How to read ukulele tabs

Introduction: How to Write and Understand Guitar Tabs

How to read ukulele tabs

What good is creativity without an outlet? About as good as words without a language. Tabs are another way of writing music that works especially well for guitar. In this instructuable, I will teach you how to read, write, and understand tabs so you can put “words” to your auditory ideas without tedious memorization of traditional sheet music. It’s surprisingly simple and rewarding.

Step 1: Know Your Guitar

First, before learning to play music, a basic understanding of your instrument it fairly necessary. Picture a guitar sideways- with the head of the guitar to the left and the bridge farthest to the right. The vertical lines on the neck of the guitar are called the frets. The strings, in order from top to bottom (or small to big, high to low) are a high E note, a B note, G, D, A, and lastly a low E. The mnemonic that helped me when I was learning was Every Bad Guitar Doesn’t Actually Exist.
Knowing this just makes understanding what other people are talking about, guitar-wise, a lot easier.

Step 2: The Tabs

Tabs are a simplified version of writing music that works especially well for guitar. Sheets for writing tabs have 6 lines. 6 lines just like there are six strings on a guitar. How convenient.
The top line signifies what should be played on the high E string. The second from the top is the B, third, G, and so on.
Numbers on the coresponding lines tell you where to put your fingers. A number 2 tells you to put your finger on the second fret. A 10- tenth fret. You get the idea.
The notes are read from left to right. For example, in the picture below, you would play 2, then 1, then an open E, then a 1 again. Just like regular reading. You dont skip around. Pretty simple, right?
One of the beauties of tabs is that you can write them just about anywhere you can draw 6 lines. This happens to be the back of my history homework.

Step 3: Fancy Stuff

I am a self taught guitarist, among many other successful musicians. In fact, there are a surpirsing amount of famous players who never learned to read traditional music. Hendrix, Slash, BB King, and Paul McCartney are just a few.
But those guys don’t just play single notes in a row. Slash doesn’t play twinkle twinkle little star. And with good reason. Why accept avoidable limitations that detract from your musical agency?
Because I just kind of picked up a guitar and put two and two together, (6 strings, 6 lines. hm?) the fancy stuff was something I didn’t come across until later on. But what happens when you see something like this?

Pandemonium! Lawlessness! Those are letters, and they’re not even note letters! H.

Here are the basics
b is for bending
h is for hammer on
p is for pull off
/ is for slide

is for vibrato
* is for harmonic
X is for muted

These are just the publicly known symbols. If you have your own, that’s just fine if it helps you more easily. For sharing with others though, this is good to know.

Step 4: Explanations

Hammer on? Don’t have a hammer.
Here are the translations.
Bear with me.

When you see a b, bend the string slightly to change its pitch. Try it. The best gauge is to listen to the song you are trying to play. The one downside to tabs is that no tempo/length of notes is signified, so you really just have to listen, learn, and get a sense for your piece.

When you see an h, it will always be between two notes. It means to “hammer on” from a note. For example, in 2h3, you pick while your finger is on the two, and then put your finger down on the 3rd fret as the string continues to ring. This can make picking more smooth sounding and less complicated. If there is no number before, for example, if you just had a h6, you play the open string, and then press down the 6th fret.

A p is nearly the opposite of a hammer on. It is called a pull off. Instead of placing your finger down when the string is ringing, take one off, but make sure that before you do, your other finger is placed in the correct spot. With 5p3, put your fingers on the 5th and 3rd fret. Pluck and the one that will sound is the 5th. Pull off without plucking, and the one that will sound now is the 3rd.

The / in between notes indicates to slide. Pluck the first note, and continue to press down the string until you reach the other note. Just like the last one, if there is no first note, play it open, hammer on from the first fret, then slide, all in one smooth motion.

indicates a vibratto. This means that you have to wiggle your finger a little bit, creating a bit of a vibrating, bendy noise that keeps the string ringing longer. Its more of a stylistic sort of thing, and it’s not absolutly necessary, but it adds a lot of feeling to a piece if used correctly.

When a * appears near or above a note, this means that you hit the harmonic. Harmonics can be a little tricky and can become complicated. If you’re just learning how to do tabs, that’s probably a lesson for another day, but don’t let that stop you from atleast trying it. If you see a *12 on the high E string, that means to lightly place your finger on the area of the 12th fret, but dont push down- just touch it. You may have to play around with it a little bit, but it should end up making a softer, higher pitched noise.

