A player’s most important piece of foundational knowledge is, without a doubt, the notes on an ʻukulele fretboard.
They hold the key to everything and yet, these 48 little destinations get pushed aside by almost everybody! They are like the times tables of your uke – not fun, but useful and necessary.
Before we get too excited about what is where (if you really can’t wait, click the button), it’s nice to have a vague idea why the notes are laid out the way they are on an ʻukulele fretboard.
The Chromatic ʻUkulele Fretboard Layout:
Western music uses 12 notes, in this order:
A - A#/Bb - B - C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab
It’s called the chromatic scale. Once you get to the end, it repeats back to A. This chromatic scale also happens to be exactly the same as the A-string. If you were to play every note on your A-string, in order, starting on the open A note, you would be playing the above line of letters.
This is true of all the strings. The open strings of an ʻukulele are: G-C-E-A. What are the note on the 12th fret of the ʻukulele? G-C-E-A one octave above!
Takeaway: You only really need to learn the notes of the ʻukulele up to the 11th fret.
Out of the chromatic scale we can find 7 natural notes:
A - B - C - D - E - F - G
They are considered “natural” because they are not altered with sharps or flats.
A sharp (#) raises the pitch of the note a half step. A flat (b) lowers the pitch of the note a half step. A half step is one fret on the ʻukulele.
These flat or sharped notes are called “enharmonics”and each has two names. There are 5 enharmonics:
A#/Bb - C#/Db - D#/Eb - F#/Gb - G#/Ab
Because of the way the 12 notes are spaced on the ʻukulele fretboard, there’s an enharmonic between every natural note and the next except:
- B and C
- E and F
As long as you can remember that B/C and E/F are always next-door neighbors, you can always figure out the chromatic scale.
Here’s a diagram of where they happen to fall on the fretboard of an ʻukulele.
Offsetting the Chromatic Scale for Each String:
Since the chromatic letter line repeats from G#/Ab back to A again, you can start on any note and get the same order, every time. This is exactly what happens with the other three strings.
The E-string is simply:
E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B - C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb
C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B
G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B - C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb
Put it all together and you get your first rough note map of the ʻukulele fingerboard:
A - A#/Bb - B - C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B - C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B - C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb
Enter the Matrix
Understanding the notes on a piano keyboard is easy compared to an ʻukulele fretboard. This is because there is only one place for each note – middle C only exists in a single spot.
On ʻukulele however (with a few exceptions), each note exists in several places. I like to think of this as the fingerboard “matrix.” Because of how the chromatic scale lands on each string, the picture gets much more challenging to understand. Finding the “right” note becomes a hefty chore. Not only do you have to locate options, but you must decide which to use to play the song!
Now that you have an idea why things are the way they are, let’s get down to business and rock that fretboard chart for your uke!
Charts for GCEA ʻUkulele Fretboard Notes
There’s not much to a fingerboard chart. One set of lines run horizontal and represent the strings. The others are vertical and represent the frets. The notes are shown in each finger space. Simple.
Here are several ʻukulele fretboard note charts in different formats for reference.
In some circumstances a .jpg file might be useful. Click on the image to get the full-size version:
If you want a fancy version with highlighted natural notes, here’s a colored fingerboard chart:
Finally, I put together a high-res PDF download with several fretboards to a page that you can use to practice memorizing the fretboard.
Most people who land on this page will be looking for the above info. But for the sake of covering all bases, here are charts for the other main tunings. If you’ll notice, everything is the same, only the start location changes. The chromatic scale in action again!
Memorizing the Notes of the Fretboard
One of the first battles you face on the way to being a more competent ʻukulele player is learning the notes and where they are located on the fingerboard. Not just: [pause] “…there’s F!”, but more like:
You want to be able to instantly find the nearest location of that one note you are looking for. It takes time and you can always be faster, but familiarity with your ʻukulele will take you a long ways.
I suggest starting by learning the natural notes up to the 3rd fret. Since the C major scale is made up of only natural notes, it is a great place to begin.
I could explain it here, but Brett over at Ukulele Tricks does a great job demonstrating the basic first position C major scale.
That basic shape covers the bottom three strings, so all you have to add is the open G-string and A on the 2nd fret, G-string:
Next, work on studying all the natural notes up to the 5th fret. That step just adds all the notes on the 5th fret and two on the 4th fret, G and C strings to what we already have from the previous step.
Work your way up the fretboard (by frets or by string if you like) and learn the rest of the natural notes. It’s all just a big C scale.
Instead of trying to do it all at once, I’d proceed studying from the 5th fret by adding two frets worth of natural notes at a time. This is more manageable and will teach you to see “zones” that exist between note patterns.
From there, you just need to fill in the blanks with enharmonics.
As you’re studying each portion of the fretboard and pushing back the darkness that surrounds the notes on your ʻukulele, you’ll need some ideas for drills and exercises.
Scales probably make the most sense for learning the fingerboard because you are learning notes anyways. Just like the C scale familiarizes most people with the natural notes inside the first 3 frets, any other scale can teach you the notes that live in between and higher up the neck. Here is a tab of major scales and a page of video lessons with tab:
Just play and think about the notes. Simple, but once you learn a song, do you really think about the notes or just where your fingers go? If you run through the names of the notes as you play them you can kill two birds with one stone. This is especially important if you learn just from tabs as there is nothing forcing you to even care about the notes.
Find a note in all locations. If you have metronome, put it going slowly, if not, just practice this evenly (and slowly) by counting in your head or tapping your foot. Choose a note and locate it on any string. Once you find the note, play it on a click (metronome or virtual – “1 2 3 4…”). Find the note on the next string and play it on the next click (I said go slowly right?). And the next and the next until your cover all the strings.
There are some strings (depending on how many frets you have to work with) that will have two note locations. I suggest you practice playing those too. Then pick another note to find the locations of. Try doing this with all the different notes (enharmonics too!). For example, to do this exercise with the G note it would look like this:
- Open G string – “click/pick”
- 12th fret, G string – “click/pick”
- 7th fret, C string – “click/pick”
- 3rd fret, E string – “click/pick”
- 15th fret, E string – “click/pick”
- 10th fret, A string – “click/pick”
Write it out. Print out some copies of a blank fingerboard chart and fill in the blanks using whatever order you like (natural notes first, string by string, fret by fret, etc…). Study the location of those notes!