What Does “P” Mean in Guitar Tabs? | Understanding Music Notation

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Guitar tabs function as a form of guitar music notation. It is easier and less complicated to read than traditional sheet music. However, you may sometimes see letters or odd symbols on guitar tabs, such as P or M. What does P mean in guitar tabs

In guitar tabs, P means to perform a pull-off. To play a pull-off, you first play a single note and then slide the finger on the fretting hand to the lower pitch. You can see a pull-off as the opposite of a pull-on. 


In this article, we explore the meaning of P in guitar tabs. We also look at how you can execute a pull-off, and if there are other types of odd symbols in guitar tabs, you should know.

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What Does P Mean In Guitar Tabs?

The guitar tab is a notation system to write down how to play guitar. The same system could also be used on stringed instruments, such as ukulele, banjo, or violin.

Tabs are usually notated in a ‘string and fret’ system. A guitar tab consists of 6 lines, each representing the strings on the guitar. On top of these ‘string’ lines, you may see numbers being written on them. These numbers indicate the fret position to play the string. 

For example, suppose you see a number ‘3’ on the 4th string. In this case, you play the note by striking the 4th string at the 3rd fret. 

However, you may occasionally see a more complicated notation on top of the numbers and lines. These complicated notations may include letterings, such as P. 

For the letter P, it means to execute a Pull-off. A pull-off is a technique where you play a note at a higher fret and then slide down to a lower note. The fretting hand performs this sliding motion, with the finger pressing the string sliding down. 

As the finger slides, it remains pressing on the string. This creates a smooth transition or gradual lowering of the notes on the string.

A typical Pull-off may be expressed in a combination of letters and numbers. Take, for example, ‘5P2’. In a 5P2 pull-off, The finger starts off at the 5th fret of the string. Once the note is played, the finger slides down to the second fret, creating a unique sound effect.

How Do You Play The Pull-Off?

To play a pull-off:

  1. Identify the initial fret and final fret position. 
  2. Play the note with the fretting finger in its initial fret position.
  3. Once the note is played, slide your finger to the final fret position. 

Playing a pull-off is not a very difficult thing to do. However, it does take some practice to remove the habit of lifting your fingers from the string after you play a note.

To play a pull-off, you can follow the steps below:

Identify The Notes: Start by identifying the notes to play. You can do this by referring to your guitar tab. Identify the string position before picking out the initial and final note. 

Position Your Finger: Place your fingers on the guitar. Ensure you are pressing the initial note of the guitar on the fretting hand. Also, ensure you are playing the right string.

Play The Note: Start the pull-off by picking the initial note. Your fingers on both sides of the hand are playing regularly.

Slide Down To Final Note: Once you have played the initial note, keep your fretting finger pressing. Release the pressure slightly to allow easier string travel. 

Slide down the string until you arrive at the final note. The sliding process should be smooth and glide at a moderate speed.

Allow Time To Ring: Once you arrive at the final note, stop moving the fretting finger but continue to press down. This allows the final note to ring a little longer to become more audible.

Why Do Guitarists Use Pull-Offs?

Guitarists may use pull-offs in their music to:

  • Create smooth transition
  • Save time and increase speed
  • Creating unique melodies and solos
  • Showcasing technical ability

Generally, pull-offs are quite common in guitar playing. You may have heard pull-offs being played by your favorite musicians too. There are many reasons they are popular with guitarists:

Create Smooth Transition

You can use pull-offs to create a smooth transition between two notes. Instead of manually picking two notes, a pull-off produces a more gradual and fluid transition.

Instead of picking on each note separately, a pull-off allows you to gradually transfer between the notes. As your finger slides down, it produces a fluid, seamless sound with a legato effect.

Save Time And Increase Speed

When you try to play fast, it may be hard to transition between notes, especially if they are far from each other. A pull-off can help in this situation. 

This is because your finger does not need to leave the fretboard. You save the effort of lifting the fingers from the board only to press down again. You are also saving some time. 

