Ukulele tabs or tablature is another form of musical notation specifically made for stringed instruments. It’s a lot easier to read than sheet music so it’s quite easy to learn if you are just starting out playing the ukulele. Tabs are particularly useful when you are trying to learn a string picking song. This is because a tab will show you the exact place where you need to put your fingers on the frets and the tempo as well. In this guide, we’ll give you the full run down on how you can read any ukulele tab and how each note is represented.
The Basics of Ukulele Tabs
We’ll start right at the beginning with the very basics of tablature. Each and every tab you look will feature four lines which most of the time have been created out of dashes. These four lines represent the four strings on the ukulele from the bottom to the top. The notes are G C E A in this order. So if you were looking at your strings from the neck of the ukulele in your right hand the G string is the one most to the left and A is most to the right.
A | —————————- |
E | —————————- |
C | —————————- |
G | —————————- |
This is the base for all tabs and over each one you will notice a number denoted and it will look like our example below. You may be thinking how on earth do I play this? You have to read any tab from left to right and the numbers on each line actually represent the fret number. In our example below you will see that you need to pluck the A string while holding down the third fret. An open string is denoted by a 0 and this is seen in this tab by plucking the open E string. Next play the open C string and so on.
A | —3———————— |
E | ——-0—————-0— |
C | ———–0——-0——– |
G | —————0———— |
Ukulele Tab Chords
With most tabs you will see a chord name recorded above the lyrics or even a few chord names written next to one another. However, there are instances where chords are depicted like the ones below. You can see that the numbers are vertically aligned together so this means you should play it as a chord. Below are the chords for F, G, C, Am, D7 and G7. It’s a great chord structure to get your rhythm and tempo practice in.
A | —-0—2—3—0—3—2— |
E | —-1—3—0—0—2—1— |
C | —-0—2—0—0—2—2— |
G | —-2—0—0—2—2—0— |
Ukulele Tab Symbols
Hopefully, at this point, you’ve grasped the basics of how to read these tabs. Also included in both sheet music and tabs are symbols which are usually for more advanced pieces and players. Below we have given you an overview of each one.
Hammer-On – ‘h’
The hammer-on technique is used to separate out two different notes. You do this by plucking the note written before the ‘h’ symbol and then by pressing the note written after it. We’ve given you an example below and here you will see that you pluck the second fret on the C string and then use the hammer-on technique on the same string using the third fret.
A | —-1———————– |
E | —-1———————– |
C | ——–2h3—————– |
G | —————3———— |
Pull-Off – ‘p’
The pull-off technique is pretty much the exact opposite of the hammer-on we showed you above. We’ve given you another example here where you will pluck the A string on the third fret, then let loose the string or pull-off while you quickly swap to holding the same string on fret number two.
A | —–3p2——————– |
E | ———–3—————- |
C | —————2———— |
G | —————0———— |
Different Hammer-On and Pull-Off Symbol – ‘^’
The two different techniques we’ve gone through above can also be denoted by the ‘^’ symbol. This is used mainly when there is a combination of both techniques used in the music. Yet again we’re here with another example where you will be playing an open E string, use the hammer-on method on the third fret of the string and then pull-off.
A | —-0———————– |
E | ——–0^3^0————— |
C | ——————4——— |
G | —————————- |
Sliding – ‘\’ and ‘/’
Sliding symbols don’t often pop up in tabs because they are used as flavor that jazzes up a piece. However, if you do come across these symbols then you will want to know what they mean. An ascending slide is shown by a ‘/’ and the descending slide is shown with a ‘\’. In our example below you will begin by playing the A string using the second fret and then slide your finger up to fret number five. Next you will need to play the E string on the third fret, sliding your finger down to fret number two.
A | —-2/5——————— |
E | ———-3\2————— |
C | ——————4——— |
G | —————————- |
Tempo and Rhythm in Tabs
Now that you’ve got to grips with the basics then you may realize reading tabs isn’t actually that difficult. The problem with tabs though is that it can be difficult to understand the tempo and rhythm needed to make the piece sound right. Sometimes the creator will solve this issue by placing the numbers on the lines closer together and other numbers spread out. This means that the closer the numbers are to each other, the faster you should be playing them.
Other tabs are also separated out into different measures but you won’t see this that often. Tabs basically should be used as a helper and not as proper sheet music. Listen to the song you want to learn to get to grips with the tempo, rhythm and general feeling of the song before proceeding with a tab.
Finding Ukulele Tabs
So now you’ve learned to read tabs and translate them to playing the ukulele you might want to find out where you’re going to get tabs from. Below we’ve listed ten places you can go to find ukulele tabs online.
- Uke-chords.com – This is a site that has both tabs and chord charts for the ukulele. If it’s purely uke tabs that you’re looking for then this site is more on the chart heavy side of things but there are still some to sink your teeth into. However, you may want to acquaint yourself with chord diagrams because these are used a lot throughout their charts and tabs.
- Ukuleletricks.com – This one is a site for beginners who are new to tabs and to playing the ukulele. It has lots of chord charts but only a few tabs to use. But the upside for new ukulele players is that there is a whole host of beginner videos you can use to help get you started.
- UkuTabs.com – A great website for finding both chord charts and tabs for the ukulele is UkuTabs. There’s a lot of different popular songs that have been translated onto the ukulele that are sure to peak your interest. There’s also a great feature on the site that allows you to transpose any tab or song into the key you want to play it in.
- Gotaukulele.com – Another one with plenty of chords and tabs for older and classic songs is Gotaukulele. Some of the pieces featured on this site date back to the 20s and 30s eras. There are even some classic rock ballads from both the 70s and 80s thrown in the mix too.
- Ukulele-tabs.com – More chords with this one but some of the chord charts that are featured on the site have partial tabs on them as well. These allow the player to know the strums that are written out between each chord, represented in the diagrams by a small x.
- Ukulelehunt.com – This is the best uke tab site around that has actual tabs on it. They include chord charts as well but it’s mainly tabs for popular songs on the site. It’s a pretty cool site that has plenty to offer everyone.
- LiveUkulele.com – Another interesting offering for tabs. This one offers up any visitors their chosen tab or chord chart in a printable sheet.
- Tabs4ukulele.com – Yet another chord heavy site but there are some popular song tabs on offer. If you’re having trouble finding a song on any of the other sites we’ve mentioned then this site may be worth a look.
- Ultimate-guitar.com – There’s a lot of ukulele tabs on this site as well as guitar tabs too. Any song you can think of there are tabs and chord charts available and you are also able to transpose them into any key you want to. It’s a really great site where you can find a tab for most instruments as well as the ukulele.
- Music store – The last place you can find great uke tabs is in your local music shop. They often have a catalog of songs on-site as well as an ordering system where you can order what you want.