How to Read Ukulele Tabs

by | Sep 27, 2019 | Ukulele Tab | 4 comments

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.

So:

Lines of tab staff are upside down in comparison to the ukulele strings.
  • 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.
The numbers on the lines of the tab staff tell you which fret to stop with a left-hand finger.

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.

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.

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.

 

Play along to carefully selected folk songs on ukulele! Includes favorites such as Happy Birthday, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and Shenandoah.

 

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You can get more practice with how to read ukulele tabs with these other posts…

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