Notes right under eachother indicate that they are played at the same time, in a chord. For example, a C chord. All the notes are pressed and strummed simaltaneously.
0
1
0
2
3
x

An X indicates that a string is muted. This means you place your finger on it in such a way to stop the ringing of the string. Not to be confused with the harmonics. With harmonics, you want a spacific noise. With muting, you’re, well. muting it.

That’s it! You learn this, and you can be a guitar master!

Step 5: Off You Go

Off you go with all your new knowledge.
From personal experience, there a lot of good websites with just bajillions of tabs for you. Nearly any song you want has already been tabbed for you to play. Or go and write your own, by all means. Excersize your creative muscles.
A few good ones include http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/
http://www.911tabs.com/ and
http://www.allguitartabs.com/
Strumming patterns and time/length of notes can be a problem, but only if you don’t know the song you’re playing. All I can say is to get a feel for it. It makes guitar playing fun. Play songs you like. We’re done with that hot cross buns nonsense. You know it all!

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How to read ukulele tabs

You have your new ukulele, you know how to tune it, and now you can learn how to play your favorite songs by reading ukulele tablature or ‘tab’.

Table Of Contents

However, if you’re a ukulele beginner and have never read tab, don’t worry – it’s very simple, and nowhere near as complicated as reading sheet music.

As soon as you pick it up, you’ll be able to learn any song that’s been tabbed (and that’s pretty much all of the popular uke tunes). Ready to learn? Let’s get started.

Note: When discussing tunings, we’re talking about the standard tuning for concert, soprano and tenor ukuleles. Baritone ukes are tuned slightly differently, but the tab concept is exactly the same.

The Basics of Ukulele Tab

A ukulele tab is instantly recognizable, with four horizontal lines across the page, representing the four strings of a ukulele. Imagine the tab as a birds-eye view of your ukulele fretboard. The top line is the thinnest string (A) and the lowest of the four is the thickest string (G).

How to read ukulele tabs

While the four lines of the tab represent the four strings of a ukulele, the numbers that sit on these lines represent what frets your fingers should be on.

Ukulele Tab: Single Notes

A ukulele tab with no notes isn’t very useful, so let’s look at an example. Remember that you must read the tab from left to right.

How to read ukulele tabs

Anytime you see a 0, this signifies an open string. A 1 signifies the first fret, a 2 is the second fret, a 3 is the third fret… See a 15? That’s the fifteenth fret. And so on.

So, in this example, you’d begin by plucking the G string open, then the first fret, second fret and third fret, all on the G string. Then you’d move down to the next line, representing the C string. On this string you repeat the pattern – pluck it open, then the first fret, the second, and the third. Repeat this pattern for the next two strings.

Ukulele Tab: Chords

When you have grasped the concept of reading single notes on a ukulele tab, you can start to understand how chord tabs work. It’s exactly the same concept, in that the numbers represent the fret that must be played – although this time you play two or more notes simultaneously. Here are some chord examples:

How to read ukulele tabs

As you can see, we’ve listed four basic chords as an example.

To play a C chord, this tab is telling you to play open on the G string, open on the C string, open on the E string, and finally the third fret on the A string. Strum all four simultaneously and you’ve got yourself a C chord!

Then move on to the next chord, which is an F. Here play the second fret on the G string, an open C string, the first fret on the E string, and an open A string. You can follow the same formula for the G and Am chords.

Making Sense of Symbols

Playing the ukulele isn’t usually considered as complicated as playing the guitar, although at times you will need to use some more advanced techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides. We won’t dwell on these too much, but here are some illustrations of what to look out for.

If you aren’t sure what a hammer-on, pull off or slide actually is, check out this video for a quick look (even though it’s on a guitar, the concept is the same for a ukulele).

Hammer-On

How to read ukulele tabs

In the tab above, a hammer-on is represented by a single ‘h’ between two fret numbers. To perform a hammer-on, you pluck one note then press the next note immediately after it (without plucking a second time). In the example above, you would pluck the second fret on the C string, then press your next finger onto the third fret. Then move down a string to the E and pluck the third fret, before hammering-on to the fourth fret.

