One of the most common (and easiest) ways of learning to play songs on the ukulele is by reading tablature. It’s a collection of lines, numbers and symbols that looks confusing at first but is actually very simple to understand. Meaning once you get the hang of it, you will be reading it like you would read a book. In this article, we are going to explore the basics of how to read ukulele tabs and go through some examples to set you on your way.
WHAT WE WILL LEARN
- What is TAB? And why is it so common?
- How to read ukulele TABs
- The problems with TAB
WHAT IS TAB
TAB stands for tablature and fundamentally, it’s a very simplified way of reading sheet music. Instead of it telling us what notes to play and forcing us to figure out where those notes are. TABs acts as a visual fretboard and tells you not only what notes to play, but where they are on the ukulele fretboard.
It’s increasingly popular as we can look at TABs and play them without having to know anything about reading music such as key signatures, scales, harmonics and time signatures. As long as we have a rough idea of what we are trying to learn sounds likes, you can begin to learn it rather quickly depending on skill level.
HOW TO READ UKULELE TABs
If you think of TAB as a ukulele fretboard it’s going to make your understanding of it a lot easier. Imagine you are hovering above it and looking straight down. You have 4 horizontal lines that are made up of dashes and they are your strings. You can tell what strings they are because of the letter on the far left.
Next, you have the numbers and these represent the frets. Check out my guide to the different parts of the ukulele if you are not sure what they are. This is telling you what fret to put your finger on. So if you see the number 3 on the C string, you need to press your finger down on the 3rd fret and pluck the string.
When you see multiple numbers above o beneath each other, this is representing a chord. So for example, if you saw 0 on the G, 2 on the C, 3 on the E and 2 on the A. This is the tab telling you to play a G Major chord. You can either pluck them all with 4 fingers or strum them depending on what the song requires.
The lines that split the strings are signalling that it’s the start of a new bar or section of the song.
Now you have an understanding of how to read TABs. Here are a few examples of things you can try to play.
EXAMPLES FOR YOU TO TRY
Alt J – Breezeblocks
Metallica – Battery
The Strokes – Is This It
THE PROBLEMS WITH UKULELE TAB
Not a clear picture
Whilst tab is great for beginners who are just starting out or people who are familiar with the songs they are trying to play. After you have learnt how to read ukulele tabs, There are a few issues when it comes to relying on the TABs to learn songs. One of them is there’s no sense of timing in TABs. Unlike sheet music, it’s impossible for the TAB to tell you how much space you should leave between notes. Equally how quickly you should play notes after each other. The only way to combat this is to know how the song sounds before you are learning. Which about 99% of the time this would be the case. However, If you are seeing the TAB for the first time you are going to NEED to listen to the song to learn it. Whereas if you had sheet music, through to the use of quavers and crotchets, you would be able to know exactly how long to play each note for.
LACK OF TABS
Another issue with TAB is the severe lack of it on the internet. Especially for the ukulele. You can find guitar tabs for any song you want to try finding them on the four string and you’re going to become stuck, very quick. That’s why I made a guide that teaches you how to hack guitar tabs and turn them into ukulele tabs, very simply. Check out my guide to learning guitar tabs on the ukulele. I used guitar tabs extensively when arranging this video below.