Tablature

Music for fretted, stringed instruments is commonly notated using tablature, also known as tab, which provides a visual representation of the strings and fret numbers:

Tablature

Tablature can also be combined with traditional staff notation:

Standard staff plus tablature

Edit tablature properties

When a tablature staff is created in the New Score wizard it defaults to the most common tuning of the instrument in question—in the case of a guitar, for example, it assumes standard tuning of E2, A2, D3, G3, B3, E4. To alter the tuning—or any other tablature properties—right-click on the staff (in the score) and select Staff Properties... See → below for details.

From Staff Properties you can access Advanced Style Properties, where detailed adjustments can be made to the tablature display.

Create a new tablature staff

If you wish to create tablature as part of a new score, use the New Score Wizard. If you want to add tablature to an existing score, use the Instruments dialog. Or, alternatively, you can convert an existing standard staff. See below for details.

With the New Score wizard

To create tablature in a new score (for combined staff/tablature systems see → below):

  1. Select FileNew or use the shortcut Ctrl + N (Mac: Cmd+N) to open the New Score wizard.
  2. Enter the score details (optional). Click Next.
  3. In the Select template file page, click on Choose Instruments.
  4. In the Instruments page, select one (or more) tablature options under "Plucked strings" in the left-hand column (see image below). Then click Add.

    Instrument list: Plucked strings

    Note: You can use the dropdown list above the Instrument list to change the category displayed. Alternately you can search for the instrument using the "Search" field below the Instrument list.

  5. Complete the rest of the New Score Wizard.

If the desired tablature is not available in the Choose Instrument list:

  1. Select an existing "Plucked strings" tablature staff (in step 4 above).
  2. Press Add to move it to the right-hand column.
  3. Check the drop-down menu to the right of the newly-added instrument for the most suitable Tab option, if any.
  4. Complete the rest of the New Score wizard and exit.
  5. Modify the number of strings and tuning of the tablature, if needed, in the Staff properties window (see → below).
  6. Change the Instrument name in Staff Properties, if required.

This allows you to create tablature for any chromatically-fretted instrument.

With the Instruments dialog

To add a single tablature staff to an existing score (for combined staff/tab system see → below):

  1. Open the instruments editor (menu EditInstruments... or I key).
  2. Add the tab staff as described in Instruments.

By changing staff type

To convert an existing standard staff to tablature, or tablature to a standard staff:

  1. Right click on the staff and select Staff Properties…. If "Instrument" is already set to a plucked-strings type, then exit staff properties and go to step 4.
  2. If "Instrument" is not a plucked-strings type, click on Change instrument and select an appropriate instrument from "Plucked strings."
  3. Click on OK twice to exit staff properties.
  4. Open the instrument editor from the score page (menu EditInstruments... or I key).
  5. Click on the staff in the right-hand column and change the "Staff type" to the desired option.
  6. Click OK to exit the Instrument editor and return to the score page.

Note: If you subsequently need to make further adjustments to the staff (e.g. tuning, number of lines/strings etc.), right click on the staff and select Staff Properties….

Alternative version (using just the "Staff properties" dialog):

  1. Right click on the staff and select Staff Properties….
  2. If the Instrument displayed is in the "Plucked strings" category, go to step 4.
  3. If the Instrument displayed is not in the "Plucked strings" category, click Change instrument and select an appropriate instrument from "Plucked strings". Click on OK.
  4. Click Advanced Style Properties..., change "Template" to the desired option and press < Reset to Template.
  5. Click OK twice to close the Staff Properties dialog box..

Note: Other adjustments to the staff (e.g. tuning, number of lines/strings etc.), can also be made in the Staff Properties dialog.

Change string tuning

In MuseScore, plucked-string instrument staves (pitched and tablature) are set by default to the most commonly-used string tunings. You can view the tuning by right-clicking on a staff in the score, selecting Staff Properties..., and pressing Edit String Data.

To change the string tuning of a staff:

  1. Right-click on an empty spot in a measure of a staff whose tuning you want to change.
  2. Select Staff Properties....

