Rhetorical Rhythm Question?

• Apr 25, 2021 - 18:39

I pretty much know the answer to this rhythm question, but just in case...

Measure 1 groups notes according to the beats of the 4/4 time sig.
Measure 2 prioritises simplicity of duration stems & beams.


To my mind, version 2 is immediately playable whilst version 1 takes some decoding. Is this a situation where v2 is to be preferred or should keeping the beats clear still be the priority?

(There will be a bass voice added later).


"should keeping the beats clear still be the priority?"
Of course, always. So version1.
(version 2 doesn't make sense)

Measure No. 1 for sure. While it may seem that Measure 2 is simpler, it is actually a lot more obscure, and does not guarantee any more ease in performance. "Keeping the beats clear" is preferable in my opinion.

I would bet money that while you think version 2 would be more playable because it looks simpler, the reality is you'd be half a beat off by the time you finished the measure, as would virtually anyone else trying to play it. That's because you wouldn't be immune to the things that would cause anyone to mess up - unconciously moving notes to the beat that aren't meant to be on the beat, just because you see them starting a beam group, etc.

I should have listened to myself: it clearly was a rhetorical question but thanks for the confirmation.

I think the problem that I have is that I have learned to play music by note durations, but your comments suggest that I really should be counting beats. Does that make sense?

I don't really have the concept of "starting a beam group" well established in my brain but I understand what you are referring to.

In reply to by yonah_ag

Yes, if you want to play rhythms correctly, it is vital to relate everything you play to the beat. Attempting to play simply by playing each duration one at a time is a sure-fire recipe to getting the rhythms wrong, adding half a beat here, losing a beat there, because you can't tell exactly how long a note actually is. Even when rhythms are written correctly, people who don't learn to play with respect to the beat almost always have tons of rhythmic errors in their playing as a result that people who learn to play with respect to the beat don't. And when rhythms are written incorrectly, as in your second example, everyone messes up, pretty much without fail. But at least the people who are conscious of the beat realize what went wrong by the time they get to the end of the measure and get back on track by starting the next mmeasure on one. Those limited to playing durations only have no way to fix the error, they just end up off.

The problem with trying to read rhythms by durations only is that it is virtually impossible to get the right answers when you have notes that don't sit squarely on the beat. Sure, you'll play the quarter note longer than the eighths or sixteenth because you know it's supposed to be longer, but there is virtually no way you would ever get that length exactly right that way. Like, you'll see the second rhythm and play durations as "medium, short, medium, medium, medium, long, short, short, short - but without the beat as a frame reference, there is virtually no chance you get the length of the quarter to be exactly twice the eighths, the eighths exactly twice the sixteenth, etc. You get an approximation of the right rhythm, but errors abound, and compound.

In reply to by yonah_ag

Don't count the beats, just keep track of where they are by, for example, tapping your foot. Then the put the notes where they belong, on the beat, between the beats, just after the beat, just before the beat etc. The placing of the notes relative to the beats outlined by the standard note groupings helps the player see when to start the notes, which is much more important than how long to hold them for.

In reply to by SteveBlower

Yes, I actually made a point of shifting the language from of counting beats - which is indeed not really helpful - to talking more about feeling beats, and understanding how each note relates to the beat. It's an unfortunate historical fact that music notation evolved a system of notating the least interesting thing about rhythm (the duration of notes) and no system for directly notating what's actually important (when each note starts). So these conventions about how we notate rhythms using beams to clarify the beat was developed as kind of a workaround for this inherent deficiency in music notation.

As for why I say duration is the least interesting aspect of rhythm - consider that on neither guitar nor on drums is actual the duration of the note something one normally controls directly. It's all about when you play the note; the duration in most cases takes care of itself. And even on instruments where duration is meaningful, it's much less musically useful to know a note last 1.5 beats than to know it starts on the "and" of beat 2. Even the fact that it ends on beat 3 is irrelevant if you know the next note or rests starts on beat 3.

