Trouble with banjo tab in altered tuning

• Aug 25, 2018 - 22:18

I'm trying to enter a score with banjo tab, and the banjo's 5th string is capoed at 7th fret. This is common whenever the banjo is played in the key of D, so the drone is an A instead of a G. But, it's not working. I changed the string data (staff properties -> edit string data), but it doesn't connect properly with the note-based score. If I enter a note plucked on 5th string open (0 fret), it appears on the 1st string 7th fret. That's the right note, but the wrong place to play it. So, MuseScore knows I've entered A4, but doesn't believe it can be played on the 5th string. I can move the note to the 2nd or 3rd string on the appropriate frets, but won't let me move it to the 5th string, even though that's where it was entered.

Am I doing something wrong, or is the banjo's 5th string just too weird for MuseScore to handle properly?


If the string is capoed at the 7th fret, then rename the string so it is the same as how it is played rather than how it is strung. I don't know banjo strings, so for example, a G and capoed as the 7th fret it becomes the D above the actual string. This will correct the tab, but you may need to tell MuseScore which string to play it on. If the string is always played open as I've seen in other MuseScore discussions then check the box in the Open column in string data and the fret will always be 0.

In reply to by loonsailor

That's what I was talking about. It's also where the Open check box next to the string is.

I'm not extremely familiar with Banjo music, but from what I've seen the drone is used in conjunction with set rhythm maybe a run of 16th notes or possibly a run of alternating dotted eighth followed by 16th notes or even some triplet pattern with the drone always in the same spot or alternating between the middle and end notes of the triplet.

All of these rhythms can be repeated using the R key. If this is the case, I would enter the shortest rhythm that uses the drone on the same beat or beats (in the case of the triplets). I would enter a note that is not the drone followed by the drone (or fill in two triplets worth of notes if needed). I would select all of those notes and press R until I have a reasonable number of repetitions of the rhythm copied. I would then use the Repitch note entry mode and enter a note that's not the drone, right arrow past the drone, note that's not the drone and so forth until I either need to copy more of the rhythm or the rhythm has ended. If there is the occasional filler measure I would go back and fix these later using the standard note entry mode. I suspect the drone will normally not come into play in these measures, but they will be much fewer than the main rhythm.

If this doesn't help, then perhaps you can explain, or even post at least a snippet of the song, and I'll see if I can help you go faster than fixing every drone note manually. If you don't understand, let me know and I'll make it clear what I mean.

I should have started with this, but I will end with it instead. Remember, no computer program can read your mind so MuseScore must guess based on some algorithm as to which string to place a note. Since MuseScore is not a Banjo notation program, it does not consider the context to decide which string to place a note. If it only placed the note on the drone string, it would still be wrong half the time.

In reply to by loonsailor

I just went in and tested this. I created a 4-measure score with two staffs, one notation and one Tab. I went to the Tab staff and selected staff properties/edit string data/string data. I changed the 5th string to A4, clicked "OK" and then "Apply and OK" (in the edit staff properties window).
I then went back to my blank score and in the notation staff, I entered a scale. I cut/pasted that scale into the Tab staff...Musescore put all the A4 notes on the 7th fret of the 1st string (as expected). When I moved them to the 5th string of the Tab, they show up properly as "0".
Then, I appended 4 more measures and did the reverse. I entered the scale in Tab and cut/pasted the Tab into the notation problems.
Not sure what happened with your score. I've been messing around with that test score for a few minutes and have been unable to duplicate your issue. I've changed the 5th string from G4 to A4 to B4 and it always understands. I tried this with both linked and unlinked staffs.

In reply to by madsmith

The 5th string is simply another note, just placed oddly due to the re-entrant tuning and permanent position at the 5th fret (or capoed higher/tuned lower). Modern banjo players use it as variously as any other note. However, for most of the 19th and 20th cent, it was simply used "open" and rarely fretted. For traditional playing styles, it was virtually always a drone (and often used in base rhythms as you say). If one needed that note to have a true value, one played it at the 5th fret, 1st string. For popular music (19th C), it was most often used as a way to move up and down the neck. Having an open note allows the left hand a bit of space to move around the fretboard if it doesn't have to fret that note. Very nice if you're leaping around the neck.
Still, it would be nice to have a toggle assignment feature for it. When I reviewed a score, I could easily judge which side of 50% that string was used and toggle as needed.

In reply to by madsmith

@madsmith, So you know, my suggestion is very similar to how you entered that song with almost all dotted 8th followed by 16th notes. If I'm correct about it being used regularly (on a specific beat) using repitch and the right arrow should speed up the process of entering the score by a large factor since most notes that belong on the drone string will already be there.

As you have already seen, there are many things you can do to make entering a song easier in MuseScore. It may even be possible to use the implode function and three tablature staves. I would keep the top staff empty with proper tuning, the second would only have notes on the drone string (you can tune the other strings to lower notes than the drone on this staff which will prevent notes from being placed on any other string), then the third staff would have only notes that are not on the drone. Once the two staves are entered, you can select all three staves and implode them to a single staff, which would be the top staff. I realize this is not the ideal way to enter such a score, but I think it would be faster than changing semi random notes to the drone string. You can test the idea on a small section of a song and see what you think. If you want to see notes also, you can delete the unneeded staves and add a linked standard staff when you are done.

Every song, every staff, every style of music has it's own way of best entering notes on it.