Pull-Off

How to read ukulele tabs

The easiest way to describe a pull-off is that it’s the opposite of a hammer-on! On a tab, a pull-off is represented by a small ‘p’ in between fret numbers. So, in our example above, you would hold both the fourth and third fret on the C string, then pluck the fourth and quickly pull your finger off, leaving your finger on the third.

Slide

How to read ukulele tabs

Sliding can be done both ascending (going up) and descending (coming down). An ascending slide is represented by a / symbol, and a descending slide is represented by a \ symbol.

In the example above, you would pluck the third fret on the C string, then – keeping your finger on the fret and without plucking a second time – slide your finger to the fifth fret. Next, you’d pluck the fifth fret on the E string then slide up to the sixth fret in the same fashion. Finally move back to the C string, pluck the sixth string, then slide down the fretboard to the fourth fret with the same finger.

Where to Find Tabs?

Now you know how to read tabs, you’ll want to go find some songs to play. The good news is that free ukulele tabs can be found online, created by both casual players and expert ukulelists. A quick search for ‘ukulele tabs’ on a search engine will deliver thousands of results, but check out Ukulele-Tabs or Live Ukulele for good examples of what’s out there.

You can also find tab books, which are a collection of ukulele songs, tabbed by professionals (which usually means they are guaranteed to be accurate). These are usually separated into theme or genre, such as traditional songs, Christmas tunes, or folk songs, or you can find collections organized by artist including The Beatles, Metallica, Radiohead, and The Rolling Stones. You can find these tab books for sale in your local guitar store or on online marketplaces such as Amazon.

The Final Word

With all those numbers, lines and symbols, tabs can seem a little complicated at first, but as soon as you understand the concept they are simple and very intuitive.

The best way to learn tab is to try some out – you can read about them for hours, but unless you actually put it into practice you aren’t going to fully understand. So, go grab your ukulele and have fun!

How to read ukulele tabs

Topics • How To Read Ukulele Tabs

  • How a tablature sheet composed
  • What the numbers mean
  • Tab symbols explained
  • Rhythm and tempo in tabs

THE GUIDE

Do you want to know how to read ukulele tabs? Read on, and you will find out.

Three main types of songs

On UkuTabs, songs are categorized into three main types:

  • chords (CRD)
  • tablatures (TAB)
  • chords and tablatures (MIX)

How to read ukulele tabs

Music tablature or tab is essentially another kind of musical notation for stringed instruments (as distinct from staffs, with treble clefs and notes). It is a lot simpler than musical scores for the piano, let’s say, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to learn. Tabs can be very handy to have when you are trying to learn a fingerpicking song. They show you exactly where to place your fingers on the fretboard and usually show the tempo as well. Note: if you know how to read guitar tabs, you also know how to read ukulele tabs!

Basics of how to read ukulele tabs – you gotta start somewhere

Let’s start at he very beginning, with the base of a tablature and how to read ukulele tabs. The very basis of every single tab is these four lines, usually shown with dashes. Each line represents a string, from bottom to top: GCEA. So when you are looking at the neck of your ukulele (with the headstock at the top and the body at the bottom) the G string is the one furthest to the left and A is the one furthest to the right.

Starting with this base, numbers will be written over the “strings” and it will look something like the illustration below. But how do you play this? A tab is always read from left to right and each number refers to the fret number. In this example you would: pluck the 3rd fret of the bottom string (A). Then you would pluck the open E string (open string = 0), followed by the open C string. Then the open G string. Then… you see, you already know how to read ukulele tabs!

Chords in tablature

Most of the time you will simply see the chord name above the lyrics or a few chord names next to each other. However it may be that chords are shown as below. This means that you should play all the notes vertically aligned together (as a chord). Here you can see the following chords: F, G, C, Am, D7 and G7. This is mostly used when people are trying to show you what the rhythm and tempo is.

Music tablature symbols

Hopefully you are starting to understand the basics of how to read ukulele tabs or tablature now. On rare occasions, you might see these symbols in ukulele tablatures. These are a little bit more advanced and aremostly used in guitar tabs.

Hammer-on – “h”

Hammer-ons separate two different notes. You play them by plucking the note before the “h” and then pressing the note after it. In this example, you pick the second fret of the C string, and then “hammer-on” the third fret of the C string.

Pull-off – “p”

A pull-off is basically the opposite of a hammer-on. Here you will pluck the A string, third fret and then pull-off (let loose) whilst already holding the A string on the second fret.

