Visualinear Tablature

Notation is music in written form. The purpose of notation is to represent how music is played or sung. The music of the guitar is usually represented either in five-line staff notation or in six-line guitar TAB notation. Staff (standard) notation and TAB notation are both fairly complicated, and therefore somewhat difficult to learn. Neither system gives a complete account of how guitar music is actually played. By comparison, visualinear tablature is a less complicated yet more descriptive system of guitar notation. The simplicity of this innovative system of notation is made possible by the fact that is based on the visual representation of music’s rhythm along a single line (linear) of tablature.

The simplest form of music is a melody, which in technical terms is a sequence of notes sounded one at a time and one after the other. The representation of notes in visualinear tablature is far simpler than in staff or TAB notation. It is accomplished numerically by the use of string numbers followed by parenthesized fret numbers (string and fret notation). Any note that can be played on the guitar can be represented by means of string and fret notation. For example, the note 3(2), pronounced string three – fret two, is the note produced by fretting (holding fast against the fretboard) the 3rd string at the second fret (actually, behind the second fret, and between the first and second frets). The six strings of the guitar are numbered from highest in pitch (thinnest) to lowest in pitch (thickest). The fretting dots imbedded into the fretboards of most guitars at the fifth, seventh, and twelfth frets provide a frame of reference for forming fretted notes higher up the neck. Open (unfretted) notes are represented by a string number followed by a parenthesized 0. For example, 3(0), pronounced string three – open, is the note sounded by the open 3rd string.

A melody is defined not only by the notes with which it is fashioned, but also by the rhythm (timing and duration) of those notes. Rhythm is in turn dependent on and closely connected to meter, which is the sequence of evenly timed pulses (beats) about which music is organized, and without which music would make little rhythmic sense. In visualinear tablature, the beats of meter are represented with Roman numerals that are grouped into measures along the line of tablature. The most frequently used meter, shown below in two blank measures of visualinear tablature, consists of four beats per measure, and is also called common time.

The next most frequently used meter consists of three beats per measure. Most music is in four or in three, and is said to be in simple meter. Music in six, the next most frequently used meter, is said to be in compound meter. This is so because the rhythmic effect of music in six is usually that of two main beats (the first and fourth beats), each divided into three sub-beats. Music in nine or in twelve, the compound meters based on three or four main beats per measure, has a similar rhythmic effect. In melodic visualinear tablature notation, the main beats of a compound meter are underlined to better show the rhythmic relationship of the main beats and sub-beats.

The representation of the music’s meter along the line of tablature provides the framework for the notation of a melody’s rhythm in the visualinear system. The correct rhythmic timing for notes is implied by the exact location, in relation to the beats, of the string and fret notation for those notes. The rhythmic timing of notes, in other words, is demonstrated and interpreted visually, and without requiring the use of any other symbols besides the string and fret notation. For example, since most of the notes of most melodies are sounded on the beats, the string and fret notation for most notes is placed directly above the corresponding beats along the line of tablature. The next most common incidence of rhythmic timing is halfway between beats. The string and fret notation for notes that are sounded halfway between beats is placed halfway between those beats along the line of tablature. All but the most rhythmically complicated melodies consist solely of notes sounded either on the beats or halfway between beats. The identity as well as the rhythmic timing of the notes of most melodies can therefore be simply and clearly shown in visualinear tablature notation. This is demonstrated below in the tablature for the first three measures of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.

The exact duration of the notes of a melody is rarely shown in any form of notation. Rather, this is normally left, at least to some degree, to the performer’s discretion as to what sounds best. Controlling the exact duration of notes is one of the many ways in which a player or singer interprets a melody and plays or sings it in a musically pleasing fashion. In playing melodies on the guitar, the most musical effect can usually be produced by damping (silencing) each note just before the next note is sounded. A fretted note can be damped by simply reducing the pressure exerted by the fretting finger. When an open note is followed by a fretted note on the same string, it is damped when the fretted note is formed. Otherwise, an open note can be damped by lightly touching the string. This prevents the note from ringing through succeeding notes, which usually has an unmusical effect.

Quite apart from the frequent need for damping in playing a melody on the guitar successfully, many melodies contain notes of shorter duration that must be damped well before the next note is sounded. The resultant silence between notes is shown in the tablature by the use of a damp sign, which is placed along the line of tablature at the exact point in time at which the damp must be executed. In staff notation, a silence between notes is indicated by the use of rests, which are symbols representing the absence of sound. In visualinear tablature, damp signs are used, which better reflects the fact that, in playing the guitar, damping is the means by which that silence is achieved. The use of damp signs, which conveniently provide a simple means for showing the exact duration of notes, is demonstrated below in a more rhythmically correct re-write of the previous example.

The simple principles discussed above allow for the accurate and informative notation of practically any melody in visualinear tablature. The simplicity of the notation facilitates learning to play melodies on the guitar by eliminating the need for understanding a more complicated notational system, and by allowing for an immediate concentration on the task at hand, which is training the fingers to make the required movements. For a beginner, learning to play familiar melodies is a very sensible way to get started, since it draws on already acquired musical knowledge and experience, and since it allows for the gradual development of familiarity with the instrument. Players of all skill levels can benefit from learning to play guitar ensemble music, which like the music of an orchestra or a choir is created by the simultaneous sounding of melodic parts. Playing guitar ensemble music allows for the development of melodic playing skill, and more importantly allows for the development of musicianship by providing an instructive and interactive exposure to music in a wide variety of styles and genres.

