How To Read Ukulele Tab

How To Read Ukulele Tab

Following a few requests I’ve finally decided to put together this guide to show you how to read ukulele tab. Hopefully you’ll find it useful…

Tab is actually pretty easy to learn

It can be a little daunting when you first experience a piece of music written down in tab form. It’s actually very simple to understand though and quite easy to get up to speed with quickly. It’s all very logical when you see it for what it is.

The lines of tab

Ukulele tab comprises of numbers and lines. Those 4 horizontal lines relate to the strings on your ukulele. If you didn’t already know that, I’d imagine that this is a bit of a lightbulb moment for you. You’re already well on the way to learning how to read ukulele tab.

Here’s some blank ukulele tab (we’re taking this nice and slow).

Blank Ukulele Tab

The line that appears at the top of the tab represents the string (a string) that is closest to the floor as you hold your ukulele (like you’re playing it). This may seem a little counter-intuitive (the top line being the bottom string) to begin with but you’ll soon get used to it.

The line that appears at the bottom of the tab represents, you’ve guessed it – the string (g string) that is closest to ceiling (or sky if you’re playing outdoors) as you hold you ukulele.

From there on in, you should be able to easily work out which strings the remaining 2 lines relate to on ukulele tab.

Blank Ukulele Tab Strings

There you go, whether you’re playing with re-entrant tuning or a low G, the relationship between the tab and the strings stays the same.

What about the numbers?

So now that we know which string each line of tab relates to, the next thing we need to work out is what the numbers mean.

Here’s an example of some tab with numbers on it…

Ukulele Tab Numbers

The numbers actually relate to the frets on your ukulele. It’s important to note that they do not relate to your fingers at all. Generally, tab does not indicate which finger you should use to play a note – that’s for you to decide.

To play through the example above you would need to play the A string at the first fret, then at the second, the third and finally the fourth.

What about a zero I hear you cry. What do I play when the tab has a zero on it? You simply play the relevant string without fretting at all. This is often referred to as an open string.

Tabbed chords

We’ve looked at some individual notes and we know which line of tab relates to which string. The next thing we need to look at is how chords are represented in ukulele tab.

Let’s take a look at everyone’s favourite chord, the open C chord…

Ukulele C Chord Tab

The fact that the numbers are lined up means that you play them all together. In the example above you need to play all the strings. The G, C and E do not need to be fretted (the zero is telling you this) and the A string needs fretting at the third fret.

Pretty easy so far? Good.

For now that should get you up and running with how to read ukulele tab but there are more things to know. You might be thinking that I haven’t included anything to do with timing in the post and you’d be right. I’ll be dedicating a whole post to reading timing in the not too distant future but it’s worth noting that there are an awful lot of instances of tab out there that actually don’t include any reference to timing at all.

If you read through this and found it useful, please let me know. This is a section that I’d really like to build upon and develop. Similarly if you have any related questions then either drop me an email or add a comment below.

14 thoughts on “How To Read Ukulele Tab

  1. Good idea to have a beginners guide. One thing that worked for me when I first started using tabs is if you lay the uke in your lap, the strings match the tab. Then, slowly raise it back into position and hold onto that visualization.

    There are a lot of other notations and I still see symbols and notations I don’t always understand. Some are standard, but I get the impression that not all tabs are consistent with their styles.

    1. Thanks for the comment Glenn, there’s definitely more to come in terms of the extra symbols, timing and more.

  2. I really wish I had had your straightforward explanation when I first encountered tabs, the best explanation I have come across. Will pass it on. Thanks!

  3. Thanks, nice clear explanation. This may make a lot of work for you but now about a glossary to explain terms like ‘re-entrant’ to newbies like me?

    1. Hey June, that’s a nice idea. I’ll see what I can do. Re-entrant is just a reference to the tuning of the ukulele. Each string on a guitar is higher than the the previous – this is not the case on a ukulele with a high g string. Essentially when an ascending or descending order is broken (like on a ukulele) it is referred to as re-entrant. Does that help? It’s quite hard to explain!

  4. I am a beginner and so far can only play happy bday. I’m working but during my free time i read this site. this is very helpful, specially this page. I still need to know more about strumming, timings and reading chords. thank you.

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