How to Read Ukulele Tablature: A Beginners Guide

Reading ukulele tablature, also known as “tabs” are an easy to way to learn to read music and also to write songs for the stringed instruments. In this article, we are going to cover how you as a beginner can start reading ukulele tabs and get familiar with it.

Reading ukulele tabs is simple and one of the most straightforward ways you can progress to playing the instrument better.

The problem however with reading music tabs is that you cannot define how long each note should be played. Take piano for example, you can play a music just by looking at the piano sheet without even knowing what song you are playing.

With a tab, you can’t do that. And that’s the frustrating thing most people discover about it.

But there is a simple rule that you can follow to avoid getting frustrated about it.

It’s called the “hum it” rule. If you can hum the tune you see in the tab, then you can learn from it and try to play it. If you can’t hum it, then don’t try.

Avoid the frustration by just not trying to learn songs you can’t hum. As a beginner, you want to make this learning process as simple and straightforward as possible. The less peaks and valleys you go through, the better.

So without any further ado, lets jump into it.


Learning to Read Ukulele Tabs

There are some simple fundamentals you need to keep in mind when you are looking at a tab:

Horizontal Lines

The horizontal lines represent the strings. And there are 4 horizontal lines that represent the 4 ukulele strings. The first line from the top is the one that corresponds to the first string (the string that is near our leg) and the fourth line from the top represents the fourth string on the ukulele (the string that is closer to our heart).


The Numbers

The numbers on the lines represent which fret you should press and which string to pluck.

If you are right handed, you will be pressing the frets with your left hand and vice-versa. And you will be plucking the strings with your right hand if you are right handed.

In the example below, you see that there is a 2 on the first line. This means we will press the second fret on the first string and make a sound.

But you also see that there is a zero on the second line which means we will pluck that string but not press any fret. Why? Because there is no number on it.

We only press a fret if there is a number on it.

The Sequence of Notes

Speaking about the sequence, it is pretty easy to read. We read from left to right, just like everything.


Simultaneous Notes and Chords

As a beginner, you will find that trying to play simultaneous notes and chords is a bit challenging. Which is okay because you are just getting started. You will get used to is. Here’s how you play them.

If  you see the numbers vertically aligned, then you just press and pluck the corresponding frets and strings simultaneously. It does take a bit of getting used to like I mentioned above, but you will quickly get a hang of it.

By the way, if you want a list of cute ukulele songs that you want to try out, check out this post we wrote last week. They are some simple songs that you can master and play for your loved ones.


Rhythm and Strumming

When it comes to creating a rhythm pattern you will see that there is an annotation besides the line of numbers. They will be either a dot, flag, bar, etc. And for strumming, there will be an arrow that gives you the direction in which you should strum.

But here’s the confusing part, if the arrow is pointing upward, that corresponds to a downstroke. And an arrow pointing downward corresponds to an upstroke. I know this is a bit confusing but once you get your practice hours in, you will quickly get used to it.