Despite the benefits of playing guitar ensemble music, not leastly the fact that it is a very enjoyable activity, rhythm guitar music makes far greater use of the instrument’s unique capabilities. No less importantly, rhythm guitar music accounts in large part for the instrument’s tremendous popularity, and is the type of music that aspiring guitarists are likeliest to want to learn to play. Rhythm guitar music is based on chords, or specific combinations of fretted and/or open notes. The two basic rhythmic styles of play, flatpick and fingerstyle, are distinguished by whether the strings are struck with a pick or plucked with the thumb and fingers of the playing hand. Rhythm guitar music in either style of play can be clearly and simply notated in visualinear tablature by applying the principles of notation discussed above, and by basing the notation, like the music itself, on chords.

Rhythmic visualinear tablature is always governed by, and must always be interpreted in the context of, a specific chord fingering. The specific chords governing the tablature are identified by the use of chord symbols that are placed beneath the line of tablature at the precise points in time at which changes of chord must be made. The most common chords are identified in rhythmic visualinear tablature solely by means of chord symbols. All other chords are identified by means of asterisked chord symbols, with the asterisk indicating that a chord diagram for the chord is provided at the bottom of the page beneath the last line of tablature. A chord diagram is a pictorial representation of the fretboard that shows which strings are included in the chord and where the required fretted notes are formed.

The two most fundamental components of flatpicked guitar music are the basic downstrum (D) and the basic upstrum (U). In fashioning simple patterns of strummed rhythm, downstrums are normally made on beats, and upstrums are normally made between beats. Since the downstrums are therefore of greater importance rhythmically, the most musical effect can generally be obtained by sounding all of the strings of the chord on downstrums, and by limiting upstrums to the treble (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) strings. Surprisingly satisfying and complete sounding guitar music can be created by applying simple patterns of strumming, fashioned solely from basic downstrums and basic upstrums, to a sensible progression (sequence) of chords. As demonstrated below, the visualinear tablature notation for that music is very descriptive yet surprisingly simple and easy to understand.

In fashioning more complicated patterns of strumming, the basic downstrum and the basic upstrum can be modified in a number of ways. Advanced strumming techniques can be substituted for or used in combination with basic strums to create intricate and beautiful strummed guitar music in a variety of styles. Basic flatpick styles of play are more commonly enhanced, however, by the inclusion of individually flatpicked notes. This is typically acomplished by sounding the bass (lowest) note of the chord on the downbeat (first beat) of measures, or by employing short melodic bass runs between chords. As demonstrated below, notes that are part of the chord governing the tablature are represented solely by means of a string number, and notes that are not part of the chord governing the tablature (non-chord notes) are represented by means of string and fret notation.

When playing the guitar in fingerstyle, with relatively few exceptions, the bass strings (4th, 5th, and 6th) are plucked with the thumb, and the treble strings are plucked with the fingers. The visualinear tablature notation for fingerstyle rhythm guitar music is somewhat more complicated in appearance than for flatpicked music. In fingerstyle tablature, the playing hand fingers used to sound the notes are notated above the line of tablature, and the corresponding strings are notated in mirror fashion below the line of tablature. The resultant increased complexity in appearance is warranted by the fact that the inclusion of playing hand fingerings makes it far easier to recognize and to learn fingerstyle patterns of play, and especially unusual patterns of play. As with flatpick tablature, notes of the chord are represented solely by means of string numbers, and non-chord notes are represented by means of string and fret notation, as demonstrated below.

In all but the simplest fingerstyle music, the simultaneous sounding of two or more notes is a relatively common occurrence. This important technique is notated in visualinear tablature by aligning the playing hand fingers and corresponding string numbers vertically, thus indicating that the notes should be sounded simultaneously, as demonstrated below.

Rhythm guitar music in either of the two basic styles of play (flatpick and fingerstyle) can be embellished and made more interesting by the use of two-note fretting hand techniques. The most commonly used two-note technique is the hammer-on, in which a second note is sounded with the fretting hand by fretting a ringing open string, or by re-fretting a ringing fretted string at a higher fret. This technique is so named because the second note (the hammered note) must be fretted forcefully in order to sustain the vibration of the string, thus allowing the note to sound clearly and with sufficient volume. Hammer-ons are notated in visualinear tablature by the use of string and fret notation with a hyphen between the two fret numbers. The correct timing of the hammered note is given by the location of the fret number for that note along the line of tablature, as demonstrated below.

Another less frequently used two-note technique, the pull-off, is in effect the opposite of a hammer-on. In the pull-off, a second lower note is sounded by removing a fretting finger and at the same time plucking the string with that finger. Pull-offs are typically accomplished by removing one of the fretted notes of a chord, and the notes sounded by pull-offs are typically open notes. Pull-offs are notated with the same hyphenated string and fret notation used for hammer-ons. The location of the second fret number along the line of tablature again indicates the correct timing of the technique, as demonstrated below. Notice that a fret number is included to indicate that the normal chord note 2(1) is restored on the third beat of the 2nd measure.