Alternative hammer-on / pull-off – “^”

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are also often indicated with the “^” symbol, mainly used to show a combination of the two. In the example below you will have to play an open E string, hammer-on the third fret of the E string and then let loose again (pull-off).

Sliding – “\” & “/”

Sliding is mainly used in groovy and funky songs. Ascending slides are displayed with a “/” symbol and descending slides with a “\” symbol. Here you will pluck the A string, second fret and slide up to the fifth fret. Then you will pluck the E string, third fret and slide down to the second fret.

Harmonic notes – “♦”

Maybe you have already come across the symbol for harmonic notes but didn’t know what it meant? Well, now you’ll know! Harmonic notes are noted in tablature with a diamond shape. There is a whole separate guide dedicated on ukulele harmonics.

Rhythm and tempo in tablatures

As you can see, reading tablatures isn’t that difficult once you understand the basics. The problem is, however, that it might be difficult to figure out what the rhythm or tempo is. This is sometimes resolved by putting some numbers closer to each other then others (the closer the numbers, the faster you play them after each other). Some tablatures will also be divided into different measures, but this is not common. My main advice is to use the tablature as an aid. Listen carefully to the song you are trying to learn, so that you already know the tempo, rhythm and feel of the song.

How to read ukulele tabs

Need more input?

Feel free to contact me whenever you need more information about how to read ukulele tabs and tablature. I think you can begin to play the UkuChords now! Also check out the Ukulele Chord Namer.

Ukulele tablature (also known as “tab”) is an easy and fast way to write out songs for stringed instruments. Here’s a complete guide on how to read tabs for the ukulele.

Due to its simple nature, learning how to read ukulele tab is very straightforward and once you get the concept you can progress quickly.

The disadvantage to reading music via tab is that you cannot express timing values with it. So while you can play a piece you’ve never heard before by looking at piano sheet music, you can’t do the same with tab.

If you don’t know the song it’s going to be frustrating to try and learn it this way. To make things easy on yourself, employ the “hum it” rule: if you can hum the tune then you can learn from the tab, if not, don’t try.

How to Read Ukulele Tabs: Understanding the System

Ukulele tab looks like this:

The Strings:

The four horizontal lines on a bar of tab represent the four strings of an ukulele.

The G-string is on the bottom and the A-string is on the top.

To visualize it better, imagine you set your ukulele down flat on a table, strings facing up and headstock to your left. If you hold the tab on top of the fretboard in this way, the strings will match. G is closest to you, A is furthest away.

The Frets

Tab is read left to right. Anytime you see a number it means “pick this fret.” Which string line the number is one tells you what string to play the fret on.

The tab below tells you to pick the 3rd fret on the A-string one time:

This next tab tells you to play the 10th fret on the C-string one time:

Here you would play the 3rd fret, E-string once and then the 5th fret, A-string once:

If you want to show two notes picked in a row you would repeat the fret number. This means pick the 3rd fret, E-string two times:

Here’s a C major scale in reverse:

Showing Chords

If there are more than one fret number in a vertical line, play the notes simultaneously. This is how you’d write a chord:

Or you could show three notes played simultaneously:

Bar Lines

Oftentimes it’s nice to break a tab into pieces via vertical bar lines like this:

Since tab can’t show timing, it’s sometimes hard to place these precisely enough to stand in for traditional measure lines.

Instead these are often just used for a bit of separation between parts.

Formatting

The above examples are created in text. You can do the same yourself using a monospace font (I like Courier New).

But the tab-reading concepts you’ve learned can also be applied to fancier presentations like you’ll find on my page of Guitar Pro-made ukulele tabs.

With this high-end format it is possible to show the timing of notes via combo standard notation/tablature layouts, more precise articulations, rhythm slashes, and more.

All in all, it’s a much more professional looking tab. But because of the extra details, it is more tedious to make these tabs and thus, are harder to find.

Notating Articulations

Since single picked notes are rarely the only thing you find in music, here is a breakdown of how to read all the additional symbols you might find when reading ukulele tabs.

Multiple examples are shown separated by a bar-line.

“h” – Hammer-on

Use an “h” to show where a hammer-on connects two notes.

“p” – Pull-off

This is used to connect two notes like this:

and means you pull-off from one to the other.

