Tablature (or tabulature, or tab for short) is a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches.
Tablature is common for fretted stringed instruments such as the lute, vihuela, or guitar, as well as many free reed aerophones such as the harmonica. Tablature was common during the Renaissance and Baroque eras, and is commonly used in notating rock, pop, folk, ragtime, bluegrass, and blues music.
The word tablature originates from the Latin word tabulatura. Tabula is a table or slate, in Latin. To tabulate something means to put it into a table or chart.
There are two different common spellings, with (tabulature) and without "u" (tablature).
Both of these words are frequently shortened to "tab" in casual speech. To be less ambiguous, it is preceded by an instrument name, when required, e.g., "guitar tab", "bass tab", "organ tab".
While standard notation represents the rhythm and duration of each note and its pitch relative to the scale based on a twelve tone division of the octave, tablature is instead operationally based, indicating where and when a finger should be placed to generate a note, so pitch is denoted implicitly rather than explicitly. Tablature for plucked strings is based upon a diagrammatic representation of the strings and frets of the instrument, keyboard tablature represents the keys of the instrument, and woodwind tablature shows whether each of the fingerholes is to be closed or left open.
Advantages & disadvantages compared to standard notation 
Tablature is more easily read by a novice musician but it has some significant deficiencies compared to standard notation.
- Direct visual representation
- Fretboard tablature is a closer visual representation of the instrument's fretboard compared to standard notation. It does not require as much training for players to be able to read tablature; therefore it is often easier and quicker to interpret.
- Fingering position determination
- Fretboard tablature (unlike organ tablature) removes the requirement for the player to determine the fretboard position within which the notated music is to be executed. Notes on the guitar can be played in different fret hand positions and upon several different strings; for example the note C4 could be played on the third string at the fifth fret or on the fourth string at the tenth fret. In the case of fretted instruments such complexity makes the relationship between staff notation and playing technique less direct than in the case of the piano and many other instruments. Whilst standard staff notation can remove the string/fret ambiguity by further indicating the playing position (usually with Roman numerals), tablature does not contain this ambiguity. Tablature has two additional advantages. First, it clearly identifies the note. Tablature makes explicit all instances of musica ficta, so that there is no guesswork about whether a note is, for example, an F or an F♯. Second, tablature can notate music in different tunings and scordaturas. Third, for woodwind instruments tablature can be used to discriminate between different tone colours for the same pitch.
- Simple typewriter-font representation
- Tablature can be easily (albeit crudely) represented as ASCII tab. This is a plain-text computer file using numbers, letters, and symbols to construct tablature. This characteristic makes it easy to distribute tablature electronically, a practice that has become very widespread.
- Indication of pitch
- Fretboard tablature shows how the notes are fingered, but not the pitch itself. This is a serious limitation because obtaining the actual pitch requires calculation by considering the tuning, thus making it more complicated for a user to sing (or internalize) the notes by sight. It hinders the user's ability to sense the sound of music directly from reading the tablature alone. In contrast, staff notation allows musicians to sing from sight, making it easier for users to understand the science of harmony, musical analysis and music theory behind it. German organ tablature is also note-specific, and even incorporates some staff notation.
- Tablature is instrument-specific, while staff notation is generic. Tablature can only be read easily by a player of one particular instrument, but not others. In contrast, staff notation is universal. Reading solely from tablature compromises communication with players of other instruments who are commonly trained only in the use of standard notation. Reliance solely upon tablature limits the repertoire of the player to works published in tablature or transcribed into it.
- Rhythmic information
- Tablature notation provides limited information on rhythm and timing. Tablature writers sometimes provide limited rhythmic information by adding note stems, flags and beams above the fret glyphs but the system is not as well-defined as in standard notation.
- Distinction between musical parts
- Multiple parts cannot be rhythmically distinguished within fretboard tablature notation. This makes it harder to convey information required for the proper rendition of multiple-part music on any polyphonic instrument. This does not apply to organ tablature, as user could easily distinguishes the constituent voices in polyphonic textures.
Lute tablature 
Lute tablature is similar to guitar tablature, but comes in at least three different varieties. The most common variety used today is based on the French Renaissance system (see example at right). In this style the strings are represented by the lines on the staff (occasionally the spaces above the lines on the staff), and the stops are indicated by lowercase letters of the alphabet (rather than numbers), with the letter a indicating an open string and the j skipped (as it was not originally a separate letter from i). A six-line staff is used, just as for modern guitar tablature. However, lutes were not limited to 6 strings or courses (they could have as many as 19), and stops for any courses beyond the sixth were shown below the bottom line, with short diagonal strokes (see below).
