How To Read Guitar Tabs For Video Game Music

Learning how to read guitar tablature for video game music is by and large the preference to reading sheet music in the world of guitar playing for many good reasons…

For video game music, it helps because a lot of themes and riffs from the video games you and I both love are not originally written for guitar. So learning how to read guitar tabs will help us see exactly what to play and what chords to use and so on. 

For sheet music, because there are many places to play the same note on the guitar, it will require you to interpret the guitar and choose what chord shapes to use. 

This is pretty difficult for anyone, let alone a beginner! 

In this article, I’m going to help you learn how to read guitar tabs for video game songs using a dozen of the most famous and beautiful themes in video game music….

The History Of Guitar Tablature

Guitar tabs have actually been used as far back as the 15th century in order to better write out parts for lute and baroque guitar. This is standard because even the great orchestrator Hector Berlioz said that it’s hard to write for the guitar unless you play it. 

Even different countries like France, Germany, and Italy had peculiar ways of writing tablature. Some tabs had the parts for voice and lute in the same tab, while others had sophisticated markings for the rhythm. 

Despite this being a centuries old musical invention, tablature wasn’t taken up more readily until the last few decades with the rise of guitar magazines and the internet. 

In recent years, some tablature sites were sued by organizations like the Music Publishers Association to pay royalties for publishing tabs. Some sites like MxTabs.net had to close as they couldn’t pay the fines, while arguing that they helped sell lots of sheet music and produced tabs that were not available in tab the at that point. 

Ultimate Guitar is one of the biggest sites out there, and also faced similar problems before making a deal with publishers like the Harry Fox Agency to pay songwriters their dues. 

The reasons for this trouble, and this preference over sheet music, is very important in your guitar playing journey…… 

Basics Of Identifying Parts Of A Guitar Tab

When it comes to video game music, a lot of tabs are not available or they are not created for a beginner/intermediate guitarist. Another big problem is that sheet music will call a guitarist to play notes that can be played in several different positions. 

So this is why tabs are so popular and why you should use them a lot! They’re free to a degree still, and they are an invaluable learning tool. 

There are many factors at play that you must be aware of in order to play songs and video game themes accurately on the guitar: 

  • Learning from tabs requires that you match what you’re hearing to what you’re seeing, which is going to take time. Realize that your ear may or may not be able to recognize some sounds yet, but you will once you learn more riffs and video game themes. 
  • There are a few vital guitar sounds that you’ll see repeated the most: single note riffs, chord progressions using big open chords, power-chord riffs, and then riffs that use a combination of these sounds. 
  • Along with those sounds, you’ll need to start recognizing by ear what a note on the lower strings sounds like, while also recognizing notes on the higher strings. This will give you an idea of what parts are coming or what parts match what you hear. 
  • Finally, it will help you to try and figure out what notes are part of certain chord shapes. You will learn lots of chord shapes as you go, and this will take practice. However, the more you can see how certain groups of notes come from one shape, the quicker you’ll analyze and then play a tab. 

These are all steps that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Playing guitar is not as simple as playing a few chords and then quitting for the day. 

Though it seems tedious, these are all ideas you can use to better understand the music you’re attempting to learn. 

However, it’s best to get some help doing this at first, and we’re going to practice identifying parts of the tab in some of the most popular video game songs and beginner riffs in the repertoire. 

Mario Theme

https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/misc-computer-games/super-mario-brothers-theme-tabs-189720

This is such a perfect video game theme song to learn not only because it’s an iconic melody, but also because this version is playable for any beginner. 

So let’s try and use some of the concepts I talked about before in the last section. 

See how the part is on the high strings? That corresponds to the melody being in a high pitch. 

High pitch and low pitch may not mean anything to you now. However, if you’ve listened to music at all, you’re at least somewhat conscious of when a piece of music is in a higher pitch range and a lower pitch range. 

So that’s an important part of reading the mario brothers video game theme. You have to recognize what you’re hearing to what you’re seeing. 

Now to actually play it requires you keep all your fingers in the open position. Your third finger will play the 3rd fret, the 2nd finger the 2nd fret, and the 1st finger plays the 1st fret. 

Choosing finger positions is another part of playing guitar that gets tossed aside fairly often when learning to read guitar tabs and play video game music. 

One last point to make is that this is a very simple single note version. Many video game themes get quite complex harmonically and rhythmically. 

In the future, until you’re more comfortable playing chords and playing fast, seek out versions of songs like this that only play one note at a time! 

Smoke On The Water

In order to help you better learn how to read guitar tabs, we’re also going to talk about a very important beginner riff. Learning this is an important rite of passage! 