“/” or “\” – Slide

Move from the first note to the second note via a slide.

“b” – Bend and “r” – Release

Bend the string up so that it equals the pitch of the second note shown.

You can also release a bend down to its starting point by adding an “r” to the equation:

Vary the pitch of the note with the vibrato technique.

“()” – Ghost Note (parenthesis)

Play very softly.

“<>” – Harmonic (chevrons)

Chime a natural harmonic at the fret shown in angle brackets.

Artificial Harmonic

Fret the first note shown then chime an artificial harmonic over the fret shown in brackets.

Note Duration in Text Tab

Sometimes people who want to express the timing for a song will put special notation on top of the text ukulele tab to show note duration.

This notation is closely based around the way timing is written for standard sheet music. So in addition to learning the symbols below, you must also be familiar with traditional piano-style music notation.

Duration Legend

(Shown above each fret number.)

  • W – whole note
  • H – half note
  • Q – quarter note
  • E – 8th note
  • S – 16th note
  • T – 32nd note
  • X – 64th note
  • a – acciaccatura
  • + – note tied to previous
  • . – dotted note
  • .. – double dotted note
  • Lowercase letters are played staccato
  • Irregular groupings are notated above the duration line
  • Rests are shown above an empty space

There are ways to notate more complex parts, but at a certain point, ask yourself, “Should I just be using Musescore instead?” To me, this style sort of defeats the point of a simple text tab.

For example, here’s the intro to “Black Magic Woman” by Santana:

How to read ukulele tabsAbout the author: Brad Bordessa I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honoka’a, Hawai’i, where I run this site from an off-grid cabin in the jungle. I’ve taught workshops internationally, made Herb Ohta Jr. laugh until he cried, and once jammed with HAPA onstage in my boardshorts. More about me

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How to read ukulele tabs

A tablature is essentially: “a form of music sheets for stringed instruments,” like the ukulele. For short, they are commonly called tabs.

Ukulele tabs are significantly more straightforward to read than other types of music sheets because they’re more descriptive on where you should put your fingers and what you should do in each step. Piano sheets, for example, take years to learn, and therefore, you become a professional in a longer time.

That’s why, once you learn the basics of a ukulele and get used to reading its tabs, it won’t take you a lot of time to master it and play new songs. We’re here to set you on the right path and introduce you to the essentials you need to know.

The Main Contents of the Tab you Need to Be Familiar With:

1. The Strings

The ukulele has four strings, so in turn, the basics of the tab would be four horizontal dashed lines. Each one represents a particular string.

To know which line represents what, imagine that you’re putting the uke on a flat surface where its headstock is on the left. The strings arrangement you see is the same as the tab. It starts with the A string on the top followed by E and C, then G at the bottom.

Note that when you hold the uke properly, the strings will be upside down where the top string on the uke corresponds to the bottom line on the tab.

2. The Frets

Numbers on the dashed lines represent the frets on the ukulele tabs. Each number expresses which fret you should push down, and on which string.

For example, they can look something like this:

As you can see, there’s a number 3 on the top line of the tab. That means that you should push the third fret on the bottom string of the uke. The 0 represents an open string, which means no pushing down on any of the frets.

In the example above, you’ll have to pull on the open E string, then pull on the open C string. Then pull on it again. Then push on the second fret, while pulling the G string.

3. The Chords

If you see two or more numbers above 0 below each other in a vertical line, that means it’s a chord.

For example, this is what G major chord looks like:

Play the chord by pushing the aligned four notes together at the same time. The presence of the chords mostly gives you a sense of the rhythm that the song is played with.

4. The Bar Lines

Tabs don’t have timing, so bar lines aren’t significant for the rhythm. Usually, they’re just used to separate the song parts.

Other Important Symbols:

Like any other musical sheet, the tabs have different symbols that add more directions to the way you play the notes. But don’t worry, almost all of them are easy to catch on.

1. Hammer-ons

As shown below, sometimes you’ll find the letter “h” between two frets on the string; this implies a hammer on.

Play this note by pushing a finger on the fifth fret of string A, while pulling the string. Then, place a finger on the seventh fret of string A, while withdrawing the finger on the fifth one.

This is how you get a higher secondary pitch.

2. Pull-offs

The letter “p” between two frets, as in the following example, shows a pull-off, which is the opposite of the hammer on.

