Lute tabulature does not display rhythm correctly

• Jan 9, 2021 - 20:13

I'm creating French tabulature for the 13-course lute, a common practice for those who work extensively with pre-19th century music. The way lute tab is supposed to work is that the rhythm above the staff is consolidated into one voice, always displaying the rhythmic value for whichever voice contains the shortest notes at the moment.

However, what I'm getting in Musescore is only the rhythm notation for voice 1. I could of course consolidate the voices to make it look correct, but that would screw up playback. Any ideas?


Although MuseScore's abilities to handle Early Music notation--including tablature--was one of the features which attracted me to it in the first place, so far I've only done one score in tablature (and for an 8-course instrument, at that), and I don't remember exactly how I did it. The lute part represents the lowest three voices of a part-song, but I believe I entered it afresh, rather than copy/pasting the voice parts.

The whole point of tablature is that it doesn't represent the separate voices as such, but "consolidates" them into a single part--the voices are implied, suggested by the performer and inferred by the listener. I think you will have to enter it as such. I don't understand why "consolidated" rhythms would screw up playback, either, especially given the plucked-string rapid decay of the sound.

Were you trying to engrave just a tablature part, or tablature with a realization in standard staff notation as well (which would, of course, represent the part-writing)? If you were trying to do the latter, I think you'd have to enter it as two separate instruments--one notated in tablature and one in staff. If there were any discrepencies in playback (I don't there would be), you could just mute one of the parts.

I was very impressed with the variety of styles of tablature which MuseScore allows--some of them quite elegant. One thing I didn't figure out how to do was to notate the lute tablature's rhythmic values at one-half or -quarter the note values of the voice part, which is often the case, at least in English notation.

I hope this helps.

in my opinion this is only the top of the iceberg of the problems of musescore and tablature.
I think the best solution for this problem would be a plugin that puts all voices of the tablature in voice 1 showing only the shortest note value. Best this is put in a separate not linked tablature staff

It was very late here when I wrote my post, and it was a little confused,but I thought the OP deserved a response.

I guess the question I have is are you trying to create the tablature by converting an existing part (in conventional staff notation) which you have already created on MS? I don't think you can do that (yet--plugin in the future?).

Or are you trying to create the tabalture afresh? This is essentially what Gaultier did with quill and ink, and would have done if he had MS. The playback will be fine--no different than if a live performer played from your score.

If you want both--a tablature with a staff realization below it--I think you have to enter them as two separate parts. Playback may be doubled (as if two lutes were playing simultaneously--but aren't two lutes better than one?), unless one part is muted.

In reply to by wfazekas1

It's good to see your input here, Bill, and I'm glad to know you're still interested in lute tablature. I am proficient in the use of Fronimo, which is purpose-built for lute tablature, but my incursions into using the lute tablature functions in Musescore have not borne wholesome fruit. I love Musescore for most standard notation operations, but lute tablature demands functionality in both vertical and linear application. Yes, for all practical purposes tablature appears to condense linear movement into vertical events. But for those of us who live and breathe polyphonic music, flexibility in the assignment of rhythm symbols is essential.

It appears that Musescore assigns the rhythm symbols derived from one layer of polyphonic music, but they do not always make sense, appear in incorrect positions, and do not appear to be editable.


In reply to by mignarda

"It appears that Musescore assigns the rhythm symbols derived from one layer of polyphonic music, but they do not always make sense, appear in incorrect positions, and do not appear to be editable."

Please attach a score or excerpt demonstrating what you are saying.

In reply to by cadiz1

Thanks for asking for the example. In the attached score you will see that the funny business begins in measure 8, where the rhythm symbol is ignored for the first beat in the tablature, presumably because the bass note is from a separate voice as shown in the transcription. I am experiencing some display problems for the rhythm symbols from measure 9 - 12, and measures 13 through 16 make no sense at all. As the piece goes on, it gets worse.

Again, I see what the problem is: rhythm symbols are derived from the first voice only. At this point, I can't figure out how to edit the symbols and place the correct value over the proper tablature letter.


Attachment Size
La_Rossignol_LUTE I.mscz 20.78 KB

In reply to by mignarda

"I see what the problem is: rhythm symbols are derived from the first voice only."

That's right. Historical tablatures have never represented several voices (with their proper rhythm) at the same time. If you want the rhythm to be exact above the staff, enter everything in Voice 1 (which is what I did in the first page of your score). See: 1 La_Rossignol_LUTE I.mscz

What you wanted to get in the standard staff (with three voices) is a correct "interpretation" (I didn't check everything), but it remains an interpretation, a proposal. Lute players are used to building or reconstructing the voicing by themselves just by seeing the TAB. So this is not a problem in itself.

