Ukulele 101: How To Read Ukulele Tab Part 1

Happy 2008 everyone. I hope you enjoyed the holiday season and got plenty of ukulele practice in.

Over the hols I’ve been busy writing a guide to reading ukulele tab. A few people have asked me about it and I’ve had to direct them elsewhere which isn’t ideal as I don’t think there’s a really comprehensive guide around.

So, while everyone was quaffing egg-nog and kissing under the mistletoe (possibly at the same time), I was writing about ukulele tab. If you want to make up for my kissless Christmas, feel free to snog my face off in gratitude.

It ended up being 15 pages long, so I’ve divided into parts and the first is after the jump.

How to Read Ukulele Tab

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Vihuela guitar tabMuso types like to bemoan the rise of tablature (or tab) but it’s been a way of representing music for hundreds of years. This picture shows tab for the Vihuela (an early guitar-like instrument)from the 16th Century.

Tablature is used to represent music for a specific instrument and is an alternative to standard notation (the one with dots and lines).

Tablature has a couple of advantages. Firstly, it’s much easier to learn to read than standard notation and much more accessible for those without formal musical training.

Secondly, it tells you on which string to play a particular note. This is particularly important on the ukulele as the strings are tuned so close together and the way in which you play them can change how easy it is to play a tune a great deal.

Basic Tab

Frets & Strings

Each of the horizontal lines represents a string on the ukulele. However, they are upside down from what you might expect. The top line of the tab is the A string (the one that’s closest to the floor when you’re playing); the line below that is the E string; the line below that is the C string and the bottom line of the tab is G string.

ukulele tab neck

That takes a little getting used to. I think of tab as being from the perspective of the ukulele flipped up towards my head.

The numbers that appear on the tab indicate which string to play and what fret to play it at (you can ignore the 4/4 at the beginning for now).

f note ukulele tab Here, the note is on the second line down representing the E string. You should play this string and only this string..
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The number 1 indicates that the string should be played at the first fret. Playing the E string at the first fret gives us an F note.

open string ukulele tabOpen strings – ones played without fretting a note at all – are indicated by a 0. In this case the E string will be played without fretting a note.
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Notes Played In Sequence

When notes appear one after the other horizontally in the tab, you play them in sequence – one after the other – and stopping them before the next note starts.

ukulele notes tab

In this example, the E string is played open, then at the first fret, then at the third fret and, for the final note, the A string is played open. Click on the player to hear this example (after a four beat introduction – we’ll be going over that later).

Notes Played Simultaneously

When notes appear in the same position vertically, they are played at the same time.

ukulele notes

Here two notes are being played together each time. First, the C string is played at the second fret while the E string is played at the first fret.

After that note, you play the C string at the fourth fret at the same time as playing the E string at the third fret.

It then shifts to a new pair of strings: E and A. The E string is played at the first fret and the A string is played open.

Tab for Chords

Whole chords can be written the same way.

Try to play the chord in this example.

f chord ukulele tab

You should have the G string being played at the second fret and the E string at the first fret with the other notes ringing open. This creates the F-chord shape that you are probably familiar with.

When chords are being strummed, you will often see arrows in the tab (in some tabs, these arrows have wavy rather than straight lines – they indicate exactly the same thing).

strum ukulele chords tab

These arrows indicate which direction you should strum in. An up arrow indicates a down strum, and a down arrow indicates an up strum. Don’t look at me, I didn’t invent the system. .
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Read the rest of the series here: How to Read Ukulele Tab.

This series was derived from my ebook Ukulele 101: 101 Things Every Ukulele Player Needs to Know.

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151 Comments

  1. Woodshed November 22nd, 2015 8:01 pm

    UkeOnTheMoon: Thanks very much!

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