How to read ukulele tabs

Tabs are an alternate writing system to standard musical writing. They are a simple way to symbolize the music to be played on a string instrument (for example, the ukulele). And it is as easy to read as it is to write. Here are the keys to it :

Horizontal lines represent strings

We use four horizontal lines to represent the ukulele strings. The upper line corresponds to the first string (the one that’s near our leg) and the lower line to the fourth string (the one that’s next to our heart).

blank tab for ukulele

Ukulele tablature

Numbers indicate which fret to press (and which string to pluck)

On the lines, we’ll see numbers indicating which fret we have to press (with our left hand if we are right-handed), and which string we have to pluck (with our right hand, if we are right-handed). That is to say, if we see, for example, a 2 on the first line, we’ll press the second fret of the first string and we’ll make it sound.

Read tabs, illustration with notes

Ukulele tab with notes

Watch out: if we come across a 0, we will pluck the string on which it appears, without pressing any fret. Anyway, we’ll only play the string (or strings) that has a number on.

Sequence of notes

We will read the tab from left to right, following the order carefully. Can you spot this tune?

Beginning of "Come As you are" Riff by Nirvana

Beginning of “Come As you are” Riff by Nirvana

Simultaneous notes and chords

If we come across vertically aligned numbers , we will press and pluck the corresponding frets and strings simultaneously.

tab example with chords

Beginning of “Smoke of the water” riff by Deep Purple

Rhythm and Strumming

The rhythm pattern may be indicated in the tab or in a standard annotation shown aside. It is represented by stems, dots, flags, bars etc. We may also come across directions on which way to strum. Pay attention: an upward arrow corresponds to a downstroke. Confusing? Quite a bit, but think of it as showing the order in which you pluck the strings, i.e the upward arrow will go from the fourth to the first string, which is what we do when we strum the ukulele downward.

tab with strumming

Uke tab with strumming pattern


That’s all for our introduction to tab reading. If you still have (or if you come up with) a question, please leave a comment.

Where to find tabs? Check out, they have thousands of tabs in any style.


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