Why do I have to learn to read upside down?

So, tonight, I’m browsing around the internet making my first forays into learning how to read guitar tab.  I am in no way equipped at this stage to actually play songs effectively (but heck, no harm in fumbling through a few!), and what’s really got me hung up is the numbering.

I noticed this in a left handed chord book I picked up, too, and I’ve got to admit I don’t really understand the logic.

If you’ve got your strings numbered from 1-6, bottom to top, effectively, then why is it in chord diagrams the string that’s physically at the bottom of the guitar (#1, the high E) on the TOP of the diagram?  I don’t understand how this is logical.  Why do I have to learn to read upside down.  Shouldn’t it be the other way? the string on the bottom of the guitar should be on the bottom of the diagram, the string at the top of the guitar at the top.

What am I missing here? I don’t understand why the most logical way to deal with tab was to basically take my guitar neck, flip it upside down, and then make me mentally read ‘the top of the chart is the bottom of my guitar, and vice versa’.  This feels completely the opposite of common sense.

Someone, please enlighten me on this one, because my sense of spatial relations is making this really cumbersome, and just making me even slower. As I fumble over ‘happy birthday’ for the first time (the song that happens to be in the lesson I’m reading through, at the moment), I realized only when I was finished that I played it on the wrong string. Top of diagram = top of guitar seems so much more logical.

Until next time, tab is making me dyslexic… 😦

2 thoughts on “Why do I have to learn to read upside down?

  1. It actually is counter-intuitive and I had the same problem with you when I first learned tab. I think its done this way because it was supposed to be similar to standard notation. Basically, in standard notation, the lower notes are towards the bottom of the musical staff, and as the notes get higher they go up the staff onto higher lines. People have also said that its because when you look down at the neck of a guitar or bass in your hands, the lower strings (and thus, lower notes) are at the bottom, but I doubt that was the real reason.


    1. Yeah, I noticed that when I read my first article on reading music. Bottom strings are lowest pitch. It’s the same sort of backward as moving ‘up’ and ‘down’ the fretboard. Have to learn to think in direction of sound rather than direction of gravity. As long as the reason has a logic, I’m cool with it.


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