    Staff properties dialog

  3. Press the Edit String Data... button at the bottom of the dialog box (only shown if instrument is defined as "plucked strings"). The String Data dialog opens:

    String data

    Here, you have a number of options:

    • Retune an existing string. Either click on a string pitch and select Edit String..., or double-click the string. Then select a new pitch in the Note Selection box and click OK (or just double-click the new pitch).

    Notes: If tuning is changed when the tablature for that instrument already contains some notes, fret marks will be adjusted to produce the same notes with the new tuning (if possible).

    Any change you make to the string tuning will only affect that particular instrument for that particular score, and will not alter any program default or built-in definition.

    • Add a new string. Click on a string pitch and select New String.... Select the new pitch and press OK (or just double-click the new pitch). The new string is inserted below the selected string.

    • Delete a string. Click on a string pitch and select Delete String.

    Note: After adding or deleting a tablature string you will need to adjust the number of lines in the Advanced style properties dialog.

    • Mark a string as "Open". Check one or more boxes in the "Open" column. This feature is used to designate unfretted strings – as in the Lute.

    • Change number of instrument frets. Select or enter a new number in the "Number of frets" spin box. This sets the maximum fret number which can be entered on a string.

  4. Click OK to close the "String Data" dialog box.

  5. Click OK to close the "Staff/Part Edit Properties" dialog box.

Combine pitched staff with tablature

Plucked-string instruments, such as the guitar, are commonly notated using both a pitched staff and a tablature (TAB) staff. The pitched staff displays conventional music notation while the associated tablature shows the strings and fret numbers corresponding to the notes. The paired staves can be either linked or unlinked:

  1. Linked Staves: The associated staves are said to be linked if changes in one staff are immediately applied to the other staff (mutual translation).

  2. Unlinked Staves: The staves are said to be unlinked if they can be edited independently of one another. To transfer music notation from one staff to the other, select the desired range and copy and paste it into the other staff.

Note: Occasionally, you may find numbers marked red in the tablature. This means that a fret mark cannot be displayed because it clashes with an existing one. You can resolve this by moving and adjusting existing fret numbers (see Editing existing notes). However, a fretmark clash on the lowest line does not require any adjustment—this is "by design" and the red mark will not appear on any printed copy.

Create a staff/tablature pair with the New Score wizard

If you want to create a staff/tablature system (linked or unlinked) from new:

  1. Select FileNew or use the shortcut Ctrl + N (Mac: Cmd+N) to open the New Score wizard.
  2. Enter the score details (optional). Click Next.
  3. In the Select template file page, click on Choose Instruments.
  4. In the Instruments page, select a pitched staff in the "Plucked strings" section of the left-hand column. Then click Add.
  5. Select the newly-created staff in the right-hand column and chose one of two options:
    • Click Add Linked Staff to create a linked staff/tab pair
    • Click Add Staff to create an unlinked staff/tab pair
  6. Change Staff type on the far right if required (more detailed display options are available by right-clicking on the tablature staff and selecting Staff Properties…Advanced Style Properties).
  7. Complete the rest of the New Score Wizard, or click Finish

Note: To create unlinked staves with separate mixer channels, instead of "Step 5" (above), select a Tablature staff in the left-hand column and click Add. Then continue with steps 6 and 7.

Create a staff/tablature pair from an existing staff

To add tablature to a plucked-string staff in the score (or vice versa):

  1. Open the instrument editor (menu EditInstruments... or I key)
  2. Select the staff you want to add to in the right-hand column.
  3. Chose one of two options:
    • Click Add Linked Staff to create a linked staff/tab pair
    • Click Add Staff to create an unlinked staff/tab pair
  4. Change Staff type on the far right if required (more detailed display options are available by right-clicking on the tablature staff and selecting Staff Properties…Advanced Style Properties...).
  5. Use Up to change staff position, if needed.
  6. Click OK.

Notes: To create unlinked staves with separate mixer channels, instead of "Step 3" (above), select an appropriate staff in the left-hand column and click Add. Then continue with steps 4–6.

