Notating Music

[This text on this page was written several years ago and has not recently been significantly revised. I hope to revise it in due course, this will removing items that are out of date and including relevant new developments. In particular I plan to remove the references to Scorch and comment on the Free open source program MuseScore which, in version 2, can create lute tablature.)

Music Notation on the Apple Mac
This site and the music it contains have been produced using Apple Macintosh computers; the music itself has all been notated with Sibelius (currently I use Sibelius 7.5 for Mac

Files are posted as Scorch web pages which I have set so that Sibelius users can download the files as Sibelius files and edit them; files are also available as pdf documents as this format is now universally available.

Notating Lute Tablature on the Apple Mac

  The leading programs for notating and engraving lute tablature are Fronimo, Django, Tab and abctab.

Fronimo (from Francesco Triboli) (download here, via the Fronimo Yahoo group) and Django (by Alain Veylit) are both excellent programs for creating lute tablature arrangements, but are only available for Windows operating systems. Both should run on recent Macs (with Intel processors) using an emulator (Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion or Virtual Box) to run Windows. I use VMWare Fusion with Windows XP Home and this works well. Older Macs can run these programs via Virtual PC for Mac (now discontinued). I found they ran quite slowly on a G5 iMac - though noticeably faster with Windows 2000 than with Windows XP. Both programs can output notation as well as tablature; the results with tablature are excellent; with notation less good. Fronimo can open Tab documents and import and export MIDI; Django can import the ABC format and MIDI files. It can also export to Music XML (though this functionality is limited to exporting notation) and MIDI.

Tab (devised by Wayne Cripps) is described as a tyepsetter for lute tablature and is a command line program developed on the Linux operating system, but able to run on several platforms (including Apple Mac). It produces excellent results but is harder to learn than conventional WYSIWYG music notation programs. There is a tab-by-mail service that provides conversion from ASCII tab to a Postscript document containing the finished tablature, accompanied by a MIDI file of the music if required. 

XTab (by Eric Redlinger) is available as a free download, is a graphical front end for Tab for Apple Mac which makes it slightly more easy to use and includes the option for outputting MIDI and is a good option for setting lute tablature if you have the patience to learn how to use the instruction set. 

The advantages of using Tab via XTab (or via a text editor) are that tab entry is very quick once the principles are grasped and the options for specifying the look of the final tablature are very flexible.

Abctab is a system built by Christoph Dalitz, based on the open source abc music notation system. It resembles Tab in its approach to notating tablature and has the added advantage that it can be configured to provide optical recognition of printed tablature. It will run on Linux and Mac OSX.

An old pre OS X program SpeedScore (from the late Frederick Noad) will runs in the Classic environment on a Mac and is well designed for creating both guitar arrangements and lute tablature for printing, but it is purely and engraving software and can’t import or export MIDI (or anything else). 

TablEdit is a cross platform program that is available for Mac OS X and can be used to enter tablature and convert it to staff notation, but I don’t find it suitable for producing tablature arrangements as the only way to handle bass courses is to create extra staff lines. However TablEdit does have some useful features. It can import some tablature documents, and it can import and export MIDI and Music XML. (It claims to be able to import Wayne Cripps’ Tab format but this functionality seems to be disabled in the Apple Mac version, and when I tried the demo of the PC version I couldn't get it to work correctly.)

NoteAbility Pro is an Apple Mac music notation program that does have a reasonably good implementation of lute tablature including correct notation for courses 7 - 9. It is is fairly straightforward to enter tablature though the dedicated ‘Tablature’ font is disappointingly difficult to read on screen. In addition the process of converting staff notation to tablature is troublesome, requiring separate entry of rhythm flags.

      Harmony Assistant is a cross platform program that has an implementation of tablature but, like TablEdit, it doesn’t handle bass courses well.

Finale, which is one of the leading cross platform notation programs does have an implementation of tablature, but I have not tried using it for lute tablature. The Finale manual is not helpful on this topic and a search of the Finale forums suggests problems implementing rhythm flags and bass courses, but it is a powerful and customisable program so there may be a workaround for these problems - I’d like to hear about it if there is!

