending of the tune most of the time (but not always).
This symbol is used in conjunction with the “Da Coda” instruction and can be used in conjunction with the “D.S. al Coda” or “D.C. al Coda” sign as well.
7. D.S. al Coda
This is a variant of the “D.S.” sign, you repeat everything from the segno symbol until you see the “Da Coda” instruction, then you jump to the “Coda” symbol.
8. D.C. al Coda
This is a variant of the “D.C.” sign, you repeat everything from the beginning until you see the “Da Coda” instruction, then you jump to the “Coda” symbol.
9. Da Coda
If there is a “D.S. al Coda” or “D.C. al Coda” sign in the tab then you will jump to the coda only after reaching the “D.S. al Coda” or “D.C. al Coda” sign first. if there is no “D.S. al Coda” or “D.C. al Coda” sign in the tab, then you jump to the coda whenever you reach the “Da Coda” sign on the second repeat.
10. Double coda
Same as the coda symbol but used when you need one more coda. You’ll then also have the signs “Da Double Coda”, “D.S. al Double Coda” etc.
12 thoughts on “How to read dobro tablature? (also applies to weissenborn, lap steel…)”
i am just starting with the Dobro
Never played before. Thanks for the way you make it easy to learn.
thanks Gary, feel free to contact me if you need help with where to start!
playing on a dobro guitar playing chords do you place the steel bar across all 6 strings and strum across all 6 strings or do you have to use the forward roll
If you want to strum a full chord, just strum with your thumb.
Hi Pat, I’m a old squeeze box player (me not the squeeze box) and was looking for a new challenge, so thought I’d have a go at learning the Dobro. Have bought a cheap instrument to start with and currently waiting for my picks, slide and capo to arrive in the post following your accessories advise. I love your teaching and easy tablature and have now purchased my first lesson so really looking forward to making some new music and driving the wife mad with my practicing!!
awesome, thanks Mick!
I just purchased a Dobro last week (actually purchased the same Gretsch you use in your videos). I play guitar but I have never been very good at finger picking or free style so I have a lot to learn, but your videos are making it a lot easier. I really enjoy all of your tips, tricks and demos. Thanks!
Cool! thanks so much, Ryan!
I built a couple of lap steels with a friend who is a musician. Now, having no real musical experience from a technical PoV, I have purchased your C6 tuning lesson bundle. I am very much enjoying your teaching style and hope in a year to have mastered all the songs in the bundle. The explanation of the tabulatures really hits the mark. Thank you very much for having the most appropriate lessons I could find on the net.
Glad i could help! Best of luck!
I am a beginner
Played variety of string instruments (violin, uke, tenor banjo, dobro but for a variety of reasons, nothing for past 30 years). Just purchased Weissenborn acoustic and want learn to play hawaiian music. Oh, by the way, I just celebrated my 89th birthday in good health. Back to topic…I need help with reading some tab notations. Have purchased several books and sheet music but need more info regarding symbols (e.g., “^”).
Look forward to anything you might offer.