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Ukulele tabs show which frets and stings to play, but I still am not sure which fingers to use for each note. How does one know?

For example, here is the second half of the main "Popcorn" riff, which only uses the A string:

A|--7--9--10-9--10-10-7-----9--7--9--9--5--7--5--7--7--3--7--

It seems there is an algorithm for figuring out which fingers to use, since accousterr figures it out automatically. It recommends the following:

     A|--7--9--10-9--10-10-7-----9--7--9--9--5--7--5--7--7--3--7--
finger|  ^pinky                              ^middle finger ^ring finger

In the diagram above, I indicate which finger hits the note each time the hand position relative to the fretboard changes.

Update: In order to see the fingerings in Accouster, press "play" on any uke tab on the site and look at the top of the screen, you'll see diagrams like the below, with finger placement:

finger placement 1 finger placement 2 finger placement 3

One potential answer is "whatever, do what feels right," but I want to find something consistent and repeatable so my hands don't get lost, especially when trying to sight-read. Whatever Accouster is doing seems great: on transitions, whatever is hitting the note is usually on one of the dots, and nearby notes are reachable by nearby fingers, minimizing the number of times the hand has to lift off and find its bearing on the fretboard again.

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    You'll be better off now and in the long term, by learning scales. Most pieces have most of their notes from diatonic scales, and when your fingers know the patterns, it will be almost intuitive for fingers to go to the right notes. That apart, most tabs are one person's idea of where the notes 'should' be played. Often, they're not the best or most appropriate places.
    – Tim
    Jul 3, 2021 at 11:04
  • @Tim thanks, but I'm not asking which notes to play, I'm asking how (once I already know which notes to play) to place my fingers on the fretboard to minimize the amount of times I have to change my hand position. In the example I gave, hand position changes three times to reach all the notes, which is pretty good. And I noticed a pattern that the first finger to go down after a new position is usually on the dots. There's a simple enough algorithm for this that someone coded it up in accousterr - I am asking for process or rules of thumb to minimize repositioning without getting lost
    – Max Heiber
    Jul 3, 2021 at 12:35
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    I question any tab algorithm that puts all its notes on one string. I've actually tried playing music on one ukulele string (e.g. "Christmas Time Is Here"), the absolute beginner that I am, and let's just say that this process gets very unpleasant very fast due to the leaps involved.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 3, 2021 at 14:41
  • Going to your acousterr link, I strongly suspect its tab was user-provided and not optimized (e.g. what happened to the G-string in this "Popcorn" piece with strong neighbour movement?). The "Only owner of the tab can edit" message when I tried the "Edit" button gave it away to me.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 3, 2021 at 14:47
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    You have a very good accepted answer but I’d like to add that after looking at and listening to the link you provided the fingering given is only good if you are intentionally trying to play it on a single string as much as possible. By using the open E string for the low note this entire melody can be played in the 7-10 fret range without having to shift at all. Jul 4, 2021 at 16:40

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There isn't a "rule of thumb" or algorithm that will tell you what the optimal fingering for a passage is. Fingering choice is mostly a matter of experience and practice.

Many techniques will keep your fingers in a 4 or 5 fret "zone" on the fingerboard, moving to a different zone as needed for the notes.

The most efficient way to learn good fingering technique is to find a competent teacher, who can show you things you didn't know you need to know, and offer corrections and examples as you progress on the instrument. Not everyone will have access to a good teacher though.

As mentioned in the comments, learning your scales and scale patterns will show you the basic fingerings as well as teaching you where the different locations for the notes you want are.

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Fingering choice will change depending on the passage you are playing, the position you want to play it in, and the leading and following chords or melodic passages.

Some ways you can gain experience for making these choices is to work on the basics of playing the instrument, then applying those basics to the song you want to learn.

CHORDS:

Starting with chords, you can find chord charts that have the fingers listed for the chord shapes. You should look up multiple versions, as there are different fingerings for the same chords and you should learn multiple fingerings. Song melodies will often be created around the chord notes, and in some cases you'll find the the melody can be played simply by holding the chord and playing individual notes, or moving a single finger out of the chord. Practicing arpeggio runs up and down the neck will also show you different positions and fingerings for melodies. You can also find charts that show the arpeggio runs and where the shifts occur.

SCALES:

There are many methods for playing scales on fretted instruments. The ukulele is more limited in its range, but the basic techniques apply. In general, when starting with scales I use two main finger patterns: one finger per fret, skipping fingers to play a whole tone/step. The fingering would look like:

|1|2|3|4|

where 1 is the index finger and 4 is the pinky.

The other pattern I use is to separate the 1st and 2nd finger a whole step (two frets):

|1|. |2|3|4|

Some methods will use a violin/mandolin type of fingering where the each finger covers two frets: |1|1|2|2|3|3|4|

I think the first two are simpler, especially for self teaching, and more closely matches the finger choices for the basic chord shapes.

If you do a search for "Ukulele C Major scale positions" you will find charts and tutorials that will get you started. You can use the one finger per fret pattern across the scale, moving up frets to each position. Here a couple links I found:

https://ukulelescales.com/C-major

https://ukuleletricks.com/ukulele-scales-c-major-scale-position-1/


Once you have learned to play the scale, chords, and arpeggios, you will find that you can apply the same fingerings to the melodies you look up in tabs. The position you shift to and the various note location options will become easier to find as you play more.

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    Which is why, in my comment, I recommended learning scales!
    – Tim
    Jul 4, 2021 at 17:28

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