EDIT : You were talking about Fronimo. This is what Sarge Gerbode (who uses Fronimo) gets with this score.


In reply to by cadiz1

Thanks for your comments but I beg to differ. Lute tablature played correctly represents polyphonic music in a linear fashion. The visual representation of lute tablature appears to cram notes into chordal events, and that is why so many lutenists can't seem to grasp how to derive the polyphony from the notated music. To interpret lute tablature, you must understand the distribution of polyphony.

As for the practice of notating tablature, as I mentioned earlier I am proficient in the use of Fronimo. I was hoping that Musescore would be able to accurately transcribe tablature from standard notation, not the other way round. Every notation program I have tried makes a complete hash out of converting tablature into standard notation, but I thought it should be a simple process to do the reverse. Apparently it is not simple enough.


In reply to by mignarda

" To interpret lute tablature, you must understand the distribution of polyphony."

That's it. If you are a lutenist, let's say of a certain level, you do it "naturally". If you are a guitarist or whatever, well, it's your job to build that into your scores: personally, I love to do that, because there is not necessarily a perfect proposal, there can be variations on the holding of notes, on the distribution of voices (that's what we see in published scores which can present differences, not major ones, but still)

"As for the practice of notating tablature, as I mentioned earlier I am proficient in the use of Fronimo. "

Concerning Fronimo, for my part, I only use the free version (just to listen and for the PDFs). In the "Transcribe" menu, I see two options (inactive for me): "Mensural to Tablature", and "Tablature to Mensural".
Can you show examples of these options (and their result) ?

In reply to by mignarda

Hi Ron,
there are several problems, that are reason for musescore not to be able to directly convert musical polyphony to tablature:
- Unisons are not possible
- Also, as far as I know (maybe I'm wrong), there is currently no function, that can convert 2-4 voices into one voice. If that would be possible, it would be very easy to use this function to get the flags to the correct length of by using this routine ...
- As I am no programmer (though I added some of the Code for the basses in Mscore) and I don't have the time, I'm currently not able to change anything ...

  • Possible solutions could be:
  • Compressing different voices into one, that only uses the length of one note/chord to the next one (that's the way tablature works - it only shows the starting point of notes and the length to the next ones
  • Adding the possibility to change the duration of the flags indepently from the other voices

I think, that it should be possible to use notation with polyphone voices as origin for a correct tablature voice, even if that was an only implicit aspect of historical tabs.
I also support the idea of it and would vote for it.
BTW - I think that also would be a great thing for classical guitar music, if you could use notation and tablature parallelly.
Best regards, Markus

In reply to by MLutz

Hello Markus:

Thanks for your helpful comments. I think I understand the problem. It's probably very unusual in this forum but I have transcribed so much lute music from tablature to standard notation that I have a comfortable working relationship with both formats on the lute, and the distribution of parts intended in the tablature seems very clear to me.

But to get to your suggestions, I see that compressing polyphony into one voice part is really the only solution. I am not a programmer either, but I understand the logic involved in this case.

I have transcribed a great deal of lute music into guitar notation for my students, and Musescore is a wonderful tool for this purpose if you start from scratch and don't try to import sound files. The output is very legible and I will continue to use it for that purpose. But I think I'll stick with Fronimo for lute tablature though.

Best wishes,
Ron Andrico

In reply to by mignarda

Hello Ron,
BTW - I once again tried to import the Chromatic Fantasia by Diomedes Cato into lute tablature (it only exists in a version for Organ; from an existing Midi file), which is no easy job with 4 voicse, but is working quite OK (when neglecting the flag problem), but it would be a lot of work to add the missing flags in musescore, correct the existing ones. You have to change the note lengths one per one to be able to combine the voices manually ...

It is a pity, that it isn't possible to compress it to one working voice - but unfortunately that's currently a matter of fact. Anyway, as you also said, it is very easy to make new lute parts from scratch - and btw it is very helpful to have the possibility to change things also via a connected notation line ...

It would be easy to add and correct the flags manually, therefore I really don't know, why that couldn't be done in musescore automatically.