FWIW, I recommend using feet to tap the beat, in a specific way derived from my experience playing in marching band: left on 1, right on 2, left on three, right on 4 (for 4/4 anyhow, you're on your own for other time signatures!). Once you get accustomed to this way to dealing with rhythm, you'll easily be able to correct any error by the next half-measure - just make sure the note you play when your left foot comes down is the note that goes on 1 or 3. Tapping the same foot over and over makes off-by-one errors (getting 3 or 5 beats in a 4/4 measure) unfortunately still too common.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

A good explanation. This fits with what you've been saying about players recognising rhythm patterns from an agreed standard vs. encountering, (apparently simpler), non-orthodox patterns based only on duration.

I'll have to get my feet into gear. Could be interesting with the footstool.

I decipher the rhythm pattern in measure-1 in a second (actually even quicker).

I can't say the same for Measure 2. I must first understand this rhythm pattern. I should also check if it's missing eighth or sixteenth. //But if I have to, I can fake-it :) If I am going to play this piece more often, I have to rewrite it as in measure 1. So I feel more comfortable.

As a slight variation on the same theme, I've just realised that I have scored the same rhythm in two different ways in consecutive measures 53 and 54. Is either of these 2 better or is this just personal preference?


Seems to be a case of "tie" vs "dot".

Can I hide fret numbers or fret-and-ties and keep only the stems as 'beat markers' or is this confusing?


Hide frets only:

Hide frets and ties:

In reply to by yonah_ag

The whole point of writing the voice 1 rhythms correctly is that then you don't need special "beat markers". That rhythm is already 100% clear even if you notate voice 2 as a whole note - which you absolutely should, because the all of the versions you posted are much more confusing than need be.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Published TABS generally have linked standard notation and the rests are usually only shown in the notation. Guitar Pro in TAB only mode has an option to show rests but no control of the vertical position so they are shown within the TAB.

MS allows me to move the rests vertically to line up with stems and I find this easier to read so hopefully it won't be confusing for anyone else.

You are definitely right about the 4 tied crotchets: replacement with a whole note gives a much less cluttered result and doesn't add confusion to the bass rhythm.

I've been over similar ground recently. Does the Tools->Regroup Rhythm work with the notation you're trying to manipulate?

With regular notes on a stave it generally does a pretty good job.

In reply to by yonah_ag

How are you getting the rhythms above the tab displays? I'm not really familiar with this notation - not a guitar or lute player - but I'd like to know how you do that in MuseScore, so I can replicate it.

My suspicion is that if you are using a standard way in Musescore to get those rhythm lines, then Tools-> Regroup Rhythms should sort out most of the notation for you.

In reply to by dave2020X

I may have missed some context here, but I'll comment nonetheless.

You can show rhythms in the tablature staff by selecting:

  Staff/Part Properties>Advanced Style Properties button>Note values>Stems and Beams

In the same dialog you can choose a stem direction—which my be overridden by stems direction governed by voice.


In reply to by scorster

So something like the attached, then? Done by copying from another staff, then removing that from the score.

The second example shows that the Tools->Regroup Rhythms does work even with Tab notation.

Doesn't mean a lot to me, but hopefully it might to a guitarist. Here 4/4 time signature is assumed.

There should be a half note rest at the start of the first bar in the second example - not sure how that should appear. Are rests not notated - or has a mark been obscured?

The second example shows rhythm regrouping at the right hand side of the line.



In reply to by scorster

I have all the rhythms displayed in my TAB only score. The only issue is in my brain, not with MuseScore. I used to show stems based only on note duration and this meant that I was ignoring note grouping to the detriment of the readability of my scores.

I corrected this bad habit some months back but had a few rhetorical questions on another situation, as described in this thread. More knowledgeable heads than mine confirmed that my questions were indeed rhetorical and I have taken this learning on board.

To help rhythm reading I now moves rests out of the TAB lines to above/below the TAB to match the stems and voice. I find that I can read the rhythm better this way as it lines up better.

I do not use standard notation at all. I did make some progress with it but not enough.

