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(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.