The letters soon developed somewhat stylized forms for ease of recognition. In particular, the letter c often resembled r. This was common in many styles of Renaissance handwriting, but also helped to differentiate c from e. Also, sometimes y was used for i.
Lute tablature provides flags above the staff to show the rhythms, often only providing a flag when the length of the beat changes, as shown in the example. (Notice that this piece begins with a half measure.)
Other variants of lute tablature use numbers rather than letters, write the stops on the lines rather than in the spaces, or even invert the entire staff so that the lowest strings are represented at the top and the highest are at the bottom (e.g., Italian Tablature).
As with guitar, various different lute tunings may be used, all written using the same tablature method. A tenor viola da gamba can usually be played directly from lute tablature as it typically uses the same tuning. A guitar can often be played from lute tablature by tuning the G string down to an F♯ and putting a capo at the third fret to preserve the original pitch.
In standard Baroque lute tabulature, each staff has six lines, representing the first six courses. The course of the highest pitch appears at the top, and that of the lowest appears at the bottom. (The Italian Archlute of the same period uses an opposite system.[vague])
F____________________ D____________________ A____________________ F____________________ D____________________ A____________________
Lowercase letters or "glyphs"are placed on each of these lines to represent notes. If it is required to play an open D course, for instance, a small a will be placed on the appropriate line. For a note with the finger on the first fret a b, a note on the second fret a c, etc. However, as mentioned above, j was not used since it was not considered a separate letter from i, and c often looked more like r. Thus:
F_____c___ D_____a___ A_____b___ F_____c___ D_____a___ A_____b___ G - a
would represent a G-minor chord,
All open strings would represent a D-minor chord:
F______a________ D______a________ A______a________ F______a________ D______a________ A______a________ D- ///a
The strings below the sixth course are notated with additional short ledger lines: glyphs are placed below the staff. These courses are tuned in accordance with the key of each piece played:
G- a F- /a E- //a D- ///a C- 4 B- 5 A- 6
A number of slightly different systems were used to show rhythm: some scribes and printers used headed notes, but it was simpler for a scribe to use headless tails for the fast-moving notes these plucked instruments commonly played (breve to semi-fusa); and early printers followed the scribal practice. Individual tails were sometimes combined into 'grids', resemblimg today's beams. The semibreve was indicated by an untailed line, the breve by a circled line or a line flagged to the left. Regarding notation of rhythms, French manuscripts tend to use a more florid script for the rhythmic values while English and Germanic manuscripts tend to use a more conservative script.
The majority of viola da gamba tablature manuscripts is written in French Baroque tablature. The difference between viola da gamba tablature (also called lyra viol tablature) and lute tablute is that the chords in lyra viol music must include all the strings between the highest and lowest notes in the chord. Lutinists, however, can play broken chords (chords that do not include all the internal strings within a chord). Additionally, a diagonal slash often appears in lyra viol manuscript, indicating a slur. As these distinction are subtle, manuscripts have often been misidentified.
Two features of French tablature are critical. French tablature does not use the letter i. It is replaced by the letter y. Second, the letter c is often written in a manner that suggest the letter r or a small capital Greek gamma.
German lute tablature 
The origins of German lute tablature can be traced back well into the 15th century. Blind organist Conrad Paumann is said to have invented it. It was used in German-speaking countries until the end of the 16th century. When German lute tablature was invented, the lute had only five courses, numbered 1 (the lowest sounding course) to 5 (highest). Each place where a course can be stopped at a fret is assigned with a letter of the alphabet, i.e., the first frets of courses 1 through 5 are represented by the letters a through e, the second frets by f through k, and so on. The letters j, u, w, are not used. Therefore, two substitutional signs are used, i.e., et (resembling the numeral 7) for the fourth course's fifth fret, and con (resembling the numeral 9) for the fifth course's fifth fret. From the sixth position upwards, the alphabetical order is resumed anew with added prime marks (a', b', ...), strokes above the letters, or the letters doubled (aa, bb, ...). When a 6th course was added to the lute around 1500 CE, different authors used different symbols for it. Chords are written in vertical order. Melodic motions are notated in the highest possible line, notwithstanding their actual register. Rhythmical signs, which are written in a line above the letters, are single stems (semibreves), shafts with one flag (minims), stems with two flags (crotchets), stems with three flags (quavers), stems with four flags (semiquavers). Stems with two or more flags can be grouped into units of two or four ("leiterlein" in German, i.e., small ladders).