It gives you a lower secondary pitch.

Play this note by pushing a finger on the third fret of string E, and another on the second fret of the same string. Then, lift a finger on the second fret.

Note that in some tabs, the hammer-ons and pull-offs symbols differ. They can be expressed as a “^” symbol.

3. Slides

A slide is used when you want to ascend or descend from a note to the other.

If we’re descending, we use the symbol “\.” On the other hand, if we’re ascending from a note to the other, we use the symbol “/.”

In the example above, you would push on the third fret on the E string and go down to the second fret. Afterward, you would push on the fifth fret on the C string and ascend to the seventh one.

4. Parenthesis

The parenthesis around a number implies that we should play this note very softly. That’s what we call a ghost note.

5. Vibrato

Vibrato is when you add a vibrating sound to the tone.

It’s shown in the tab in the form of a “

” symbol and created by moving the string slightly.

6. Bends and Releases

Bends are symbolized by “b” on the tab and are used to reach the sound of the note after.

This is how they’re written:

All you have to do is push on the eighth fret on the C string, bend it to the ninth and hold the bend.

If it should be released, then you’ll find the letter “r” written after the note followed by the number of the fret you should return to.

7. Chevrons

Chevrons “<>” are symbols that indicate a natural harmonic at the number between them.

The Rhythm

The rhythm may be the only downside to the ukulele tabs. This because if you don’t know the song you’re playing or haven’t heard it before, you’ll find it extremely difficult to play, even if you can read and play all the notes shown in the tab.

That is because the ukulele tabs miss one of the essential characteristics of a musical sheet: timing.

There’s no timing in ukulele tabs, so you’ll have to depend on your memory to play the right tones at the right time.

How To Read Ukulele Tabs For Beginners, Final Thoughts

As demonstrated, ukulele tabs don’t need any studying or hard work to understand. All you need to do is memorize these basics and symbols, as shown in the guide, and try to apply them until you get the hang of it.

Learn Your Lines! How to Read Ukulele Tabs – A Guide for Beginners

By Ged Richardson

12th February 2021

How to read ukulele tabs

Using chord charts is fine for simple ukulele songs you can strum along to.

But when you want to take on something a bit more complicated, or even just to embellish a chord sequence (think the riff in Nirvana’s Come as You Are), a chord chart isn’t enough.

A ukulele tablature (or ‘tab’) will show you precisely how to play the lines.

The great thing about tab is you don’t need any knowledge of the notes on a ukulele fretboard. All you need to be able to do is count, and if you’re reading this, I figure you’ve worked that out already ?

In this article, we’ll show you how to read ukulele tabs and explain what all the symbols mean.

Table of Contents

Strings

A tab looks like this. Four horizontal lines representing the strings, with the string names on the left going down vertically (GCEA).

Imagine the uke is laid down on its side this:

How to read ukulele tabs

Frets

So far so good (I told you it was simple). Now, every time you see a number, it means ‘play this fret’ on this string.

How to read ukulele tabs

How to read ukulele tabs

Or how about playing the 1st fret multiple times:

One of the drawbacks to using tab is there’s no reliable way of depicting rhythm. To get around this, numbers are spaced apart according to show the speed at which to play the notes. It’s not ideal, but it beats having to learn to read music.

Chords

Can you show chords in tab? You sure can. If there’s more than one fret number in a vertical line, that often (but not always) means it’s a chord.

Here are the chords to Riptide, for example (Am, G, C)

So that’s all there is to it. Now we’ll look at the common tab symbols used.

Tab Symbols

Tab symbols are used to represent more advanced techniques. Here are the main ones:

Hammer On (h)

A simple ‘h’ is used between two notes to mean ‘hammer on here’. In the below example, its telling us to ‘hammer-on from the 4th to the 5th fret on the E string’

Pull Off (p)

And the same in reverse, a ‘p’ means ‘pull off’. So here, it means ‘pull off from the 5th fret to the 4th on the E string’.

Hammer On & Pull Off (^)

Or how about a combination of both. Simply use the ‘^’ symbol for this. So here, it means ‘hammer from the 4th to the 5th fret, and pull off from the 5th back to the 4th fret on the E string’.

Bend (b)

We all love a bend. To represent this, simply add a ‘b’ in between two notes. Here it means ‘bend from the 4th to the 5th fret on the E string’.