Best regards

Attachment Size
Fantasia_Chromatica.mscz 36.42 KB
Fantasia_ChromaticaLute.mscz 55.96 KB

In reply to by MLutz

Hello Markus:

Thank you for attaching your scores. I see that you experienced many of the same issues, with rhythm symbols in the lute transcription sometimes randomly placed and accurate but unplayable tablature figures. I gave up long ago trying to use transcribe functions on any notation software, but would be happy if a version emerged that worked. Attached is a pdf of my transcription of your Cato Fantasia, based on the organ score. It was done quickly and may not be entirely accurate, but it is playable.

Best regards,

In reply to by wfazekas1

Thanks for the score, Bill. We just finished a recording session (French music including three different psalm settings, 50, 69, 92) and can now actually look at different music for pleasure. We'll try out your psalm setting this evening and report back, but I see a few quotations of the Lachrimae motif at the outset so what's not to like.


I also thought on this problem many times, as it would be easier to set up a score with different voices in one notation system and have it parallely in the tablature. As you tell, this gives a better sound in playback.

But: As you notice currently the time duration signs (flags) are connected to voice 1. And, to add a little problem with this, if you show rests, than voice two will also be shown (only the rest), which is a little bit weird.

Sometimes for playback I used to separate the bass notes to at least have them sounding longer. Another solution would be to use a separate notation voice.

Principally it is possible to use different voices in a tablature system, but there are some problems:
1. As you say the flags (could be probably changed by a) having a function to extract the note starts and their duration to the next note or a rest or b) being able to edit it separately)
2. It is currently not possible to have to notes at the same heigth and course, which would be necessary, if polyphonic voices should be supported consequently; possibly the musical layer then should only be losely connected to the notated tablature layer (i.e. really only shows their durance to the next note). I'm not sure, if this really would be possible, but I would support this idea!

Anyway: I think there it would be possible to ease the use of polyphonic voices. But it would be necessary to have someone, who can handle this by programming it. I fear, I can not do this, although I love the idea to do it.
I think - maybe I'm wrong, currently there is not yet function in the source code to bundle voices in a way to use that as basic for the drawing of the rhythmic flags ...

And - to make it easier, it would be good to have a notation system, that exists of two systems together (G and F clef - for 13 course baroque lute even transposed one octave lower. I would prefer to have it in a way that it has 10 lines (or more exactly 11, but the middle line should only be shown as help line with the notes) together; a way, in which the Weiss Sämtliche Werke are shown in the notation volumes.

In reply to by wolfgan

Ich weiß, dass man zwei Systeme so anordnen und zusammenfügen kann, allerdings funktioniert das nicht ganz so, wie es soll. Es wäre für den genannten Zweck notwendig, die beiden Systeme wie EIN Instrument benutzen zu können, damit sie mit der Tabulatur direkt verbunden werden können.
Soweit ich weiß, ist es auch nicht möglich, einzelne Stimmen mit den Systemen zu verbinden, sondern nur Systeme miteinander. Sonst könnte man z.B. Stimme 1+2 mit dem Violinsystem und 3+4 mit dem Bass-System verbinden. Aber vielleicht wäre das ja auch möglich?
Darüber hinaus sind hier die Hilfslinien sichtbar, die man - außer denen beim c' danach eigentlich manuell löschen müsste ...

In reply to by wolfgan

Das funktioniert dann vermutlich so, dass du das obere System mit der Laute verknüpfst, oder?
Mit den Hilfslinien weiß ich auch nichts ... - vielleicht ist es ja möglich, die Linienstärke anzupassen. Wenn die den Notenlinien entsprechen würde, müssten die Striche verschwinden.
Hast du das bereits so in Verwendung?

In reply to by MLutz

ich hatte das untere System verknüpft, geht auch mit dem oberen, dann hast du die Tabs in der Mitte + musst sie erst runterschieben.
Für mich selbst beuntze ich das z.B für Bach auf der Laute wobei bie Auftritten doch eher die 8va Variante aus Platzgründen den Vorzug bekommt (blättern)Beim Unterrichten kommt es zum Notenlesen zum Einsatz(momentan hab ich z.B. einen Schüler der auf der Ren.Laute die obern 3 Chöre auf dem Violin + die tieferen auf dem Bassschlüssel lesen kann aber noch nicht übergreifend)

In reply to by wolfgan

Heureka: Jetzt habe ich gefunden, wo sich die Hilfslinien verkleinern lassen. Bei Stil-Noten gibt es eine Einstellung Hilfsliniendicke. Wenn sie auf 11 gesetzt wird, entspricht das genau der Notenliniendicke und die überflüssigen Hilfslinien verschwinden!

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