Computer programs for writing tablatures 
Various computer programs are available for writing tablature; some also write lyrics, guitar chord diagrams, chord symbols, and/or staff notation. ASCII tab files can be written (somewhat laboriously) with any ordinary word processor or text editor.
Both Sibelius and Finale software offer some lute tablature support in Italian, Spanish, and French styles, but no German, as is offered by Fronimo. Sibelius and Finale do not provide fonts to score lute tablature giving an historic appearance, but can incorporate any fonts needed for any style desired, with extra set-up time, which can be easily transferred to additional scores. More specialized lute and other early music tablature support is provided by Fronimo by Francesco Tribioli and Django by Alain Veylit.
Guitar tablature 
Guitar tablature consists of a series of horizontal lines forming a staff (or stave) similar to standard notation. Each line represents one of the instrument's strings. Therefore standard guitar tablature has a six-line staff and bass guitar tablature has four lines. The top line of the tablature represents the highest-pitched string of the guitar. By writing tablature with the lowest pitched notes on the bottom line and highest pitched notes on the top, tablature follows the same basic structure and layout as Western Standard Notation.
The following examples are labelled with letters on the left denoting the string names, with a lowercase e for the high E string. Tab lines may be numbered 1 through 6 instead, representing standard string numbering, where "1" is the high E string, "2" is the B string, etc.
The numbers that are written on the lines represent the fret used to obtain the desired pitch. For example, the number 3 written on the top line of the staff indicates that the player should press down at the third fret on the high E (first string). Number 0 denotes the nut — that is, an open string.
Examples of guitar tablature notation:
The chords E, F, and G:
e|---0---1---3--- B|---0---1---0--- G|---1---2---0--- D|---2---3---0--- A|---2---3---2--- E|---0---1---3--- E F G
Tablature can use various lines, arrows, and other symbols to denote bends, hammer-ons, trills, pull-offs, slides, and so on. These are the tablature symbols that represent various techniques, though these may vary:
|b||bend string up|
|v||vibrato (sometimes written as ~)|
|t||right hand tap|
|PM||palm muting (also written as _ and .)|
|\n/||tremolo arm dip; n = amount to dip|
|\n||tremolo arm down|
|n/||tremolo arm up|
|/n\||tremolo arm inverted dip|
|=||hold bend; also acts as connecting device for hammers/pulls|
|<>||volume swell (louder/softer)|
|x||on rhythm slash represents muted slash|
|o||on rhythm slash represents single note slash|
Guitar tablature is not standardized and different sheet-music publishers adopt different conventions. Songbooks and guitar magazines usually include a legend setting out the convention in use.
The most common form of lute tablature uses the same concept but differs in the details (e.g., it uses letters rather than numbers for frets). See below.
Musette tablature 
Borjon de Scellery's Traité de la musette includes pieces for musette de cour in both standard notation and tablature, plus a partial explanation of his system. The numbers refer to the keys on the instrument, and are shown on a five-line stave so that they also correspond with standard notation. Standard symbols for note lengths are written above each tablature staff.
The standard notation shown in the illustration is also taken from de Scellery; no explanation is given for the slur-like symbol; the comma , is explained as indicating a tremblement, starting on the note above. No explanation is given for the unusual beaming or the significance (if any) of where note-length symbols are repeated.
Harmonica tablature 
The harmonica tablature was basically a one-to-one mapping of the notes to the corresponding hole and, thus, is a type of numbered musical notation. For each note, it will indicate the number of the hole to play, direction of breathing (in or out), and even bending (usually for diatonic) or "slide-in" (usually for chromatic).
One method of indicating direction of breath is by using arrows; another is by using either a "+" or "-" sign, or "i" (for inhale) and "e" (for exhale). Bending is shown with a bent arrow with the direction of breath, or by a circle around the note, or even a simple line next to the breath indicator. Additional lines and/or circles may be used to indicate how much to bend.
For example, on a "C" diatonic instrument:
Unbent Bent lv1 Bent lv2 Bent lv3 3i (B) 3i| (Bb) 3i|| (A) 3i||| (G#)
To indicate button-press on a chromatic instrument, a similar indication to first-level bending may be used.
The breath indicator may be placed right next to the hole number, or below the number. The same is true for bending or button-press indicators.
To indicate the beat, in the arrow system the length of the arrow may be varied. However, the more popular method is to use a slightly simplified rhythm-symbol notation, such as "o" for a semibreve, // for a minim, "/" for a crotchet, "." for quavers, and place them above the characters, while spacing them accordingly.
