How to Convert Tabs From a Guitar to a Ukulele

by Leslie McClintock
The ukulele was introduced to Hawai'i by Portuguese laborers in the 19th century.

The ukulele was introduced to Hawai'i by Portuguese laborers in the 19th century.

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

A guitar in standard tuning is tuned E, A, D, G, B and E, from the lowest string (in pitch) to the highest. The intervals expressed, going from the lower note to the higher note, are a perfect fourth, perfect fourth, perfect fourth, major third and perfect fourth. A ukulele is tuned G, C, E, A, with the G tuned a fifth higher than the C. The intervals expressed are a perfect fifth, a major third and a perfect fourth. Looked at another way, a ukulele sounds the same notes, strummed open, as a guitar sounds when you barre the strings at the fifth fret, though the G is an octave higher on the ukulele than the guitar.

Step 1

Disregard the low E and A strings on the guitar. The soprano ukulele has no bass strings on it to approximate the lowest two strings on the guitar. The top four strings on the guitar will sound the same chords with the same fingerings on a ukulele, however, as they do on the guitar, except a fourth lower. The same chord shapes on a guitar work on a ukulele, though the uke will sound a fourth higher.

Step 2

Finger the notes on the ukulele. When you read guitar tabulature, you can simply transpose the fingerings on the top four strings of the guitar directly over to the ukulele, though the uke will sound a fourth higher. For example, if you hold down the high E string on a guitar at the third fret, and strum the D, G, B and E strings, it will sound a G-major chord on the guitar, but a C-major chord on the ukulele.

Step 3

Experiment with the chord shapes. You will notice that a minor chord shape on the guitar will still sound a minor chord shape on the ukulele.

Step 4

Capo the guitar at the fifth fret. If your guitar player is playing off tabs or sheet music, and you cannot transpose in your head, simply capoing the guitar at the fifth fret and playing the same shapes on the guitar or ukulele allows the guitar and ukulele to play off the same tabulature or sheet music without having to transpose. The capo does the necessary transposing for you, and all you have to do is play. If you don't have a capo, or you don't want to use a capo, you need to transpose either the ukulele part or the guitar part to a convenient key.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images