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Re: tab

From: Anna Langley
Subject: Re: tab
Date: Wed, 21 Aug 2002 08:30:53 +0100
User-agent: KMail/1.4.1

At this point I need to put my hand up as a lilypond user and a 
renaissance lutenist!

I am also alive and read most of the music I play from these "upside 
down systems" (i.e. Italian Tablature)! And I am far from alone in 
doing so.  Why would I and others do this?  Because we can then 
play directly from the original sources, or facsimiles thereof.  
And this has several advantages.  We don't have to wait for 
someone, possibly ourselves, to transcribe it into modern notation 
(with their editorial "corrections").  And the repertoire for the 
upside down notation (Italian tab) is enormous and so wonderful, 
that it is mad for a lutenist not to learn to read it!

Tablature in the renaissance and baroque was used not just by lutes, 
but by all fretted instruments. For example: lutes, archlutes, 
theorbos, bandoras, orpharions, citterns, guitars, vihuelas, viola 
a mano, and violas da gamba.

The publishing industry for these instruments at the time was on a 
scale much larger than you might think.  Print runs (as discovered 
from publishing contracts of the time) ran into the tens of 
thousands.  There is now a constant stream of rediscovery of this 
work.  And correspondingly there is a constant growth of people 
interested in playing it, as the classical music world grows aware 
that there is more to the renaissance than Greensleeves!

I disagree with David that tablature notation was a significant 
factor in the demise of the lute.  In the baroque the lute 
continued as a solo instrument, but with up to 13 courses.  It 
mutated into a much more expensive instrument, cutting out a large 
part of its traditional constituency.  The archlutes and theorbos 
appeared with were again expensive and were mainly used by 
professional musicians as continuo instruments and as solo 
instruments by wealthy amateurs.  Professional musicians would have 
been playing their intruments from figured bass, not tab.  These 
instruments fell into disuse as orchestras gradually dropped their 
continuo instruments (harpsichords, theorbos, organs) out of their 
regular lineup.

For historical instrument players, tab is an incredibly useful tool.  
It allows you to easily transfer your existing skills from one 
instrument to another.

I would suggest that one could look at the program Tab by Wayne 
Cripps from Dartmouth College for some inspiration in a flexible 
system for typesetting tablature.  If you're interested in seeing 
some examples of these different types of tablature then I suggest 
obtaining tab and processing some of the examples.  Tab can be 
obtained from

These are the common types of renaissance/baroque lute tablature 
using a stave:

French/English (the English called it French, the French English!):
6 lines (5 in earlier sources) highest course on top.
Alphabetical: a=open string, b=1st fret ... n=12th fret
There is no "j" fret, it is too easily confused with "i".  Think of 
"c" is often written as "r" to distinguish it more easily from "e".

6 lines, highest course on the bottom.
0=open string, 1=1st fret ... 9, x=10th fret
x(with a dot above left)=11th fret
x(with two dots above)=12th fret

As in Italian, but highest course at the top

As in "Spanish", but 1=open string, etc
I don't know how the 12th fret is expressed.

Bear in mind that tab applied to smaller instruments, may have 4 or 
5 lines.

The stems (called "flags") are written above the stave.  They can 
either be present for every note, or appear only when there is a 
change of duration.

Right hand fingering is rendered by a single dot under the note (not 
the flag!) for the first finger, two dots (..) for the second, 
three dots (in an upward facing triangle) for the third.  The 
fourth is not usually used (it is lying on the belly of the lute).

I hope this helps!

I'd be very glad to offer input into the development of tab on 
lilypond!  But to be honest, until now I didn't realise that it did 
tab at all.

Best wishes,


On Tuesday 20 August 2002 19:15, David Raleigh Arnold wrote:
> Thanks much.  The scholarly poster is right that there are
> historical instances of putting the first string at the
> bottom, but English renaissance lute tablature and all
> modern tabs have the first string at the top so the
> low notes will be on the bottom.  *No one alive* is really
> used to the upside down systems.
> Of course the lute isn't around much any more, largely
> on account of tab.
> Pitch wasn't the issue anyway, just the definition
> of the first string, which doesn't vary for stringed
> instruments, fretted or not.  Of course a left handed
> player has his first string closest to his left hand
> instead of his right, but it's still the 1st string.
> And I really would like to know how to get rid of
> the stems in the tab.
> Having stems in both tab and notation is just clutter.
> Tab is fingering, not notation, and nothing can change
> that.
> How about a short cut like this example for banjo?
> Today the C or 4th string is usually tuned to a
> D, and the "s" is for short string.  Or maybe
> "x" or "e" for extra G would be better?  Naaah.
> \defStrings d'=d b=b g=g d=c g'=s
> or
> \defStrings d'=d b=b g=g d=4 g'=5
> which would set the note of each string, starting with
> the first, to an identifier, which could perfectly well
> be a number.  Six string guitar would be:
> \defStrings e'=1 b=2 g=3 d=4 a,=5 e,=6
> for those who would use the true pitch with "G_8".
> I don't know whether you have taken into account the
> fact that guitar transposes an octave, sorry, I've never
> used \treble for guitar music.  Some people here
> are typesetting with \treble and some with G_8.  I
> would rather that a musician could tell what octave
> music was in without having to know what the instrument
> is, but I do not have history on my side, so I am
> against the idea of making a choice for others. :-)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> Information is not knowledge.           Belief is not truth.
> Indoctrination is not teaching.   Tradition is not evidence.
>          David Raleigh Arnold   address@hidden
> _______________________________________________
> Lilypond-user mailing list
> address@hidden

Anna Langley
London UK

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