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  • How is a tablature sheet composed
  • What does the numbers mean
  • Tab symbols explained
  • Rhythm and tempo in tabs

How To Read Ukulele Tablature

Introduction

On UkuTabs songs are categorized into three main types: chords (CRD), tablatures (TAB) and chords&tablatures (MIX). Music tablature or tab is essentially another kind of musical notation for stringed instruments (cfr. staffs, treble clefs and notes). It is a lot simpler though than lets say musical sheets for piano, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to learn. Tabs can be very handy to have when you are trying to learn a fingerpicking song. They show you exactly where to play your fingers on the fretboard and most of the time also the tempo. (note: if you know how to read guitar tabs, you also know how to read ukulele tabs!)

You Gotta Start Somewhere – Basics

The very beginning, the base of a tablature. The very base of each and every tab are these four lines, most of the times created with dashes. Each line represents a string, from bottom to top: GCEA. So when you are looking at neck of your ukulele (with the headstock at the top and the body at the bottom) the G string is the one most on the left and A the one most on the right.

xA|-----------------------------|
xE|-----------------------------|
xC|-----------------------------|
xG|-----------------------------|

Starting with this base there will laid numbers over the “strings” and it will look something like this below. But how do you play this? A tab is always read from left to right and each number refers to the fret number. In this example you would: pluck the 3rd fret of the bottom string (A). Then pluck the open E string (open string = 0). Then the open C string. Then the open G string. Then…

xA|----3------------------------|
xE|--------0---------------0----|
xC|------------0-------0--------|
xG|----------------0------------|

Chords in Tablature

Most of the times you will simply see the chord name above the lyrics or a few chord names next to each other. It might occur though that chords are shown as below. This means that you should play all notes vertically aligned, together (= chord). Here you can see the following chords: F, G, C, Am, D7 and G7. This is mostly used when people try to show you what the rhythm and tempo is.

xA|----0---2---3---0---3---2----|
xE|----1---3---0---0---2---1----|
xC|----0---2---0---0---2---2----|
xG|----2---0---0---2---2---0----|

Music Tablature Symbols

Hopefully you are understanding the basics of reading ukulele tablature now. On rare occasions you might see these symbols in ukulele tablatures. This is a little bit more advanced and is mostly used in guitar tabs.

Hammer-On – “h”

Hammer-Ons separate two different notes and is done by plucking the note before the “h” and then pressing the note after it. In the example you pick the 2nd fret of the C string, and then “hammer-on” the third fret, C string..

xA|----1------------------------|
xE|----1------------------------|
xC|--------2h3------------------|
xG|--------------3--------------|

Pull-Off – “p”

A Pull-Off is basically the opposite of a Hammer-On. Here you will pluck the A string, third fret and then pull-off (let loose) whilst already holding the A string on the second fret.

xA|---3p2-----------------------|
xE|---------3-------------------|
xC|-------------2---------------|
xG|-------------0---------------|

Alternative Hammer-On / Pull-Off – “^”

Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs are also often displayed by the “^” symbol, mainly used when it is combination of the two. In the example below you will have to play an open E string, hammer-on the third fret of the E string and then let loose again (pull-off).

xA|----0------------------------|
xE|--------0^3^0----------------|
xC|----------------4------------|
xG|-----------------------------|

Sliding – “\” & “/”

Sliding is mainly used in groovy and funky songs. Ascending slides are displayed with a “/” symbol, while descending slides with a “\” symbol. Here you will pluck the A string, second fret and slide up the fifth fret. Then you would pluck the E string, third fret and slide down to the second fret.

xA|----2/5----------------------|
xE|----------3\2----------------|
xC|----------------4------------|
xG|-----------------------------|

Rhythm and Tempo In Tablatures

As you can see, reading tablatures isn’t that difficult once you understand the basics. The problem is however that it might be difficult to know what the rhythm or tempo is. This is sometimes resolved by putting some numbers closer to each other then other numbers (how closer, how faster you should play them after each other). Some tablatures will also be divided in different measures, but this is not common. My main advice is that you use the tablature as an aid. Listen carefully to the song you are trying to learn, so that you already know the tempo, rhythm and feel of the song.

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