This can be very useful when playing intricate melodies or in fast passages. You may notice fast guitar solos use pull-offs quite often.

Creating Unique Melodies And Solos

Guitarists like to use pull-offs in guitar solos of musical plays. This is because they add embellishments and color to their play. Some also use pull-offs to enhance the expression and musicality of their plays.

You could see pull-offs are the icing on the cake, adding improvements and ornamentation to the musical piece.

Showcasing Technical Ability

Some guitar players prefer to use pull-offs to showcase their technical ability. This may be evident with players known to play highly technical pieces, such as Herman Li or Steve Vai.

How Are Pull-Offs Different From Hammer-Ons?

Hammer-on and pull-off are different in note direction, execution, and notation. They are, however, played to help transition from one note to the other quickly and smoothly. 

Note DirectionHigh to lowLow to high
ExecutionSliding the finger down the string to the final note, after playing the initial note.Press on the final string position, after playing the initial note.
Finger MovementFretting finger never leaves the string.Fretting fingers leave the string, before ‘hammering’ it again.
NotationThe letter ‘P’ signals pull-off. The number before the letter P is the initial fret position.The number after the letter P is the final fret position.The letter ‘H’ signals hammer-on.The number before the letter H is the initial fret position.The number after the letter H is the final fret position. 

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are two very common legato techniques used when playing guitar. Both help you to transition from one note to the other without the need to pick the string. They are, however, different in several ways:

Note Direction

The general note direction in a pull-off is to go from high to low. For example, if your initial note is on the 6th fret, your final note should be lower than that. In this case, the 4th or 3rd fret.

In a hammer, the direction is the opposite. Your initial note will be lower, and you finish on a higher note. If your initial note is on the 3rd fret, your final note may be on the 4th, 5th, or higher frets.


In pull-offs, the play is executed with a ‘sliding’ motion. This means your finger performs a sliding action. In this case, your finger slides or glides from the initial, higher note to the final, lower note.

With a hammer-on, the play is executed with a ‘hammer’ motion. This is because your fretting finger leaves the fretboard after the initial note is played. It then presses on the final note, changing the sound of your guitar. 

The motion of tapping in and then pressing on the string has a ‘hammering’ effect. This gives this playing technique its name. 

Finger Movement

In pull-offs, the finger on the fretting hand never leaves the string. It presses in when the initial note is played. Then the finger relaxes slightly and slides down to the final note. 

The fretting finger is always in contact with the string, although at a slightly different degree of pressure. 

With hammer-ons, however, the finger does not always stay in contact with the string. Instead, after the initial note is played, the finger leaves the string, only to press on the final note again. 


Finally, pull-offs and hammer-ons differ in how they are notated in a guitar tab. A pull-off has the letter P written in a tab. In most cases, there are numbers before and after the letter. 

The earlier number indicates the initial fret position, while the latter indicates the final one. For example, take note 5P2. In this case, the initial fret position is on the 5th fret before sliding down to the 2nd fret.

With hammer-ons, the letter H is used instead. There are also numbers to indicate the initial and final fret position, similar to pull-offs.

For example, take the note 3H5. In this case, you play the string on the 3rd fret before moving your finger and hammering it onto the 5th fret.

What Are The Other Letter-Based Symbols In Guitar Tabs?

Other letter-based symbols on a guitar tab include:

  • B – Bending
  • R – Release 
  • X – Muted 

Aside from H and P, there are other letter-based symbols in a guitar tab. They describe different actions which may help you play the song the right way:

B – Bending

The letter B denotes bending. You simply use your fretting finger to push the string down and up to execute a bending. You may notice a slight change in the note from the string.

R – Release

The release is the opposite of bending. It simply instructs you to return the string from its original position rather than to keep bending it. You may see the R symbol more after the B symbol.

X – Muted

X denoted playing the note in a muted fashion. The letter X is usually written on top or bottom of the notes in the tab. 

You can achieve a muted sound by using the base of the palm on your strumming hand. Simply place it lightly on the guitar string near the guitar bridge to mute your string. 

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