Sibelius  is also a powerful cross platform program and it can be used to produce first class lute printed lute tablature. The Sibelius manual does now have a chapter on Lute tablature, but it's quite short and for the new user it's still quite difficult to work out the options for for producing different styles of lute tablature. Here are some pointers to entering lute tablature:

Entering Lute tablature with Sibelius:
Sibelius can be used for entering lute tablature (for example if transcribing a piece from a tablature source). Creating a new document gives the option of specifying Lute as the instrument. Several different lute tunings are available (with the option of configuring your own) and selecting one of these gives a tablature staff in the appropriate tuning. Note entry can be carried out using the Keypad to set note duration, the mouse to determine the course and the keyboard numerals to set the fret (0 = a, 1 = b, 2 = c etc). Bass courses below 6 need to be entered separately via the Create>Text menu and the Sibelius manual suggests that Percussion Stickings should be used for lute basses. Music entered this way can, of course, be transcribed to notation (except for the bass courses) though it will then need editing to conform to the usual conventions of notation in representing overlapping voices. Sibelius has an option for specifying the tablature font (via House Style> Edit Text Styles) and can use fonts imported from other music programs. 

Dealing with rhythm flags: Tablature entered in Sibelius turns out beamed as if it were staff notation. However Sibelius has optionsor providing reasonably authentic rhythm flags - though some ‘fakery’ is sometimes necessary especially with longer notes and sometimes with dotted notes (by ‘fakery’ I generally mean pasting in additional symbols to mimic tablature sources). One of the keypad layers provides the option of removing all beaming from the rhythm flags and Notehead 3 or Notehead 8 in the Properties dialogue will hide flags so that the convention of omitting flags on notes of identical duration can be followed.

Some tablature sources represent rhythm by means of small notes placed above the tablature staff. This can be reproduced in Sibelius by using a second, hidden staff as follows;

1) Enter or create tablature in the usual way.

2) Hide rhythm flags by selecting the tablature and choosing Noteheads 3 (or 8) in the Notes section the Properties window (this step can be done later if you prefer).

3) Go to Create>Instruments. Select Choose from: all Instruments, Family: Others, Instrument: No instrument (hidden) and Add to Score above the Lute staff. With the dialogue still open select this Instrument and Tick 'Small Staff'. Click OK and the staff is added to the score. This new staff is unfortunately invisible, but you should be able to select the first bar by clicking above the tablature staff! However another method, if you prefer, is to create a single line percussion staff, carry out the next steps and then change the staff to 'No instrument (hidden)'

4) Copy the music from the tablature staff. Select the first bar of the invisible staff and paste the music into it. Select the first note (or a note in the first chord) and choose Notes>Re-input Pitches. Press and hold down B until all the notes are processes - they should appear as a line of notes at one pitch representing the rhythm. You may need to select all and reverse the stems (X). Then using the keypad (3rd page, top row, right hand symbol - as described above) unbeam the notes. Drag one of the staves so that the rhythm dots on each staff coincide. Lastly (if required) select and hide notes that represent repeated rhythm symbols.

Other options:There are also other Sibelius options that can be useful for tablature. Having set font and layout options to suit it is worth saving the result as Manuscript Paper in order to retain the options for future use. Also, setting keyboard shortcuts can be useful, for example in entering bass notes or switching back and forth between notation and tablature staves. Other ‘fakery’ that may be needed includes hiding notes by colouring them white - this leaves a rhythm flag on its own, which can be useful for notating a held note or for providing a rhythm flag for a bass note.

I have included here a set of instructions for converting staff notation to lute tablature that I wrote prior to the section above and it therefore covers some of the same ground. Thanks for some of the hints on these pages are especially due to Wim Hoogewerf, Stefan Lundgren and others who have posted on "lute tablature" in the Technical Support Forum on the Sibelius Music web site at

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