Vibrato (

A touch of vibrato, sir? It’s simply shown as a ‘

’ on either side of a note. So below it’s telling you to ‘add vibrato to the 5th fret on the E string’.

Ghost Note ()

Ooh, spooky! Simply add parenthesis around a note to mean ‘play it quietly’.

Sliding (/ \)

For a slide, use forward-slash (/) for going up the fretboard (towards the soundhole) and backslash (\) for going down. Here it means ‘slide from the 5th fret to the 7th fret on the E string, then slide back down from the 7th to the 5th fret’.

Harmonic (<>)

To play a harmonic on a note, use chevrons. This means ‘play a harmonic at the 12th fret on the E string’

Summary

And we’re done. Now you know how to read ukulele tabs. Woohoo!

Want to know how to read ukulele tabs? Read on for an explanation of how ukulele tab works.

Each line of the tab staff represents a string on the ukulele. The sounds that are higher in pitch are closer to the top of the page just as they are on the standard music staff. However, the unfortunate result is that standard tab notation places the lines upside down from how they are arranged on the ukulele.

  • The top line of the tab staff is the A string (the string closest to the floor when you’re playing).
  • The line below that is the E string.
  • The line below that is the C string.
  • The bottom line of the tab is the G string, which is the string closest to the ceiling when you are playing.

Lines of tab staff are upside down in comparison to the ukulele strings.

How to read ukulele tabs

Numbers on the Tab Staff

Stopping (also called fretting) a string means to use a left-hand finger and push down firmly so that the string contacts the fret. Your finger goes between the frets, not on a fret.

For example, a 5 means to put one of your left-hand fingers in the fifth fret and push down on the string as you pluck it with your right hand. A 7 means to stop the string in the 7 th fret and pluck it with your right hand. A 4 means to stop the string in the fourth fret and pluck it with your right hand. A 0 means to pluck a string with your right hand without using your left hand at all. We call an unstopped string an open string.

How to read ukulele tabs

The previous image shows a person fretting the A string. Usually we use finger 1 on the first fret, finger 2 on the second fret, finger 3 on the third fret, and finger 4 on the fourth fret. Having your fingers in this arrangement is referred to as first position.

For practice reading tab, try playing the sounds shown in the parts of the image. Reading from right to left:

  1. Start with finger 4 in the fourth fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
  2. Then use finger 3 in the third fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
  3. Next use finger 2 in the second fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
  4. Next use finger 1 in the first fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
  5. Finally, pluck the open A string 4 times.

Playing the C Major Scale in Tab Notation

We recommend practicing the C major scale while reading the tab notation as the next step to learning how to read ukulele tabs. It will help your brain link the look of the tab staff to the muscular patterns needed to play certain notes. Since most melodies are made from fragments of scales, learning this eye-hand coordination will make it a lot easier for you to read tab melodies.

How to read ukulele tabs

Putting it Together: How to Read Ukulele Tabs Using a Melody

Here’s an excerpt from a song, “Lovely Evening.” To read the tab, first look at which string line the number is on. Then use your left hand to stop that string in the fret that matches the number shown. Remember that 0 means an open string. We’ve labeled the lines to make it easier to see which line goes with which string.

  • First note: don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the C string with your right hand.
  • Second note: stop the C string in the second fret.
  • Third note: don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the E string with your right hand.
  • Fourth note: don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the C string with your right hand.
  • Fifth note: stop the E string in the first fret.

Now that you’ve worked your way through the scale and a brief melody, you know a lot more about how to read ukulele tabs.

How to read ukulele tabs

Want to learn some cool riffs on your ukulele? In this lesson, ukulele teacher Willy M. shares how you can read ukulele tabs and find them for your favorite songs…

Hello, ukephiles! Ukephile (pronounced “you-keh-file”) is a new word I just invented deriving from “uke” for “ukelele” and “philo,” Greek for “to love;” so it means “lovers of the ukulele!” Anyway, I digress. One of the hardest things for ukephiles is finding tabs for songs that you want to play.

Most of the time, we can find guitar chord charts and strum along with ukulele chords; but every once in a while, we want to be more daring and venture out into uncharted territory on the uke – by fingerpicking, or lead playing, or playing arpeggios, or any number of other cool things we can do on the ukulele. When we want to do those things, we naturally are going to need some tab, unless we want to figure it all out by ear.

