Lute Tablature

Converting staff notation to lute tablature in Sibelius 5 for Mac.

1) The staff notation copy needs to be prepared so that all the parts are in the same voice and there are no overlapping notes. (In this step you are converting the music to the tablature system of representing rhythm in which there is no information about the relative duration of the notes in different voices.) 

a) select the music on your stave and switch it all to voice 1 by clicking voice 1 in the Keypad window. 

b) while the music is still selected go Plug-Ins>Notes and Rests and select the ‘Remove Overlapping Notes’ plug-in. 

c) If the copy has rests in other voices, with the music still selected choose Edit>Filter>Voice 2, then press Delete. Repeat for other voices with rests. (Select the bars of music with the mouse, rather than using the Select All command as this option also deletes the text on the copy.)

2) The next step is to switch the piece from notation to tablature and there are three ways of doing this:

a) select the music and go to: Create>Other>Staff Type Change>Tab>Lute Tablature (choosing the tablature option you prefer)

b) select the music and go to the Staves option in the Properties window and select your preferred lute tablature,

c) my favourite is to go to Layout>Instruments and Staves and add a Lute tablature stave; then copy the music from the notation stave and paste it into the tablature stave. You then have a a tablature copy and a notation copy below it for comparison purposes in the editing step which follows. (I usually delete the key signature and the clef and alter the Engraving Rules, so that there is no space at the beginning of each line; you may also need to ensure that the rules specify there is bar line at the beginning of each line of music once you eventually delete the notation staff and the brace disappears.)

3) Next follows the editing step as adjustment to the tablature notation will be necessary, principally to deal with the courses below 6  and the rhythm flags, but also perhaps to adjust the tablature letters.

a) Bass notes: A note placed on a tablature stave that is below the corresponding pitch of the lute course appears as a question mark (or in some fonts as a ‘15’); when these appear in the 6th and 7th course positions they signify notes that need to be assigned to the 7th course or below. There is therefore a need to delete or hide the question marks and to replace them with bass course notes. Where there is a chord above the bass note it may be deleted, but if it is a note on its own it must be hidden in order to avoid deleting its flag. This may be done by selecting the note, raising its pitch by an octave (Transpose dialogue), selecting its letter and hiding it by changing its colour to white (Edit>Color). (Note; if you wish the music to playback realistically you might prefer to put these out of range basses into voice 2 and then hide voice 2 in that bar - select the bar then Edit>Filter>Voice 2, followed by Edit>Hide or Show>Hide. This may not helpful for lone bass notes as their flag then disappears from the score.) The appropriate bass course can then be indicated, typically (in renaissance tablature) by placing a, /a, //a or ///a as text (Create>Text>Other Staff Text>Small Text is one way of doing this as Small Text can readily be placed below the staff. The Sibelius manual suggest using 'Percussion stickings'.) Alternatively the oblique symbol may be used from the Symbols dialogue to create these short ledger lines. Another neat method is to find and import a lute tablature font that has special symbols for lute basses (eg from Fronimo).

b) Rhythm flags: The switch from notation staff to tablature staff leaves the beams unchanged and their appearance is unlike that found in tablature sources. This result is perfectly readable, but further adjustment must be made if a more idiomatic result is required. To do this select the tablature and go to the third page of the Keypad Window. Click on the right hand icon on the top row (showing a semiquaver) which corresponds to / on the keyboard keypad. This leaves each note beamed separately. Two further alterations are then needed - firstly to meet the convention of omitting flags where the rhythm doesn’t change and secondly to provide a reverse flag for minims (which otherwise look identical to crotchets). Flags can be hidden by selecting the note(s) and then selecting Notehead 3, or Notehead 8 in the Properties dialogue. The reverse flag can be provided by an oblique line from the Create>Symbol dialogue.

c) Tablature letters: My copy of Sibelius has Times New Roman Bold Italic set as the Tablature font, but Small Text (used for Bass notes) is regular TNR which looks different. These text styles can be changed in the House Style>Edit Text Style dialogue, alternatively individual bass notes can be changed in the Text panel of the Properties window (but not tablature letters). TNR Bold Italic produces attractive tablature. A variety of other fonts such as Apple Chancery, Comic Sans, Lucida Calligraphy, Lucida Blackletter, or Skia could be considered and I find Bradley Hand, a handwriting font looks attractive. Another option is to use specialist tablature fonts. The fonts that come with the program Fronimo (which are free for non-commercial use), Rondeau, Gavotta and Recercar and the Tablature font that is supplied with the program Noteability Pro have the advantage of single symbols for /a, //a and ///a. (To use the Fronimo fonts they need to be imported, which I did via Virtual PC and a font program.) Tablature letters appearing on the wrong course (eg an a on course 1 where an f on course 2 is needed) can be dragged with the mouse to the correct course.

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