In reply to by mike320

Yes! Learning to use the repitch function was a revelation. Thank you for that!
LOL, never heard of imploding a score! Sounds dangerous. ;-)
I'll have to give it a try. I learn something new almost every time I work on a new score. I'm learning tuplets (5x) today (easy peasy) and dealing with two voices (one dotted, one straight). They're suitable for repitching, so it should be pretty easy.
Much agreement about every score having its own most efficient path. I think that at some point in the learning process, we may begin to see that path earlier and earlier in the process.

In reply to by madsmith

As you are seeing, you learn by using the program. I've learned quickly entering classical scores with 40+ staves. I still have much to learn about the program. I don't have a lot of experience with plucked string instruments but I'm aware of a lot of the options in MuseScore. I'll be interested to see if the implode function will help. Implode is much safer than the associated function called explode (lol). They can both be found under Edit->Tools->... and are explained in the handbook. As always I, or someone, will be here to lend a hand if you need it.

In reply to by mike320

Some reflexions/comments.

"If I enter a note plucked on 5th string open (0 fret), it appears on the 1st string 7th fret. That's the right note, but the wrong place to play it. So, MuseScore knows I've entered A4, but doesn't believe it can be played on the 5th string."

Indeed, because the program cannot guess, when entering this note in standard staff, if you want to play this note A on the 7th fret and top string, or on the 5th string (open string, since you have set it in A).
The simple way to get this: type 0 into the TAB staff.
banjo tab.jpg

2) I observe this function of "open string" in String Data is a great source of confusion. And errors too (I saw some threads about this).
It's a support for non-fretted strings, as for the lutes (it can be noted that by default the boxes in the "Open" column are checked from the 9th string of these lutes). Clearly, this means that only 0/a is accepted as fret mark; any other fret mark is converted to 0/a. Not adapted in this use case.

3) For the banjo, the real difficulty appears when the 5th string is fretted (and for playback.) As it has been said, this string is rarely fretted, but it can happen.
This had been reported in this thread, perfectly clear:

I give the attachment from this thread: Banjo Fifth String Test'.mscz
The way to get the display and playback, common workaround, is to create another instrument/staff.

Then copy-paste the content of the top staff into the one below.

After that, in the second staff, we do: right-click on the involved note -> Selection -> More -> tick same note, same string (very useful here!), same staff -> Ok.

We decrement the fret number (here from 10 to 5) with the down arrow.
Finally, we return to the first staff, same idea with Selection/More, to disable the playback of these notes. And we make the second staff invisible.

The all is not a big deal (with extra time, of course).
Result: New Banjo Fifth String Test.mscz

In reply to by madsmith

This doesn't work for me. Maybe the problem is that I have a standard staff linked with the banjo tab? If I do step entry on the tab staff, select the sixth string, enter 0, the note appears on fret 7 of string 1. I can move it to strings 2, 3, or 4 and it changes to the appropriate fret. But when I move it to the 5th string, it pops right back to fret 7, string 1.

I've attached the file, in the hopes that somebody could point out that I'm doing something wrong but fixable. FWIW, I've also attached my banjo tab template that I used to start on this piece.

Fretting the 5th string is another whole set of issues. I often do fret it - this is common in contemporary playing - but not necessary for this piece.

A couple of thoughts. Is it worth trying to create a new instrument, rather than editing the string data for the existing banjo?

Thanks for any help!

Attachment Size
Ashokan_Farewell 2.mscz 12.07 KB
Banjo tab.mscz 9.79 KB

In reply to by loonsailor

Let's say: not a bug, because you created a Part for this score (first attachment). And it's not really intended for.
You tried something (the part is named Banjo tab-only: in fact, you failed to get this, since it's always the same display in main score). At a certain moment, unexpected things may happen.
So, enter your score, but without part, as you did for the second attachment.

In reply to by loonsailor

I suspect something went wrong with your initial setup. I see in your original that it won't let you move that 1st string to the 5th.
I just re-created your score (starting from new) using linked staff and mine treats the A4 normally. I can enter it as a 7th fret 1st string and drag it down to the 5th where it becomes "0", as it should. I can enter it in the Tab as a "0" on the 5th string and drag it to the 1st and it becomes a 7th fret note. I can enter it in notation and then drag the tab down to the 5th problem.
I actually keyed all the notes in before I changed the 5th string to A4 (not purposely, I forgot). When I edited the string, it changed both the Tab and the notation to suit that new pitch. Again, no problem.
All I can say is that I cannot replicate your issue when I create a score myself.
I would discard that original score, reboot and try again with a new one. Wouldn't hurt to verify that you have the latest version of Musescore (which I think is 2.3.2).

In reply to by madsmith

I can replicate. It's happens when creating parts first, THEN, when changing the pitch of the 5th string (G vs. A)

A score with linked staves, and parts, and finally by editing the pitch of a string: let's say the program has some good reasons to mix pencils! :) EDIT: after further investigation, because the pitch doesn't change in Part.

I created a new template with the A edited first, and with only a TAB in part: Template.mscz

But, as said, it's without full guarantees (recently, I saw exactly one glitch with this, but minor, so...)
In any case, even it may be an excess of caution, probably preferable to enter the score without part.

EDIT: funny, I didn't recall this thread!
So, it works, but as said above, subject to a more complete experiment of this configuration: linked staves + parts.
And for now, think of the behaviour when editing the picth.
The solution is to edit the string before creating part, or after in main score and in part.

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