How to Read Ukulele Tabs

Updated February 21, 2017

A ukulele is a small guitar that originated in Hawaii. The instrument, which has four strings that are usually plucked with the bare thumb and/or fingertips, was brought to America by the Portuguese. Ukuleles come in standard sizes of soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. Ukulele music is written in tabs, which are musical notations that tell the player where to put their fingers.

Hold the head of the ukulele with your left hand. Your thumb should support the neck while your fingers wrap over the strings to apply pressure to the correct string. Tabs are written showing the frets and strings of the instrument. Place your index finger on the first string (the string farthest from you). This string appears at the top of the tab. It is the A string. Play the E string using your middle finger, this is the second string on the tab. C is the third string and is played with the ring finger. G is the string closest to you and appears at the bottom of the tab. Use your pinky to play the G string.

Play each number as it appears on the tab. The numbers indicate which fret you will apply pressure to. If the tab shows a number 2 on the second string from the top, play the E string while holding down the second fret. If a number zero appears on a particular string, play the string without pressing a fret. This is referred to as an open string.

Pick one string at a time, giving each an equal amount of time, when they appear one right after the next on the tab. Strum the notes of a chord all at the same time. Numbers will appear in the same position vertically. Hold down more than one string together which will produce a blended sound.

Strum downward on the ukulele when there are arrows pointing down, indicating a downstroke Strum with an upward movement when the arrows are going up, which indicates an upstroke. A combination of up and downstrokes can be played in rhythm. One of the most common rhythms is down, down, up, up, down and up, all played on the same chord.

Hold each note the length of time that is indicated. Rhythms are noted on the tabs by the type of note that is written. For example, hold or strum a whole note, in four four time, for four whole counts. Hold quarter notes for one count.

Play a hammer-on by plucking the string and then using your finger to tap the ukulele producing a drum like sound. This is indicated on the tab by an upward curve over the notes. Play a hammer-off by playing the note and then lifting your finger off so that a lower sound appears. A hammer-off is notated by a u-shaped curve. Slides are also notated by a diagonal line and are done by playing the note and sliding the finger down the string.

Things You'll Need

  • Ukulele
  • Tabs


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About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Melody Dawn has been writing business articles and blogs since 2004. Her work has appeared in the "Gainesville Times," "Player's Press" and "USA Today." She is also skilled in writing product descriptions and marketing materials. Dawn holds a Master of Business from Brenau University.