Choosing a piece of software to create ukulele TABs is an important first step to making professional-looking PDF transcriptions.
I’ve used a bunch of different programs over the years to create tablature. Here are the ones I’ve liked best and what I recommend.
A Text Editor (Free)
You can’t beat a simple, plaintext TAB. It’s the easiest way to get started making notations.
Just copy and paste this starting bar into Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on Mac. You can also use any text program you prefer if you choose a monospace font like
A |-----------------------| E |-----------------------| C |-----------------------| G |-----------------------|
Then just start adding your frets, extending the string lines as needed.
I like text TABs because they can be copy/pasted anywhere that supports a monospace font (forums often have a “code” formatting option). They don’t look very nice, but it’s by far the simplest way to get started since pretty much everybody can poke their way around word generating software.
Guitar Pro ($70)
A large majority of ukulele tabs you find around the web are made with Guitar Pro. It creates a nice-looking product and is straightforward to use.
Here’s an example that uses TAB lines with rhythm notation stems
Here’s a professional example from Kevin Carroll of TAB + standard notation
Guitar Pro makes the compromise between ease of use and layout flexibility. Making TABs in Guitar Pro is probably faster than any other software, but you’re limited in the ways you can present the information. I’ve struggled with using it for hybrid TABs that contain additional teaching notation.
For most folks who have the cash to spend, this is probably the comfortable, luxury choice for people who want to make straightforward transcriptions with little deviation from the norm.
I made a series of tutorials on GP6 that should be useful, even with the simplified UI that GP8 adds to the platform:
Here is the token open-source option. Musescore has a ton of features and can execute almost any kind of TAB vision you might have.
It’s regularly updated and the price is right. The drawback is that the UI is clunky and unintuitive.
I used Musescore for a couple of years over Guitar Pro since it gave me the customization flexibility that I needed for certain projects.
Here’s a tutorial to get you started
What I Use: Lilypond + Frescobaldi (Free)
After using all the above options and trying some others, I stumbled across Lilypond.
It doesn’t have a graphic user interface and you have to create your TAB using a special text language (basically like coding). But the output is the most beautiful I’ve seen, short of the very premium options (more below).
And it’s infinitely customizable and extremely well documented.
Lilypond itself is just a piece of software that compiles your text document into a PDF. I also use Frecobaldi alongside it as a light graphic interface.
Frescobaldi allows you to code your score on the left and then compile it to view the outcome on the right in a preview window. It also has some nice quality of like features that speed up the process.
Don’t be scared! Here’s what it looks like:
Not much to look at. But let me tell you, this is hands-down, by far the most pleasant and enjoyable experience I’ve ever had creating manuscripts. I feel like I’m free to focus on the music.
And I can blast out sheets in no time because once I have my template set up, I can simply copy and paste, changing only the notes, lyrics, and title data.
Getting the template set up was a big challenge and required a lot of reading and trial and error. But if you know what you want, the documentation can help you do it.
*Looks like uploading the file ate my Hawaiian diacritics so you might have to go through and delete those for it to work.
Lilypond is not for the faint of heart, but with my website background it was a no brainer. I wish I started with it. It’s that good.
Powertab v1.7 was a big hit for a long time and I made my first ukulele TABs with it, but technology moves on and old software becomes more work than it’s worth. It looks like it’s getting a reboot here: Power Tab Editor.
TuxGuitar is an open source version of Guitar Pro that hasn’t been updated since 2018. It was pretty clunky back in the day, but did the job if you couldn’t afford the $60 for GP6.
Tab|Edit looks like it’s had the best upkeep of these three over the years. Looks like it’s gained a lot of power and functionality since I used it, but the UI is dated.
High-End Premium TAB Software
Pros who really need the best in flexibility and quality have several options with Sibelius from Avid (makers of Pro Tools), Finale, and Dorico from Steinberg (maker of Cubase).
These are built to do anything a symphony orchestra might need, but seem to be mostly overkill for ukulele players. They all come at different price tiers depending on the features you want (more tracks, playback options, etc).
I demoed Dorico and thought it seemed like a beautiful piece of software, but got turned off by a bug that popped up with what I was trying to do. Huge learning curve, but very powerful. Seems like the up-and-coming industry standard.
But for all of these, it seems hard to justify the price and in a lot of the real world comparisons and reviews I read, consensus seemed to be that Lilypond will give just as good a product if you’re willing to edit in an unconventional way.
At the end of the day, I find workflow is the most important part of TAB software. If I have to think about the program, it distracts from capturing the music and how fast I can do it.
Everyone is different. Try out a couple options and see which ones you like. It will take you a handful of TABs to figure out what you’re doing, regardless of the program.