Beginner > Module 1.2

Tabs are an alternative to standard sheet music. They tell us which fingers to use and in what order.

But they don’t tell us what the rhythm is. In order to get the rhythm of each part, you either have to already know the tune or listen to it (either a play along track, video or another recording).

The idea is that you can use tabs to learn a tune and figure out left-hand fingerings. Once you know it, you can use the tabs as a reminder to jog your memory of the tune.

This system of tabs is somewhat unique to FiddleHed. It evolved organically through teaching fiddle lessons for twenty-three years. It is designed to get you learning as soon as possible.

Ultimately, I suggest you learn to read sheet music. Especially if you’re interested in learning longer, more complicated pieces.


0 = Open string. (For example, D0 = open D string.)

1 = 1st finger (left index) (For example, E1 = 1st finger on E, or F sharp, F#.)

2 = 2nd finger (left middle) (For example, D2 = 2nd finger on D string, or F sharp, F#)

3 = 3rd finger (left ring)

L2 = Low second finger (For example DL2 = Low 2nd finger on D string, or F natural, F)

4 = 4th finger (left pinkie)

L1 = Low 1st finger

L4 = Low 4th finger

H3 = High 3rd finger

Example: Oh Susanna


First quarter: (D0-1)-2-A0-0-1-0-D2-0-1-2-2-1-0-1

Second quarter: (D0-1)-2-A0-0-1-0-D2-0-1-2-2-1-1-0-0

Third quarter: D3-3-A1-1-1-0-1-0-D2-1-1

Fourth quarter: (D0-1)-2-A0-0-1-0-D2-0-1-2-2-1-1-0-0

To make the tabs easier to read, the letters don’t change if you’re on the same string.

For example, A0-1-2-1-D3 means you play four notes on the A string-open A, first on A, second on A, first on A, and then third on D string.

Duplicated parts are color coded to make them easier to read and to give you an overview of the structure. In the example above, the second and fourth quarters of the A part are identical so they are both color-coded red. Gray text indicates unique parts.


( )  Notes in parentheses at the beginning of a tune or part indicate that this is a “pickup” to be played before the part. They lead smoothly into the part.

Pickups create musical flow in tunes. It usually seems best to learn a tune without pickups and add them later, part of why I use the parentheses (also because in most cases, the pickup isn’t essential for the tune).

[ ]  Brackets indicate that the notes are played as a triplet which is counted 1-2-3.

{ } Curly brackets indicated variations added to a basic version. So you’ll see this in more advanced lessons.

Notating two notes at once

D0A0=Double stop (2 strings at once) with open D and A

D1A0=Double stop with 1st finger on D(E note) and open A


⬆=Slide up to a note

⬇=Slide down to a note

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Further learning

Note-Reading For Fiddlers

How To Learn Tunes From Recordings

Continue on to Call-and-response Exercises 1.2 >>

Return to top of Module 1.2 >>

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One response to “How to Read FiddleHed Tabs

  1. I can read music but I’m not very fast at it so tabs help me a lot. To help me, I print out the sheet music and write the tabs over each note. By viewing the notes, I can tell if I should be playing eighth notes, quarter, or half notes. After I write the tabs, I study each measure and clap out the notes to get a better sense of the timing. I like your idea of saying the notes out loud as I play.