Reading Music on Ukulele Series - The Basics

The roadmap to reading standard music notation.

Published: 02 Jan 2006 Updated: 07 Nov 2022Visits: 140Code: UKEREAD1P-LB

Topic: Reading Instruments: Ukulele Subjects: Reading • Beginner • Intermediate

Reading Music on Ukulele Series - The Basics

The first step in learning to read is to first recognize the notes on the staff and know where on the fingerboard they are located. Knowing the name is also a beneficial skill.

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Note Recognition


Music uses a five line staff with four spaces and the first seven letters of the alphabet ( A, B, C, D, E, F, and G ) to names notes. Notes can fall on the lines and spaces of the staff and above and below the staff. Additional lines called ledger lines are added for notes above and below the staff.

The ukulele uses the treble or G clef.

The Lines and Spaces of the Staff


The lines are named, starting with the bottom line, E G B D and F. This has been traditionally remembered as Every Good Boy Does Fine. Other popular mnemonics include Empty Garbage Before Dad Flips.

The spaces are named, starting with the bottom space and going up, F A C and E. This spells face.

Practice reading and writing these notes.

There are two notes that fall directly above and below the staff. There are D and G. D is the first space below the staff and the G is the first space above the staff.

Note: Put the names of the lines and spaces in a continuous loop and you have: E G B D F A C E G B D F A C E G B D F E C ... In music the distance from one letter the next in this sequence is an interval of a third, either a major or minor third . You'll find that chords are typically built in thirds - so this sequence is handy to remember when it comes to reading chords and arpeggios and knowing the notes of individual chords, i.e., Chord Spelling .

Sharps, Flats and Naturals - Accidentals

accidentals_sharp_flat_naturalThe Sharp(), flat() and natural() symbol always appear to the left of and before the note. Just say the sharp, flat or natural after the letter name of the note. C sharp, B flat, F natural, E flat, etc…

  • The Sharp raises the pitch of a note 1/2 step or semitone.
  • The Flat lowers the pitch of a note 1/2 step or semitone.
  • The Natural returns a previously sharped or flatted note to it's original natural note.

NOTE: There are such things as double flats and sharps, and even triple flats and sharps. These are quite rare. If you encounter them, a double simple raises a note two half steps and a double flat lowers a note two half steps.

Learn the recognize these sharp, flat, and natural notes. Where to play them on the ukulele will come after learning the locations of the natural notes.

For more information on whole steps, half steps, tones, and semitones visit this lesson page on the The Chromatic Scale

Ledger Lines


Ledger Lines are small lines that appear above or below the staff. These extend the range of notes above or below the staff. The ukulele will use one or two ledger lines below the staff depending on the tuning you're use. C tuning uses one ledger line below and a C tuning with a low G uses two ledger lines below.

Natural, Sharp and Flat Notes of the `Ukulele Fingerboard - C Tuning

Here is a FREE Chart of the Natural, Sharp and Flat Notes in C Tuning .

Note Duration

The notes on the staff indicate the pitches to play and the duration of each pitch.

First the note symbols used to indication the length or duration that a note is to sound.

A written notes contains at a minimum a note head, positioned on the staff to indicate pitch and a stem and possibly a flag or beam.

Whole Note Semibreve

In music, a Whole note (American) or Semibreve (British) is a note represented by a hollow oval note head and no note stem.

Half Note Minim

Half note (American) or Minim (British) is a note played for half the duration of a whole note (or semibreve) and twice the duration of a quarter note (or crotchet).

Quarter Note Crotchet

A Quarter note (American) or Crotchet (British) is a note played for one quarter of the duration of a whole note (or semibreve). Often, musicians will say that a crotchet is one beat, but this is not always correct, as the beat is indicated by the time signature of the music; a quarter note may or may not be the beat. Quarter notes are notated with a filled-in oval note head and a straight, flagless stem. The stem usually points upwards if it is below the middle line of the stave or downwards if it is on or above the middle line. However, the stem direction may differentiate more than one part. The head of the note also reverses its orientation in relation to the stem.