Check out the main riff of “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple: 

(smoke riff tab) 

Yes this is not a video game theme. But it shares some important lessons for everyone wanting to learn how to read guitar tabs. 

A lot of guitar playing is going to involve chord shapes like this one. This one will be used a lot in some way either as part of full barre chords or power chords. It’s also a building block of lots of riffs and tab parts. 

So playing it is simple. You just finger the chord with your first finger on the A string and put your 2nd finger on the D string. 

Another great lesson to take away from this riff is that lots of tabs will call for you to play parts that involve more than just single lines. After a while, lots of single line parts will become monotonous and you’re going to want something more challenging. 

Halo Theme

https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/misc-computer-games/halo-theme-tabs-833858

When you’re first learning how to read guitar tabs, it’s important to start with songs or melodies that you know by heart. 

The super Mario bros theme is one that most everyone should know, and the Halo theme is more than likely yet another you know very well. 

At first, you’re not going to be able to know what a chord sounds like before you hear it, unless you know the music well. You won’t be able to interpret the rhythms correctly either, unless you’ve heard it first. 

So make this process easy on yourself! 

The Halo theme has some chords in it, but these are almost as simple as you can get. However, you’re going to have to decide which finger is most comfortable for you to use to play the 2nd and 4th frets when they’re called for. 

This is another huge part of reading guitar tabs as oftentimes there won’t be fingerings suggesting how to play a song. So there’s some leeway with what you can decide. 

I recommend that you use the 1st finger to play the 2nd fret on the D string and use the 3rd finger to play the 4th fret on the G string. 

Why did we make these decisions? It’s because they allow us to play the other frets with relative ease, as well as keep our fret hand in one position of the neck. 

We’ll expand more on this as we go on….

Wonderwall

This is an extremely popular beginner’s song because it allows us to keep our fret hands in position, and it doesn’t require a whole lot of technique with changing chords. 

It’s also a great beginners tab because it introduces us to one of the most common chord shapes on the guitar, which is the G shape. A whole lot of songs will involve you going to or from this chord shape, and this song is a great introduction to that. 

When reading guitar tabs, you want to find a way to make the song as easy as possible to play. As we mentioned in the previous section, this will often involve finding ways to make the fret hand fingerings easy and keep us in one position, if possible. 

With this song, you’ll do that by keeping your 3rd and 4th fingers on the 33 figure on the high E and B strings. 

You’ll use your other fingers to play the other notes of the other chord shapes. 

Remember too that it’s important to know the song well before attempting to play it. This way, you’ll have a feel for when to change between chords and what inflections to add on your own. 

The tab unfortunately will not tell you exactly where to do this, unlike with sheet music. 

Zelda’s Lullaby

If you’re here because you want to better learn how to read guitar tabs for video game music, then this melody is sure to be exciting for you to learn! 

This is one of the most well-known videogame melodies of all time so I’m hoping you already know this one by heart. 

As we said earlier, a lot of riffs will be some combination of chord and single notes, and this is yet another perfect beginner riff to start learning this concept. 

The first few bars should be easy for any beginner to start learning. It’s only about four notes total that make up the melody. 

Although the chords are pretty easy, it will take some struggle if this is brand new to you to learn the 022 and 010 chords. 

Think about what fingerings would make this song the easiest to play. In my opinion, that would be to use the 1st and 2nd fingers to play the 2nd fret notes on 022, and then use the 1st finger to play fret 1 on the G string. 

Again, a lot of learning will involve you using trial and error to learn how to make these fingering decisions yourself. However, the more songs you figure out, the more rewarding it will be play them on the guitar. 

Mortal Kombat Main Theme

https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/the-immortals/mortal-kombat-theme-tabs-276629

The next theme will help anyone learn how to read guitar tabs who vividly remembers the 90s! 

For a few years, this theme was inescapable in so many places whether you liked video games at the time or not. The movie in 1996 also helped push this theme even further into pop culture’s subconscious. 

As for playing it and reading it correctly, you need to follow the same principles as before. 

Ask yourself again, “what fingerings allow me to play this the easiest?” That would be to have your 2nd finger play the 2nd fret of the G string nearly all the time. Otherwise, you’ll have to switch finger positions in ways that are not efficient and awkward. 

In the tabs above, there are only two parts that I’ve included for the sake of brevity. Another important part of reading guitar tabs is to try to match what you hear to the rhythms that you see. 

The more exotic melody and faster-paced one is the last bar, while the main theme is the one with the repeated 2nd fret notes. 

It’s not necessary to know these rhythms are dictated in sheet music, and that’s often a problem with learning to play at first. You don’t need to know what a dotted eighth note is to play this song. 

Just listen to the song multiple times and do your best to match what you see to what you hear. The more differences in rhythm that you can spot, the better off your playing and learning speed will become!

