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Re: Lettered tablature patch

From: Trevor Daniels
Subject: Re: Lettered tablature patch
Date: Thu, 3 Dec 2009 00:45:26 -0000

Hi Dana

Many thanks for this. It is not only interesting and useful, but quite a bit _is_ new to me. The variability it exposes is rather daunting! Makes me wonder how far we shall get along this road, but we'll proceed one step at a time and hopefully arrive somewhere useful.


----- Original Message ----- From: <address@hidden>
To: "Lily-Devel List" <address@hidden>
Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 6:27 PM
Subject: Re: Lettered tablature patch

For example, the third fret on a Baroque
lute is indicated by "r" rather than "c", as "c" can easily be
confused with "e".

not quite right. I know none of what I say below is new to you Trevor,
just trying to present a clear picture for the  other readers here.

Baroque tabulature for plucked strings (it was used for cittern and guitar
as well as lutes) evolves from the notations invented during the
renaissance (before 1500). Three distinct major forms are known, each with subvariants which may have been inspired by commercial interests (circumvention of printing privileges) or are something akin to the folk process. Modernly we speak of German, Italian, and French major forms,
with Polish, spanish, and Neapolitan subforms.

You are working on the French form, which uses alphabetical symbols to
designate frets.  Renaissance players used scordatura much as todays
guitarists use it, but generally the presumed tuning would have employed the intervals 4,4,3,4,4 on a six course instrument, instruments with 7, 8 or more courses had basses below that set of intervals which were tuned adhoc The tunings for citterns and guitars vary far more than those for
lutes, it seems each publication had its own 'new improved' system.

Baroque players had other tunings in use (I dont play later music, so I leave you to other sources for that information). Another difference lies in the use of an elaborate set of markings to indicate decorations such as backfalls, trills, mordents, shakes... These began to appear in late renaissance pieces and the markings and their meanings vary by the piece, by the scribe, by the phase of the moon... and are still a subject for interpretation today by musicologists and bewilderment to players. Lots of articles on this topic in EM, JLS, JLSA, LSAQ and other periodicals.

The 'hands' used in england, france, and the netherlands at that time had all the letter forms we use today, but some letters were used differently than we are accustomed to today: i and j were not distinguished, readers saw them as graphical variants on the same letter. Miniscule 'c' had a form that modern eyes see as miniscule 'r', but it was understood as the letter c by both those writing and those reading it. The 'r' used then was quite different than it is now, and had several forms, one of which is
like a z, others a high-tailed w or u.

Lutes were 'short' necked, generally, they had no more than 12 frets with
8 or 9 being tied on, the rest glued.  Citterns were longer necked,
tabulature for them requires 20+ fret designations.

French tab designate frets using a letter sequence that omits your choice of the letter pairs i,j and u,v. Most of the printed tablulature employed special fonts with symbols devised to be distinct; many of these were incomplete, especially my favorite, cut by Granjon and used by Fezandat,
Le Roy & Ballard, and others from 1551 on into the 18c.

lute - a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,k,l,m,n
cittern - a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,k,l,m,n,o,p,q,r,s,t,u

A complication remains for citterns which employed fixed frets and had intonation difficulties under the modified 1/6 comma meantone tuning one sees in the few surviving instruments; these difficulties were tackled by omitting frets 4 and 18 altogether and using partial frets in a variety of patterns that was mostly chromatically complete for upper courses, but diatonic for the lower courses. Just to make life interesting, there are
also surviving instruments which are fully fretted.

[c] (Actually it was originally a Greek gamma...)

I wonder if it is fair to make that connection here as if it was a
deliberate choice by the inventor of the scheme of french tabulature. The same glyph is seen in court-hand which was the common hand used for prose (not music) from late 15c well into the jacobean era in england, france, and the netherlands. I note that greek preexisted roman, I postulate a much older connection between these two letters, each the third in its alphabet; I think it most likely that the reader simply had eyes used to
seeing a gamma-like 'c'

Trevor, the following booklet was helpful to me (not expensive either).
Google the ISBN and look for the WH Smith link

Alf Ison, _A Secretary Hand BC Book_, Berkshire Family history research Centre, Yeomanry House, 161 Castle hill, Reading, RG1 7TJ ISBN 0950836605

It should be noted that the set of symbols used to designate frets often requires ligatures, and will be best served by a list rather than some calculation scheme. Some of the common lists might be predefined and invoked by reference, but the ligetured symbols might not always exist in a unicode font, so reference to a particular font (supplied by user) might be needed. Yes, not for French, altho bass stops will be a challenge (/a,
/b,/c.. //a, //b, //c ///a...) as will free bass strings (/11 ..)

Italian will need more than numerals when you get around to it. Frets beyond 9 are designated in a variety of ways, dots over an X, or other
letters (X,E,T) are common, but then its on to digit pairs.
{0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,X,11,12,13...}. In short, it is wise to leave this
specification flexible.

Ideally a dual specification to support transliteration is desirable; however that might better be left to a tool external to ly, hopefully one with a gui (precise layout is not needed for transliteration alone, or for
general entry for that matter, but I am drifting off topic).

Instruments with more than six courses (ca 1500?) present a challenge to the scribe. Note that this challenge occurred gradually over time as players and builders interacted to make instruments with more and more courses. Six courses (ca 1470-) are readily presented on a five-line staff. Seven courses (ca 1500?), no problem, add another line. Eight
courses (ca 1540?) is a problem, seven line staves are hard to read
easily. Use of course eight is uncommon, and especially uncommon with a stop on course seven, so distinct symbols were invented for course eight and both are displayed on the same row (player can of course add the other note by choice). For french you have {a b c ...} and over-lined letters {/a /b /c ...}. On beyond eight uses two, then three lines, but four lines gets crowded and those are almost always free basses that cant be stopped anyway (no fingerboard under them), so for 11+ one uses numerals
to designate the open string as in /11.

Both italian and french notation use the line representing the lowest course conventionally for instruments with free (unstoped) basses. This
row displays symbols for both the lowest stopped course and the free
courses, and will need special interpretation, much as is needed for german notation (below). Some instruments are made with narrow fretboards that limit the player to stops on courses 1-6, others are wider, 1-8, even 1-10 are known. Use of stops on course 10 is rare in the literature and
presents physical challenges to the player.

I understand that German tabulature is beyond this effort, but be aware that it uses an extended alphabet of symbols that map the entire gamut of notes on the instrument; all frets, all strings, all free basses; using ligatures that are not in common use for any other typographical purpose (unlikely to exist in ordinary unicode fonts). German tabulature displays
the polyphony using that alphabet to populate each of several rows,
displaying the polyphonic lines of the music (not the individual strings).

To 'read' the music from the symbols is a different process for each of the three systems as the row ordering differs in french and italian, and the use of rows differs in german. (row, symbol) maps to (course, fret),
which then maps to pitch.

Following a suggestion by Neil I have also made the whiteout behind
all fret numbers optional.  This is controlled by the 'whiteout
property of TabNoteHead. The default is #t to preserve the current

Some 'scribes' used the 'staff' lines to represent the strings, others used the lines as visual separators. In the first case lines pierce note heads. With single impression printing fonts the line(s) and the notehead were on one piece of type and the line is continuous (or was intended to be, edges wear quickly and the line segments on printed copy were not usually well aligned, appearing as a wavy dashed line). Engravers using stamps would also have left the lines uninterrupted I am thinking, way too much work to clean up the intersection or (alternatively) to interrupt the drag of the raster tool; but that is speculation on my part, not worked on
copper sheet plates at all, only read some about it.

Dana Emery

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