Just as pictograms preceded our phonetic written language, every ukester quickly learns to read “fingering diagrams” before learning tabs.
Fingering Diagrams are just pictures of the ukulele’s fretboard, zoomed-in, showing where to place your fingers. They’re awesomely intuitive!
Tablature (aka “tabs”), on the other hand, aren’t immediately obvious, being a hybrid of diagram (the four lines are, in fact, your uke’s four strings) plus written instructions (the column of numbers indicating the fret to press on each string).
Whereas a fingering diagram shows where to place your fingers (which frets to press down) tablature tells you which frets to press.
That’s it — that’s the difference!
The “trick” for either method is to know the orientation: if you can locate the G string you’ll be fine.
For fingering diagrams hold the ukulele away from your body, but facing you — this will place the G string on your left (the A string’s to your right). See top picture.
Now, still holding your uke at arm’s length, rotate it counter-clockwise 90° to a horizontal position — this puts the G string on the bottom. This is how the lines in tablature are drawn; “A” at the top, “G” on the bottom (see bottom picture).
Now all that’s left is jotting down which frets to play, so, using the simple, triangle shaped G chord as our example we’ll begin with the “G” (bottom) string:
- the G string is played “open” (you don’t press any frets at all) so we write “0”
- on the C string we press down the second fret, so we write “2”
- on the E string we press the 3rd fret, so, yup write “3”
- finally, the A string. We need to press the second fret, so, sure, write “2”
Congrats! You can read tablature!
By the way, this is how chords are written, G string to A string, so we wind up saying a G chord is:
0 – 2 – 3 – 2
Why use tabs? Well, it’s a very compact way of writing lots of chords (or single notes), but more on that later.