In reply to by dave2020X

Yes, mostly that's very readable but I have a few observations:

1) I would move the rests up out of the TAB so that they line up with the note stems.

2) There seems to be a second voice in some measures, (stems below the TAB), but no rests in this voice for other measures.

3) The ties don't make any sense at all because they aren't between same fret number on same string.

4) There seems to be too much duration in voice 1 in some measures, e.g. 11, 15.

In reply to by dave2020X

I have just played it. I recognise it from a classical piece but can't put a name to it. I can play quite a few measures beyond what is shown simply because I know the tune – so it's probably famous.

What's going on with the voices and extra duration measures?

In reply to by yonah_ag

OK - I'll put you out of your "misery". It's a short excerpt from this piece by Mozart - Rondo alla Turca - https://musescore.com/classicman/scores/49143 - click to see the score.

To get the guitar version I downloaded a version of that piece - possibly - but not necessarily the one here.
Then I deleted everything after the bottom of the first page. Then I selected the top line, and copied it into a completely new MS score - and I created two instrument lines - one with Guitar in Tab notation - one with Guitar in stave notation. Then I copied the notes into the stave notation from the piano part into the stave.

As you noted there are curvy lines - slurs or phrasing markes in the piano part. If they mean something else - or nothing - in Guitar tab notation, they can be - should be - deleted.. There are also other articulation marks which may not be needed - such as staccato marks. They can all be deleted.

There are rests in the piano part, and also dynamics. They may require other treatment. As the guitar is written at higher pitch - an octave up, this needs attention too. CMD/CTRL down arrow puts the pitch down an octave in the notation stave.

Then copy the stave part to the Tab line - if the notes are now down at the right pitch for guitar the tab should now be OK - it wasn't really in the version I posted earlier. Finally, if the Tab line looks OK use 'i' again to set the staves in the notation, and remove the stave with the notes.

So finally - with luck - you should get to something a bit like this.


Here I've got the stems going up and down - above and below the Tab - because I couldn't remember quickly how to get them all the same way. I did manage yesterday. Also in this example here the rests have disappeared, and the staccato marks have been left in. Basically though the process should work for any music you want to convert from "regular' notes to tab notation. I hope that might help you.

I only copied the top line from the piano part, as I didn't know whether a guitar can play both lines. That might be possible for some pieces, but some would need simplifying. If you play with another guitarist you could do the same process for both the top and bottom lines, and both play from the Tab sheets.

Re your comment about "voices and extra duration measures" - I probably didn't spend enough time on it - as I was only trying to show viability. I probably didn't notice any 2nd voices - if I were doing it again I might try to watch out for those. You'll notice that the piece has a pickup bar at the start - they usually require a bit more fixing. From scratch that's usually not too bad, but if you're copying and pasting as I did here, then sometimes other techniques need to be used otherwise all the bars go out of sync. I often copy all the whole bars, and then sort out the first and last bars separately.

Again today - I have a different version - if you do want me to try to tidy these up I can, but I was really just trying to show how to do these things.

I did go back and produce another version with the rhythms etc. at the top - you'll see it in the attachment list.

Good luck with this - and it was interesting for me to try this.

Attachment Size
test-tab-v4-print.png 143.44 KB

In reply to by dave2020X

That all makes sense. The mix of up/down stems suggests that something is going on with voices. I have started a couple of pieces in similar fashion except that I use 2 unlinked TAB staves; 1 for piano treble clef and 1 for bass. This helps me compress the piano pitch range for a guitar arrangement before combining into a single TAB score in a separate file, (no standard notation).

I didn't recognise the name of the piece but listening on line confirmed that I somehow know it by ear. I guess it's been used in TV adverts or possibly in a film.

In reply to by yonah_ag

OK - here's another version - with the numbers back on the lines. I found the settings to include the rests this time as well - from the advanced settings popup menu. There's a check box to fill in. I didn't bother with the time signature - but again that can be selected from the menu.

I also removed the staccato marks. That's quite easy - point cursor at one of them and then use the select option to delete all similar elements. It might be harder in a more complex score. I think you could get rid of all ties and slurs the same way - but I've not tried.