Stairway To Heaven 

The next couple of songs we’re going to cover will use more sounds that you’ll get from playing full chord shapes. 

This classic and famous song by Led Zeppelin is admittedly not a video game song, but it’s essential to learn when you’re first playing guitar. Although you may not be a fan of the band, it will help whenever you learn pieces from Elder Scrolls or other fantasy games! 

A lot of songs will require you to hold a chord shape in your fret hand, and then “arpeggiate” the chord as the music moves forward. 

It’s a classic songwriting device of the guitar that’s worth getting acquainted with. It’s going to appear in a few other songs we’ll cover, but many artists in many genres will use this common guitar sound. 

This song will also require you to keep your hand in one position at a time, but also prepare you to move from the 5th fret to the 3rd fret to the 1st fret. 

The Last Of Us Theme

Another common beginner song for many guitarists to learn is the ballad “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica because the opening chord arpeggiation riff is quite easy to play. 

Well instead of teaching you that, we can teach you something else that’s very similar from the game “The Last Of Us.” 

The chord ideas over Em are recycled from some classical guitar pieces that are standards in the genre. This is why there’s a strong melancholic theme for this game as it borrows heavily from a genre that at times uses this emotion quite a lot. 

So to read this tab correctly, you have to backtrack a little from the concept of staying in one position. The only way you can play this piece is to move your fingers up and down the fretboard per position. 

However you’re not having to hold any chord shapes here!

So all you need to do is keep your 2nd finger on the 3rd fret, which will help when you need to play the 7th fret and the 2nd fret later on. 

I know we’re throwing a lot of points at you with this lesson, but it’s important to note that you need to be aware of when you need to let notes “ring out.”

That means you must be careful when playing notes on the high E string like in this tab. It’s very easy to hit other strings that aren’t part of the song. 

Other times, there will be notes that should be rung out that are not marked in any way on the tab to be rung out. This is yet another decision you’ll have to make as you learn new songs and develop your ear. 

Final Fantasy VII Theme

As we mentioned before, eventually you’re going to get bored playing single-note lines. 

That’s why I’ve included this tab as it has a great melody that can be a single note line, but also has full chords along with it. 

The key to playing tabs like this is that you must 1) be able to identify the chord shapes used and 2) know when to play the entire chord and not play the entire chord so that the other notes can ring out. 

This is yet another nuance of reading guitar tabs that get left out. This is because many people who have made these tabs forget that they were beginners too, and that you may not instantly recognize these chord shapes. 

At the beginner level, you’re not going to be able to recognize chords like D9 and Am7. When learning songs, it’s okay not to know what the chords are. 

The most important thing at first, like we’ve mentioned many times, is the fingering that you choose. 

Doom Theme

https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/misc-computer-games/doom-e1m1-at-dooms-gate-tabs-1237894

One of the last video game themes we’ll cover involves many common metal sounds you’ll need to make if you’re into that genre. 

A big problem with metal guitar music is interpreting a guitar tab so that you’re using the right picking methods. 

On guitar, there are several different pick hand techniques like palm muting (seen in the tab), down picking, alternate picking, economy picking, fingerpicking, and hybrid picking just to name a few. 

For most metal music, you’ll either use down picking or alternate picking. Down picking is where you’ll pick everything with a down stroke, while alternate picking will alternate between up strokes and down strokes. 

Alternate picking will be the most efficient method, but down picking will give you a grittier sound when you use your nails and palm to control the noise. 

All of these factors are something a guitar tab will not tell you to do! It’s one of the most frustrating parts of learning the guitar at first. 

Tetris Theme

https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/misc-computer-games/tetris-theme-tabs-134387

You made it to the last one! 

There are no curveballs in this theme that you haven’t encountered in the other themes, and it’s very easy to play too. 

So with this one, and any other song where you’re struggling on how to read the guitar tab, just remember the following: 

  • You’ll have to choose which fret hand positions to use for each part of a song
  • Many riffs will have you play single notes, chord shapes, and multiple strings all at once. The more you recognize the various sounds of each, the quicker you’ll get at reading tabs
  • Many tabs will not tell you what picking techniques to use or where to let some notes ring out. Develop your ear until you can pick out these details! 
  • At first, you’re not going to know the chord shapes you’re playing. All you have to focus on is coming up with fingerings that allow you to let some notes ring out when needed, as well as change chords in the most effortless way possible. 
  • On top of all of this, you’ll have to choose which finger will play which fret. This is also something you’ll learn through trial and error. 

I really hope you enjoyed this beginners lessons on guitar tabs for those who want to learn video game music! 

Please comment if there are any questions about these tabs.

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