Tablature – or “tab” for short – is a quick, easy method that’s used for writing ukulele songs and tunes for other stringed instruments.
Learning how to read ukulele tabs might seem challenging at first. Let’s face it: All of those numbers and lines are pretty confusing when you don’t know what you’re looking at.
The good news is that we’re here to clear things up. Ready? You’re about to learn how to read ukulele tabs.
What do Ukulele Tabs Mean?
If you’re familiar with ukulele chord charts, you see vertical lines that represent the strings on your ukulele.
Tabs aren’t an alternative to chords but it’s easy to understand why some beginners get the two systems confused. Where chords show you the strings on your ukulele vertically, tabs turn your instrument on its side.
The horizontal lines on ukulele tabs represent the strings on your ukulele.
- A – top line
- E – second line
- C – third line
- G – bottom line
You can easily remember this by grabbing your ukulele and laying it down on your leg, a desk, or a table, with the headstock pointing to the left as if you were going to play.
The string closest to you is G, and the one furthest away is A.
What do the Numbers on Ukulele Tabs Mean?
This next part is really simple. When reading ukulele tabs, the numbers represent the frets on your instrument, starting closest to the headstock.
If you see a zero, that means you should pluck the string that’s indicated, but without pressing down on a fret. Think of it just like an “O” for open string.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there is no correlation between ukulele tab numbers and your fingers. This is a major point of confusion!
How to Read Ukulele Tabs: Putting Basic Elements Together
Grab your ukulele again! Pretend that you see a ukulele tab with the number 3 on the bottom line.
Press the G string down onto the third fret and pluck the string. That’s it! You just learned the secret to reading ukulele tabs.
The numbers show you which fret to press your finger down on, and they’re positioned on top of the string that you should pluck to get the desired note.
When you’re first starting out, you’ll be reading only the easiest ukulele tabs. These show just one fret and one string at a time. It’s easiest to learn how to read ukulele tabs by starting with songs you’re familiar with – this way, you have a sense of the rhythm and tune – and it won’t be at all difficult to follow along.
It’s worth noting that some ukulele tabs include music and words to help you sing along, or to have a friend play another instrument with you. Some include chord charts as well.
More Advanced Notes and Chords on Ukulele Tabs
Anytime you see numbers arranged in a vertical line, the tablature is showing you a chord. You might see as few as two numbers shown, or all four strings might be indicated.
The C major chord or open C chord is a really simple example of how a chord looks on ukulele tablature and it’s one of the first ones you should try. Essentially, it looks like the number 3000 – but flipped into a vertical position. The 3 is located on the A line, and there are zeros on the E, C, and G line. This indicates that you press the A string down at the third fret and leave the rest of the strings open. Strum, and you’ve played a C major chord.
That’s it! Now you know how to read ukulele tabs, why not try some for yourself? Live Ukulele graciously put together a list of 20 easy ukulele tabs to play.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of reading tabs for the ukulele, you might want to take a look at more complicated tablature that shows strumming patterns and rhythm. For now, though, concentrate on the basics. The more you practice and repeat what you’ve learned, the more confident you’ll become. Happy strumming!