Aug 12

Fingering Diagram versus Tablature


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:


Why use tabs? Well, it’s a very compact way of writing lots of chords (or single notes), but more on that later.