Writing More Readable Ukulele Tab: Evolution of Sakura Chord Melody

by | Oct 18, 2019 | Chord melody, Improvisation and song writing | 5 comments

I want to share about a recent experience on writing more readable ukulele tab.

I really enjoy (and so do many of our fans) playing both the melody and the chords of a song on the ukulele AT THE SAME TIME. This process is called “chord melody.”

When you first start learning chord melody, it seems almost impossible. And, when you go looking for ukulele chord melody arrangements, many of them are difficult. As a ukulele teacher, I enjoy both playing and teaching chord melody arrangements that are accessible.

By accessible, I mean arrangements that use lots of open strings, stay fairly low on the fretboard, and don’t use many barre chords. I love creating such arrangements, because they sound so cool!

The challenge comes in notating the arrangements.

Writing More Readable Ukulele Tab Chord Melody

Recently I posted my arrangement of “Sakura” on Facebook. One eagle-eyed reader pointed out:

“The tab doesn’t match the staff notation and doesn’t have the rhythm.”

I was thrilled to get a response from someone who could challenge me to create something even better. He and I went back and forth about the best way to write out my arrangement of “Sakura”. He went so far as to even create an arrangement with his own software that used the notes I had written, but made everything easier to read.

Let me show you this evolution.

Here’s my first version:

Jenny Peters during RAGBRAI 2019

As you can see, there is no rhythm indicated with the tab notation.

Here is Version 2, inspired by the person who commented on my Facebook post. By researching my music notation software, I was able to add rhythmic notation to the tab staff. The top staff of music remains as a sing-and-strum version of the song.

Jenny Peters making music on RAGRBRAI 2019

Version 3 has both musical staves with the same notes, but there are no more lyrics. It is an instrumental version only. The notes shown on the music staff are the same as the notes shown in the tab.

So, now my question for you is: which version do you like best, and why? I’d love it if you let me know in the comments below.

We are always looking for ways to make our products better, to help you to have fun learning ukulele YOUR way.  The more we know about what you like the better!

Thanks so much!

Wow, chord melody sounds rich and full, with melody and chords at the same time!

But it’s probably too hard for me. Not true!
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  1. My comment is more of a question. I know you are going to have
    “What a Friend we have in Jesus” in you new book. I am curious
    on the strum pattern you will be using for this song.

    • what strum pattern are you using for What a friend we have in jesus?

    • Jenny Peters

      I am using down, down-up, down, down-up for “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It works well for this song and makes it feel really upbeat.

  2. Kylee

    I think if the notes on the staff are the same as the notes on the tab and the tab shows the rhythm and measures, then the staff is a waste of space. Space is not important for a 1 page song, but by dropping the staff notation, I can often compress a 3 page song into 1 page and not having to flip pages when playing is very convenient. Most tab writing software allows you to display chords and lyrics with the tab (and without the staff) for sing-along people to follow.

    • Jenny Peters

      That’s a really interesting comment. Why not ditch the standard notation staff and keep the tab staff? I have done that when I am working on a difficult song and I want to have fewer pages of music. As I am learning “Here Comes the Sun” I got rid of the standard notation staff and kept the tab staff. It’s easier to practice that way because the song reduces to two pages, not three.

      But, I would say the argument could also be made to drop the tab staff and learn to read standard music notation. Reading standard music notation makes it possible to communicate with musicians who play other instruments, while tab keeps you in the ukulele-guitar world only. Many classical guitarists are VERY passionate about learning standard notation.

      I see tab as a tool to communicate music. It’s a type of music reading, but it does not transfer to other instruments. I am hopeful people will learn both systems which is why I print both for my songs. This kind of notation is called a score. It is what you see when you sing in a choir. It’s what pianists read from and it is also what conductors look at. It helps you to both see and hear what is going on with the other musicians in the ensemble. For my “day” job I’m an orchestra conductor and teacher, so scores are my preference.

      But if you are learning a three-page song that I composed AND you want tab only, I’m happy to create that for you. I know why that would be a preference. It’s like having a part instead of a score and not having to turn pages because your hands are busy!


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