- 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.
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 7th 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.
For practice reading tab, try playing the sounds shown in the parts of the image. Reading from right to left:
- Start with finger 4 in the fourth fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
- Then use finger 3 in the third fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
- Next use finger 2 in the second fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
- Next use finger 1 in the first fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
- 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.
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.
- For the first note, don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the C-string with your right hand.
- For the second, stop the C-string in the second fret.
- For the third note, don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the E-string with your right hand.
- For the fourth note, don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the C-string with your right hand.
- For the 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.