For chords, the numbers to play are shown, so, for example: a C major (CEG) chord (on a C diatonic instrument): 456e However, they may simplify it, especially when playing blues. For chords, it was common to just play three or two holes instead (sometimes even just one), especially when the instrument is not of the same key. For example, in the blues progression in G (G G G G7 C C G G D7 D7 G G) it is common to use a C diatonic instrument, and notate the following:
- G chord (G-B-D): 34i (BD)
- G7 chord (G-B–D-F): 45i (DF).
- D7 chord (D-F♯-A-C): 4i (D) or 4e (C)
There are many harmonica tablature systems in use. The easiest tablature system works like this.
Diatonic Harmonica tablature
2 = blow the 2 hole -2 = draw the 2 hole -2' = draw the 2 hole with a half bend -2" = draw the 2 hole with a full bend
chords are shown by grouping notes with parentheses
(2 3) = blow the 2 hole and the 3 hole at the same time
Chromatic Harmonica tablature
2 = blow the 2 hole -2 = draw the 2 hole <2 = blow the 2 hole with the button in <-2 = draw the 2 hole with the button in
Harmonica tablature is usually lined up with lyrics to show the tune and the timing and usually tells one the key of the harmonica for which the song is tabbed.
Here is an example of harmonica tablature:
"Mack the Knife" C Diatonic
5 6 -6 -6 5 6 -6 -6 Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear -4 -5 -6 -6 -4 -5 -6 And he shows them pearly white 6 -7 -8 7 -7 -6 7 -4 Just a jack knife has MacHeath, dear 5 -5 7 -4 7 -7 -6 And he keeps it out of sight
Legal issues 
There has been much controversy over the legal position of tablature available on the Internet, as many Internet tablature websites provide user-created tablature without properly acquiring a print license from, or paying royalties to, the original songwriter and, often, the music publisher that controls these licenses. Although many of the Internet tablature websites that offer user-created tablature do not charge consumers for these transcriptions, revenue generated from advertising on these websites is typically kept by the website owners as profit, or used to cover the website's maintenance costs, and no – or very limited – royalties are received by the original songwriter. Further, music publishers and artists have been wary to license content to certain user-generated tablature websites because of quality issues with the tablature created by amateur users.
Such free Internet tablature sites often attempt to defend themselves by claiming to be educational providers or non-profit organizations, even if not formally registered as such.[not in citation given] This leads to considerable difficulty justifying the service as legal under the fair use doctrine of copyright law (see Fair use as a defense). The legality of free Internet tablature served by such websites is disputed, largely because websites have thus far only been threatened with legal action; the issue has yet[when?] to be taken to court.
As of December 12, 2005, distributing free tablatures of copyrighted music using the Internet was considered illegal by the music industry in the United States. By early 2006, an unprecedented legal move was taken by the Music Publishers' Association (MPA), initiating legal action against tablature websites that hosted interpretations of songs and music. The MPA had been pushing for websites offering free tablatures to be shut down. MPA president Lauren Keiser said that their goal is for owners of free tablature services to face fines and even imprisonment. Several websites that offered free tablature have taken their tablature off-line until a solution or compromise is found. One of the proposed solutions is an alternative compensation system, which allows the widespread reproduction of digital copyrighted works while still paying songwriters and copyright owners. In addition, there are now a number of "legal" services offering guitar tablature that have been licensed by music publishers.
One site, MetalTabs.com, contacts the bands themselves for permission to post tablature. Few bands have declined the request.
On April 10, 2010, Ultimate Guitar (UG), a Russia-based, free on-line tablature site, entered a licensing agreement with Harry Fox Agency. The agreement included rights for lyrics display, title search and tablature display with download and print capabilities. HFA’s over 44,000 represented publishers have the opportunity to opt into the licensing arrangement with UG.
Rise of legal guitar tablature sites 
In light of the legal questions surrounding user-created on-line guitar tablature, a number of companies have been formed that claim to offer consumers legal on-line tablature, which has been officially-licensed from songwriters and/or music publishers. These companies offering legal content generally fall into three categories:
- Websites that offer "professionally-created" content: These websites typically hire professional musicians to transcribe songs into guitar tablature, and generally charge anywhere from $0.99 to $6.99 for the ability to purchase legal pieces of guitar tablature. These websites also claim to have acquired the proper licenses to display this tablature on-line. Several websites in this first category specifically cater to guitarists, including guitarinstructor.com and unitedwetab.com.