Tab, or tablature, as it is commonly called among string players, is a very old method of notation for stringed instruments. It actually predates modern sheet music by several hundred years, and most scholars believe it dates back to the development of the lute and early guitar music.

How to Read Ukulele Tabs

The wonderful thing about tab is that it is incredibly easy to learn to read. Tab for the ukulele will look like four lines. Most of the tab you will find on the internet is for a ukulele tuned to G-C-E-A tuning. If the ukulele is tuned to another tuning, the tab will usually indicate this, as you’ll see that the pitch that each string is tuned to sits directly to the left of the tab.

The four lines of the tab represent the four strings, as mentioned, and they are represented from the G string, being the bottom line of the tab, to the A string, being the top line of the tab. So, from bottom to top: the bottom line is G, the second from the bottom line is C, the third line of the tab is E, and the top line of the tab is the top highest string of the ukulele, A.

When you see a number written on the tab, it refers to the fret that you are supposed to hold down when you pluck a note. Sometimes, you will see examples that are typed out like this:

How to read ukulele tabs

In this example, you would play the open C and E string, followed by playing the fifth, then the third, then the open C string. You would then play the third, then second fret of the G string, followed by the open G and C strings. The rest of the example is pretty self-explanatory.

Reading tab is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Sometimes, you’ll find tab written along with the sheet music, and that gives you a good idea of how to play the rhythm, if you understand how to read rhythm on sheet music. And sometimes, you might find tab written with the rhythmic stems of the traditional sheet music notes written above the tab, without the accompanying sheet music. Either way, they are simple ways of helping you understand the rhythm of what you are looking at.

You might run into some symbols that represent hammer-ons, pull-offs, string bends, slides and the like, but they are more common to guitar tab, rather than ukulele tab. Keep in mind, though, that they might be there.

It’s usually pretty easy to figure out what these symbols mean. A bend looks like an curved arrow pointing up, a hammer-on has a little “h” in the symbol, whereas a pull-off has a little “p” in the symbol! Slides are lines from one fret to another, and vibrato is typically a zigzag line after a note.

Where to Find Ukulele Tabs

Now, where are you going to find these tabs? Well, I’ve done a lot of research for you and found 10 places where you can find ukulele tabs.

1. Uke-chords.com is a site that hosts tabs and chord charts. They are much heavier on the chord-chart side of things, but you might find a few tabs there. They do, however, include a lot of chord diagrams with their charts.

2. Ukuleletricks.com is a site for beginners with few tabs, but lots of chord charts and videos for beginning ukulele players.

3. UkuTabs.com is a great site for finding tabs and chord charts for the ukulele. It has a great deal of the popular ukulele songs out there that everyone wants to learn how to play. It also has a neat feature that lets you transpose the song into a key you want to play in.

4. Gotaukulele.com has a lot of tabs and chord charts for older songs. Some of the songs go way back to the 20s and 30s, and some of the classic rock songs from the 70s and 80s also make an appearance.

5. Ukulele-tabs.com is another chord-heavy site, but the chord charts are partially tabs as well, because they give you the strums written out between the chords (diagrams with little “x’s” for the strums).

6. Ukulelehunt.com is the best ukulele tab site that I’ve found with actual tabs. They have chord charts, as well, but they have tabs for popular songs. I was able to find a tab for “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream. They have Eric Clapton’s guitar part tabbed out properly! Pretty cool site.

7. LiveUkulele.com is another interesting site. It typically provides its readers with the tab and chord chart in one printable sheet.

8. Tabs4ukulele.com is one more chord-heavy site, but it also has a lot of the really popular songs, so if you have trouble finding a song on one of the other sites, check this site.

9. Ultimate-guitar.com has a lot of ukulele tabs, as well. I love this site. It has about every song imaginable out there for tabs and chord charts, you can transpose it to whatever key you want, and you can usually find tabs for every member of your band. Really cool site.

10. Finally, one last place to find tabs is your local music shop! If you’re looking for tabs to a particular song but can’t find them anywhere else, go talk to the people at your local music shop, and they can probably order it for you!

So, there is an introduction to ukulele tabs – where you can find them and how to use them. Hope this helps. Keep practicing, and good luck in your ukulele lessons!

How to read ukulele tabs

Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston, NC. He is the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age, from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy.

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