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Want to learn tablature for the Ukulele? . . .”FIRST AID” for tablature players . . . . .from “Dr.” Ukulele Mike . . . a method of Notation to allow anyone to play solo instrumentals

November 20, 2013

first aid

I’ve had so many people showing a great interest in playing solo ukulele instrumentals lately. Sales of my SOLO INSTRUMENTALS eBook plus my CHRISTMAS UKULELE eBook not to speak of all of my individual tabs lets me know how popular solo instrumental playing is becoming among the global ukulele community. And now my massive collection of CHORD/MELODY pieces . . .A couple of years ago I released a collection of Solo Christmas Melodies and below is a page from that collection that attempts to summarize the subject of TABLATURE notation.

Tablature Notation Explanation

What in the world is tablature anyway???

Well, it’s actually a form of notation that has been used since the days of the

Renaissance and Baroque eras when it was developed to notate music for fretted string

Instruments such as the lute, viheula and guitar.

There were also types of tablature for organs, harps and ocarina.

Often the term tablature is misused when referring to simple chord/lyric songsheets. There are numerous online sites claiming to be offering “tabs” for current pop tunes. They are wrong. . . They are misleading . . . and they do nothing but add to the confusion for ukulele players. Even after repeated chiding from me they will not relent. One site even admitted they knew they were using the term “tab” erroneously but blatantly said they will continue to do so since it helps keep their site “popular” argggghhhhhh

As a music educator for over 40 years that just makes me see red.

Nowadays the term tablature is often shortened to “Tab”.

Whereas “standard notation” indicates the notes on a musical staff, tablature indicates the actual physical placement of the fingers on the strings at their appropriate fret positions.

Although tablature does simplify fretted instrument notation, it is, after all, still a form of notation and requires steady practice and patience to understand and interpret.

The tablature lines indicate the strings of the ukulele and one needs to know which strings are which. The top line indicates string number one or the “A” string. One needs to understand that the first string is the string nearest your knee. The bottom line of the tablature is the 4th string known as the “G” string.

For ukulele players who have generally thought of the ukulele as an instrument to accompany singing, it’s often a challenge to see it as an instrumental solo instrument. In other words, full strummed chords are no longer always the case. There are many times when just 2 or 3 strings are plucked or strummed. Sometimes but one string is played to denote a melody line. So now with solo playing one can no longer just apply the fingers of the left hand to the fingerboard for a chord and strum up and down with the right hand. There is much more detail involved here. So, for example in the music clip shown above of CAROL OF THE BELLS. . . The tablature only indicates a melody which is played on the first string (1st line as indicated by the tab) If you want to play a chord along with that melody then you need a 2nd instrument to play the chord listed above the standard notation on the upper staff line. Hope this makes some sense. As I laid out the arrangements in my MELODIES OF CHRISTMAS book, I made it possible for 2 ukuleles or 2 groups of ukuleles can play together and compliment each other with one group playing melody, the other playing chords with standard down up down up strumming patterns.

Typically, tablature notation doesn’t do a really great job in clearly indicating note values. Meaning how long you hold the note. For that reason, in most of my more recent arrangements I’m now including standard treble clef notation on the top which does clearly indicate note values etc.

All of the pieces in my SOLO UKULELE INSTRUMENTALS and UKULELE CHRISTMAS collection are in tablature format. Some are fingerpicked. . . . Others are chord/melody pieces where one brushes the chord and the melody rings out as the prominent note on top. EDELWEISS and TILL THERE WAS YOU are perfect examples of chord/melody pieces.

I’ve made a conscious effort to make these pieces accessible to the majority of ukulele players with moderate skills. It’s been my experience that many publications of solo instrumental pieces are daunting and would cause many to be turned off to getting into the world of solo instrumental ukulele playing.

As a teacher, I’ve found that many people are not comfortable with accompanying themselves while singing so playing instrumentals is a great way to enjoy the capabilities of your ukulele. Many of these pieces are standard classical pieces such as Beethoven’s Pathetique Sontata while many others are my own original compositions such as BELLA TOSCANA, BABY’S BREATH and my “DREAMSCAPE TRILOGY”.

PRACTICE METHOD for TABLATURE playing:I recommend not biting off more than one can chew. Look at the piece and choose one measure or two to learn. Don’t attempt to sit down and plod through and entire piece at a glacial tempo. It’s best to study one measure . . . determine the left hand fingerings . . . determine what fingers are employed in the right hand . . . slowly play through the measure . . . begin to memorize . . . try playing it without looking at the music . . . go back to double check . . . then play again until it’s firmly memorized and played with ease . . . then proceed on to the next measure and repeat that sequence of events. Taking on just one or 2 measures a day will have you playing the entire piece within a week. Trying to play the entire piece from front to end only ends up with frustrations and feeling incompetent. You CAN do this. . . it just take TIME and PATIENCE. You’ll discover after a period of time that your comfort zone with reading tablature will increase a thousand fold. After a time you WILL develop the ability to simply look at the measure and start to SIGHT READ. It’s analogous to learning to read. As a child we read one word at a time slowly and progressively. In time we are reading faster and comprehending. The same goes for reading any form of notation, be it standard treble clef or tablature notation. We learn from one beat to the next. Memorization is essential. Get that chord memorized . . . get that fingering memorized . . . in time the skill of sight reading does happen but only after a period of practice and time.

Final word . . . always have your “playing” time really be “PLAYING”. History tells us that when Mozart was a little child and he spent countless hours playing the keyboard or the violin, he really WAS playing. . . just as a child plays with toys. To Mozart music was joy . . . fun . . . and true playing. Always let your ukulele time be that. Never let it be drudgery. When your fingers get tired or your brain. . . for me, it’s usually my brain ha ha ha. . . Then go to something a bit easier or familiar and come back to the more difficult work later. And always rememember . . . . “HAPPY STRUMMING”

P.S.Let me refer you to a blog I did a few months ago

Here’s the link:

Special Addendum . . .

I now have 3 Chord/Melody eBooks . . . They can each be purchased separately for just $20.00 or all together at a new combo “TRILOGY” discount of just $50.00

Trilogy combo price slide header

Just released the New Chord melody ebook FOUR 




Chord/Melody arrangements are by far the best introduction to instrumental solo playing. One can play convincing instrumentals with much more ease than usually experienced with fingerpicking solo playing. Only the thumb is used in this stye of playing. No other fingers are involved. This acts to simplify the process so one can concentrate on the distinctive melody of the piece. In many cases the melody will be found to exist on either the first or second strings. One needs to merely hold down the main chord while the melody is played above. I’ve taken such elaborate pieces as the Schubert Ave Maria and brought them down to their most important chordal structures. No more awkward finger picking arppegios in these pieces. Simply play the chord and the melody will sing out on the top. A fine way to begin playing solo instrumentals and yet many professionals use this arrangement technique throughout their playing careers.

New Chord/Melody collection


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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 27, 2014 2:54 p02

    Reblogged this on UKULELE MIKE LYNCH – All things UKULELE.

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