too excited with the ukulele

Can You Play the Ukulele If You Can’t Read Music?

This is often the first thing that a budding ukulele player wants to ask. It’s such a daunting question that some people decide not even to pick up the instrument!

The short answer is no. You don’t need to be able to read music or have any music theory knowledge to start playing the ukulele. You can learn to play songs by using tabs, chord charts, and strumming patterns. Those resources are more than enough to get started with the ukulele.

Playing the uke, just like any other musical instrument, is extremely rewarding. So let’s discuss the many ways you can learn songs without needing to read music.

Why Its Not Essential To Read Music

If you were to ask 100 ukulele players if they can read music, I imagine only a handful of them would be able to. Of those that can, it’s highly likely that music theory came at a later stage. It’s always best for your confidence to jump in and start with the practical side first. Imagine reading 20 books on how to make clothes. Are you going to be able to make them afterward? I doubt it. So start by actually doing it first.

Chord Charts

The first step for most beginner ukulele players is learning chords. These are images that tell you where to place your fingers and what fingers to use. You can search online for the chords to any song and easily find them. There are literally millions of them.

ukulele chords do i need to read music

Strumming Patterns

With ukulele chord websites, you will often find that they show you the strumming pattern too. These are simple to understand and are usually shown in up and down arrows.


Tabs are similar to chord charts in that they tell you what to do on the fretboard. You can think of them as looking down from above. It’s a visual representation of the fretboard. Tabs tell you which fret to use and which string. They also show you musical dynamics like hammer-ons and pull-offs.

Ukulele tabs are becoming increasingly popular online. Here are a few that have a great selection:

ukulele tabs do i need to read music

Why You Might Consider Learning To Read Music

While there’s no need to learn to read sheet music, there are certainly some benefits if you do.

Chord charts and tabs give us the immediate answer of what to do. We can follow a song and play along. But what if we didn’t know how the song sounded? The chords and tabs don’t really mean much at that point. Whereas sheet music tells us everything we need to know: the notes you will play and the specific length of them. It tells us what key we are in and how fast to play the song.

If you are a curious person, you might just be interested in knowing how things work. Music isn’t a magical thing; it’s all mathematics. There are specific chords that you play together that make them sound good. Knowing how that happens gives you an extra perspective when learning new songs. Undoubtedly, it’s going to make your ukulele playing easier.


It’s absolutely not necessary to know how to read music to start playing the ukulele. Don’t let the fear of it stop you from learning to play. Grab yourself a ukulele and start browsing the internet. There is a wealth of free resources that can have you playing songs from day one.

There are over 500 tabs for many styles and genres on the ukulele tabs section of this website.

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