Change a linked staff/tablature pair to unlinked (or vice-versa)

(a) If you want to change a linked staff/tablature system in the score to unlinked:

  1. Open the instrument editor from the score page (menu EditInstruments... or I key)
  2. Click on the pitched staff in the right-hand column and click Add staff.
  3. Change Staff type (on the far right) of the newly-created tab staff to the correct option. If the previous staff/tablature pair was blank, go to step 5. If there is existing music notation in the score, continue with step 4.
  4. Click OK to return to the score. Copy and paste any notation from the linked to the unlinked tablature staff. Return to the Instrument editor.
  5. Click on the linked tablature staff on the right, click Remove then OK.

(b) If you want to change an unlinked staff/tablature system in the score to linked:

  1. Open the instrument editor from the score page (menu EditInstruments... or I key)
  2. Click on the pitched staff in the right-hand column and click Add linked staff.
  3. Change Staff type (on the far right) of the newly-created tab staff to the correct option.
  4. Select the unlinked tablature staff and click Remove, then OK.

Inputting new notes

Keyboard

  • First, ensure that you are not in note-input mode. Select the measure or existing note from which you want to begin note entry.
  • Switch to note input mode (N): a short 'blue rectangle' appears around one tablature string: this is the current string.
  • Select the duration of the note or rest that you wish to enter (see below).
  • Press the up/down arrow keys to move the cursor to the desired string. Use the left/right arrow keys to navigate through the score.
  • Press 0 to 9 to enter a fret mark from 0 to 9 on the current string; to enter numbers with several digits press each digit in sequence. Keys A to L (skipping I) can also be used: convenient when working in French tablature. Note: You cannot enter a number higher than the maximum fret number.
  • You can also correct the fret number with Alt+Shift+ or Alt+Shift+.
  • Press ; (semicolon) to enter a rest of the selected duration.
  • You can enter notes in different voices if required—just as you would in a standard staff.

Mouse

  • Enter note input mode and select the note or rest duration (see below)
  • Click on a string to create a note there. Notes are initially created on fret 0 (or a for French tablatures): to correct, type in the right number from the keyboard.
  • You can also correct the fret number with Alt+Shift+ or Alt+Shift+.
  • You can enter notes in different voices if required—just as you would in a standard staff.

Selecting note duration

In note input mode, you can use any of the following methods to set note duration in tablature:

  • Shift+1 to Shift+9 (availability of these shortcuts may depend on the platform and/or keyboard layout)
  • NumPad 1 to Numpad 9 (if a numeric keypad exists and NumLock is on)
  • the input tool bar at the top of the screen
  • Q to decrease the selected value and W to increase it

Editing existing notes

While NOT in note input mode, three key combinations can be used to change a fret mark:

  • / increases/decreases the fret number without changing the string (ranging from 0 to the number of frets defined in the "Edit String Data" dialog box).
  • Alt+Shift+ / increases/decreases the fret number, but moves the note to a different string where possible to maintain it in the open position (frets 0–4).
  • Ctrl+ / moves the selected note to upper/lower string (if the string is free and can produce that note).
  • Shift+X toggles ghost noteheads on/off.

Summary of keys

Note input mode

Type: to get:
Select above string as current.
Select below string as current.
Shift+1 to Shift+9 Select a duration (128th note to longa)
NumPad 1 to NumPad 9 Select a duration (128th note to longa)
Q Decrease current input duration.
W Increase current input duration.
0 to 9 Enter a fret digit / letter.
A to K Enter a fret digit / letter (I excluded).
Alt+Shift+ Increase current fret mark.
Alt+Shift+ Decrease current fret mark.
; (semicolon) Enter a rest

Normal mode

Type: to get:
0 to 9 Change duration of selected note or rest (128th note to longa)
Alt+Shift+ Increase the pitch of the selected note (MuseScore chooses the string).
Increase the pitch without changing string.
Alt+Shift+ Decrease the pitch of the selected note (MuseScore chooses the string).
Decrease the pitch without changing string.
Ctrl+ Move note to above string, keeping the pitch.
Ctrl+ Move note to below string, keeping the pitch.
Shift+X Toggle the ghost note head on/off.
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