Eighth Note Quaver

An Eighth note (American) or a Quaver (British) is a musical note played for one eighth the duration of whole note (semibreve), hence the name.

Sixteenth Note Minim

Sixteenth note (American) or minim (British) is a note played for half the duration of an eighth note (quaver), hence the names.

Thirty-Second Note

Thirty-Second note (American) or Demisemiquaver (British) is a note played for ​1⁄32 of the duration of a whole note (or semibreve). It lasts half as long as a sixteenth note (or semiquaver) and twice as long as a sixty-fourth (or hemidemisemiquaver).

Other note durations such as Hemidemisemiquaver / Sixty-Fourth note, Semihemidemisemiquaver / Quasihemidemisemiquaver / Hundred Twenty-Eighth note and Demisemihemidemisemiquaver / Two hundred Fifty-Sixth note. Which are quite rare.

Time Signatures

The actual duration depends in the Time Signature. A time signature is a notational used in standard music notation to specify how many beats are to be contained in each measure – the top number and which note value is equivalent to one beat – the top number. That equivalent to one beat is critical to know. The time signature appears at the beginning as a time symbol as a letter c or stacked numerals.


Music Symbols

Musical Symbols are the marks and symbols, used since about the 13th century in the musical notation of musical scores, styles, and instruments to describe pitch, rhythm, tempo and, to some degree, its articulation (a composition in its fundamentals).

A great list of music symbols, more then you'll ever need or see can be found on WikipediA : : List of Musical Symbols

D.C, D.S., and Endings

Most musician terms are Italian, French, or Germany - with Italian being the most common.

Da Capo (lit. "From top") Tells the performer to repeat playing of the music from its beginning. This is usually followed by al fine (lit. "to the end"), which means to repeat to the word fine and stop, or al coda (lit. "to the coda (sign)"), which means repeat to the coda sign and then jump forward.

Da Segno (lit. "From the sign") Tells the performer to repeat playing of the music starting at the nearest segno. This is followed by al fine or al coda just as with da capo.

Da Capo al Fine Back to the Beginning and then to Fine (the end).

Da Segno al Fine Back to the Sign and then to Fine (the end).


Repeats come in two flavors. Both indication what measures or section to repeat.

For the next repeat it used to indiation repeating long section, more measures that the above repeats. Repeat once if there is no indication of the number of times to repeat.

End of Lesson - Thanks, Hope You Enjoyed It!

Related Lessons, Videos, Lesson Series, Songs, Books & Reference Charts, Resources & Assets, Workshops are below.

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Reading Music on `Ukulele Series - Reading in Open Position, Introduction

There are a few things in music that students and players avoid. These are things like learning to read and knowing the notes of their own instrument. It is hard on guitar - but not so hard on ukulele. With the right guidance and plan of attack. IT IS EASY. It is really quite easy on a uke. Starting with natural notes in in the open position you can finally check off the Reading Music to do item. Learning to read standard music notation is really, really easy.

Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths and Fourths

There is a load of information in traditional "Key Signatures." Unlocking the principles in this circle leads to a better understanding of music and how things work. A key signature is a series of sharp or flat symbols placed on the staff, designating the notes that are to be consistently played higher or lower than the equivalent natural notes.

Enharmonic Equivalents

An "Enharmonic Equivalent" is where a musical pitch can have different names depending on the context in which it is functioning. An example is G# produces the same pitch as Ab but have different standard notations when written in music.

The Major Scale

Called the "learning scale" for a reason. The major scale is a great scale for learning how music and chords work. It’s a core scale from which a majority of your core, essential scales can be derived. There are 15 major scales.

Whole Steps and Half Steps Explained

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The Chromatic Scale

The only scale in music with ALL twelve notes of one octave. Not much use for improvisation or solos – but a great scale for learning the notes of the ukulele fingerboard, figuring out scales, chords and more...

Glossary of Music Terms

A glossary of common music terms. Common and not so common music terms. Knowing the language and terms used with music aides in your own understanding when exploring your music potential.

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