- Websites that offer "user-created" tablature, but have obtained the proper legal clearances to post these transcriptions on-line. There are several websites that fall into this second category, including Guitar World Tabs, mxtabs.net, and ultimate-guitar.com which generally do not charge consumers for using these user-created tablature pieces, and share any advertising revenue with music publishers and/or songwriters.
- Websites that index other tablature resources, and offer unique formatting options, such as cleantab and chordie.
Mxtabs.net had been closed down because of complaints from copyright holders. However, as of February 23, 2006, the owners of Mxtabs put the website back on-line with a letter explaining their position. In short, they believe that the purpose of Mxtabs is to "aid musicians in learning their instruments". They say that Mxtabs has accounted for as much as $3000 a month in sheet music sales, and offers many tablatures that do not have equivalent sheet music published, so Mxtabs and similar sites are the only place that musicians can find a way to play these songs (other than figuring the songs out for themselves). The letter concludes by pointing out that tablatures have never been proven to be illegal, then requesting that sheet-music companies contact Mxtabs in order to create a system of tablature licensing.
On February 29, 2008, MXTabs.net relaunched as the first legitimately licensed site designed to provide musicians with access to free tablatures, while also compensating music publishers and songwriters for their intellectual property. As with other user generated content sites, MXTabs.net users are encouraged to create, edit, rate, and review their own tablature interpretations of their favourite songs. However, unlike other user-generated content sites, only songs that have received explicit permission from participating copyright owners will be made available on-line.
Guitar Tab Universe 
On 17 July 2006, Guitar Tab Universe (GTU) posted a letter on its home page that its ISP had been jointly threatened with legal action by the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) and the MPA "on the basis that sharing tablature constitutes copyright infringement".
In response, GTU's site owner(s) immediately created a website named Music Student and Teacher Organization (MuSATO) to attempt to reposition themselves from an illegal-copyrighted-materials provider to an "education provider". MuSATO's main objective is to use fair use as their rationale to publish tablature free of charge. By claiming to be an educational provider, they do not have to obtain publication rights nor pay royalties to the original composers. MuSATO claims to be educational by classifying users downloading tablatures as "music students" and transcribers as "music teachers".
GuitarTabs.com has been contacted by the NMPA and MPA with similar copyright infringement allegations. The NMPA and MPA have also threatened Guitar Tab Universe with similar legal action. A copy of the certified letter received by the site owner, along with a brief note similar to the one posted on Mxtabs, has been posted on their website.
See also 
- ASCII tab
- Digital sheet music
- Drum tablature
- Keyboard tablature
- Klavar notation
- Musical notation
- Shamisen tablature
- Trumpet tablature
- "ocarina tabulature". Hindocarina.com. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- See Willi Apel's book on music notation, The Notation of Polyphonic Music (1942), for a fuller history.
- Sebastian Virdung, Musica getutscht (Basel 1511), and Martin Agricola, Musica instrumentalis deudsch (Wittenberg 1529), quoted in: Oswald Körte, Laute und Lautenmusik bis zur Mitte des 16. Jahrhunderts. Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der deutschen Lautentabulatur (Publikationen der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft. Beihefte 3. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1901), 76 seq.
- Latarski, Don (1999). Ultimate Guitar Chords: First Chords, p.5. ISBN 978-0-7692-8522-1.
- Don Latarski, Aaron Stang (1993). Practical Theory for Guitar, p.6-7. ISBN 978-0-89898-692-1.
- "I, Buanzo, Support Musicians and Their Right to Enhance Themselves by Reading Tabs!"
- Youngs, Ian (2005-12-12). "BBC report". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- by Dave on August 5th, 2008 (2008-08-05). "Fretbase, Can Guitar Tablature Go Legit?". Fretbase.com. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- "metaltabs.com". metaltabs.com. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- Arnold, Chris (2006-08-07). "NPR report". Npr.org. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- "harryfox.com" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- "guitarinstructor.com". guitarinstructor.com. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- "unitedwetab.com". unitedwetab.com. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- "guitarworld.com". Tabs.guitarworld.com. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- "mxtabs.net". mxtabs.net. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- "ultimate-guitar.com". ultimate-guitar.com. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- "chordie.com". chordie.com. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- Guitar Tab Universe letter.
- Guitar Tab Universe MPA allegations.
|Wikibooks has more on the topic of: Tablature|
- Guitar tablature category at the Open Directory Project
- Banjo tablature category at the Open Directory Project
- Bass guitar tablature category at the Open Directory Project