Posted on 6 Comments

(Original) Guitar Notation and Tabs

I have had a fun weekend with my favourite notation program writing out the guitar parts for some songs. I have been meaning to get down to this for some time and I’ve been postponing it “until tomorrow” for weeks. But I’ve been afforded some kick-back time while recuperation from a rather savage attack of ‘flu. Also, If I’m going to maintain my policy of offering these scores as freebies when I post MP3s of new songs, then it has to be done.

Curiously, it can be quite illuminating writing your stuff down because often you see little some of the devices you use when making stuff up more clearly on paper (or on a screen). Things like rhythmical figures or melodic turns that pop up again and again, for example. I can also see occurrences of awkward fingering and solutions can often present themselves. This latter is a real bonus; particularly if I haven’t yet ingrained the fingerings through practice for gigs or recording. If I have, then it’s a bit of a double-edged sword…

A less edifying experience is the score playback quality within the program. I’ve tried grand pianos, wind ensembles, virtual guitars and whistles which the program offers, but none of them adds to the vibe of the guitar part. Certainly, It can be arresting to hear your ragtime inflected guitar break rendered by a bank of basoons but it’s of nearly no help at all when trying to finesse the notation of a curiously syncopated phrase in your playing. One time the program thought some cavernous church organ sound was ideal for one of my slow but highly chromatic efforts and the result was so creepy I had to turn the studio lights up bright. Another time a Breton bagpipe (according to the program’s menu) belted unbid (by me) from the the studio monitors. But the worst to date was the calamity which happened within my headphones involving a jazz influenced tune – of which I’m very proud – and something listed on the programs’ menu of sounds as “orchestral stabs”. In fact, if I didn’t need to check my notation for stupid errors, I’d leave playback well alone.

On the other hand, the program is outstanding in its way with guitar tablature. All it takes is drag-and-drop from the standard notation staff onto the tab staff and voila! A wee bit of editing will always be needed since a note can be played on various strings and often the clever program is not quite clever enough – but nevertheless it is a huge labour saver. When it’s all done, there is a little feeling of satisfaction when I print off a score. There’s something fine about a piece of written music. It’s a tangible thing and has an aesthetic beauty of its own.

But the biggest advantages remain the improvements to guitar parts that suggest themselves in the course of simply writing them down.

6 thoughts on “(Original) Guitar Notation and Tabs

  1. Dave! Good to see ya back among the living. I suppose the question here to be asked is, which program are you using these days? I’m partial to Guitar Pro, honestly, but that’s because that’s what I started with, and I haven’t gotten around to trying to get as comfortable with anything else. Cheers,


    – Be sure to check out Berlin’s only true Kentucky Bluegrass Picker @ ! –

  2. Hi Nathan,

    I’ve used Finale for a number of years and, yes, I appreciate the productivity through familiarity. Once key commands and shortcuts are committed to memory, a score with lots of repetitive bits which can be copied and pasted can be pushed out very quickly. The only time consuming part is editing tab, manually adding fingerings and any other anotations.

    Sibelius is Finale’s main competitor and is highly regarded but I’ve not tried it out.

    My webstite tracking tool tell me that lots of people are donwloading the PDF’d scores! What they do with with them I can’t tell, but I flatter myself that some are taken with the pieces to the extent they learn them. Who knows?


  3. I’ve grabbed a couple, and I have to admit, I’ve had to put in a little work to get them up to snuff, but now they make some great sitting around the circle show off bits.
    It takes for bloody ever to tab out any piece, but knowing what you’re doing with the program helps a lot.
    I’ve played with Sibelius, but never in a solo guitar context, always working on orchestral or choral compositions. It’s bloody powerful, but you know, the best program I’ve ever found for any kind of composition, guitar, Rock Band, Symphony Orchestra, or anything inbetween – the Windows 3.1 version of Musiktime (I think it’s like version 1.3. For reference, they’re now on version 7 or something like that)
    It doesn’t have any autoarranging tools, you can only use one MIDI voice at a time, but for rough composition, you can do whatever you want to with it, and it’ll play it. And then for final print, same thing – it’s a WYSIWYG kind of composer, which is something I’d never seen before, but I really like it. Dunno, I mean, if you’ve got it in your head already, it’s amazingly easy to get what you wanted on paper with that beast.
    Anyways, not sure where that spontaneous recommendation came from, but – hey, I read you’re looking for places to play in Western Europe. If you end up in Berlin or the area, drop me a line, I can set you up some shows, no problem, long as you don’t mind some random guy from Kentucky opening for you!



  4. Ah, Berlin! I was there only for a week in ’76 but I remember it well. I was on a tour in West Germany (as was) and was taken on a trip by a friend through to Berlin basically to visit some people he knew. While we were there he took me on a “tour” of some venues and I got to play in some. My abiding memory is very late nights jumping in and out of the car to do twenty-minute spots in each of the places he knew. I don’t recall the names of the venues now but I do recall one with TV monitors around the bar showing the performances on the stage. Very advanced for the time and extremely cool. Berlin did seem like a lot of hard work if you wanted to make a living playing guitar there. Is that still the way it happens – twenty-minute spots and off the next place? Anyway, I have wanted to return for a long time – maybe next year if I can set up some gigs in Germany. Very cool offer, Nathan, and I’ll definitely let you know when I get something sorted out.

    I can imagine it takes ages to tab stuff out. I’m lucky, I guess that I can write standard notation and drag and drop onto the tab stave in Finale. I reckon one simple song might take me half-an-hour plus whatever for manual annotation of fingering, etc. I’ve toyed with the idea of compiling a “book” of the songs on the CD and selling it, but, on balance, I’m happy if folks just download and play around with them. Which one’s have you done? Are there any mistakes you’ve found?? Don’t forget to change ’em round – there’s probably better ways to play that stuff!

    Cheers, Nathan!

  5. I’ve been doing the exact same thing here, as far as bouncing around playing quick sets and moving on. Just out of random curiosity, was the guy’s name Maciek Pietrajo? Because he’s been doing that here and around Europe for the past 40 years, and it’d be slightly ridiculous if it was the same guy that I’ve been playing with. Anyways, random thought

  6. Nah, Nathan – it wasn’t he. The guy was an English friend who lived in Germany (Bielefeld) and who kick started my European career by arranging gigs in Belgium and Germany in ’76. Berlin was an ad hoc, spur of the moment thing because we had free time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.