One thing which I now realise - there has to be a second voice - which goes below - as the voices have slightly different rhythms. If you wanted to combine them it might be possible with a slight change- but as written this inevitably results in two voices.

Is that easy for guitarists to read? I don't know.

You mention that you convert to two Tab lines - one for the LH and one for the RH (piano) - bass and treble.
Once you'd done that, how do you combine them into just one usable Tab line for guitarists?

In reply to by dave2020X

This is quite hard to read. There's just too much beaming going on in measures 3, 4 and 5. There seem to be too many notes in these measures. Two voices need to be used and a time signature is always helpful.

You included a time sig of 2/4 earlier and therefore every measure and both voices should, separately, have rhythm indicators, (including rests), totalling 2/4. For voice 1 these usually go above the tab and voice 2 below.

Here's a 2. voice example I made some time back:


You can see that every measure and each voice has 3/4 worth of time indicated. This piece is actually in 3 voices but this is not practical in MS tab so the compromise is either, (1) Three voices with the notes playing the correct length but the rhythm stems ending up as a mess or (2) Two voices with the rhythm stems looking neat but the notes playing too short in the shared voice.

In reply to by dave2020X

"You mention that you convert to two Tab lines - one for the LH and one for the RH (piano) - bass and treble. Once you'd done that, how do you combine them into just one usable Tab line for guitarists?"

I copy/paste the treble clef then add the bass clef notes manually because I haven't found a way to copy/paste-merge.

In reply to by yonah_ag

The Tab feature for guitarists seems a bit clunky and takes some working out. I have found by experimenting that it seems easiest to create two staves - one for guitar in regular notation and one in Tab. Ideally the staves should be linked - but it is not immediately obvious how to do that. After some experimentation and referring to searches and the manual one discovers that the linked stave looks exactly the same as the original stave - i.e. not in Tab - but then needs to be change to Tab format.

Then it really is possible to put in notes in the normal notation, and see them reflected immediately in the Tab stave. This works both ways - if the numbers in the Tab are selected, then the up and down arrows chosen, the numbers and notes change in both staves - interesting!

Slurs in the original can cause problems - but should not be confused with the similar marks for grace notes.
If the linked staves are working well enough, then features in the notation stave which are not needed - such as staccato marks, can be selected and deleted en masse with care - using the similar element selection feature.

I wasn't going to bore you with one more of my example attempts - you're almost certainly much more proficient than I am, but hopefully this will now be one last try.

Mozart rondo - v1.png

I also attach the very latest version of the MS file - almost the same as shown, but with some spare staves now deleted - in case anyone else wants to play around. The file should show the linked tab and notes staves and function hopefully correctly.

One feature which is tricky is the pickup bar - bar 1. In regular notation this would probably not be written out in full, but the number of beats would be adjusted. In this kind of notation it might be best to leave the bars complete, and put in rests before the start of the music - otherwise things don't seem to work too well.

Obviously anyone who only wants to play from the Tab line can either delete the notation stave, or perhaps better, make it invisible. That way a file like this one can be kept as a template, with the notation and Tab staves ready linked.

Attachment Size
Mozart rondo test.mscz 24.28 KB

In reply to by dave2020X

Now, this latest one is looking good. I'm guessing that the small notes in measure 5 are an articulation and included in the first beat. I like the rest in the pickup measure.

For my tabs I have started to move the rests above or below the stave to line up with the voice stems.

Linked notation/tab works well but I now use a TAB stave on its own for new scores so my scores consequently require fewer pages. I only use notation if I am re-arranging a piano score for guitar.

(I didn't get bored).

In reply to by yonah_ag

It's a pity that MS doesn't seem to put the rests up (or down) with the stems. Linked staves seem to work quite well - but they need a bit of setting up - as the user manual etc. is not perfect/not clear.

Indeed the small notes are grace notes - which seem to have been translated quite well into the Tab mode.

I strongly recommend linked staves if you've not got them to work before. Then either hide the staves you don't want, or delete them for your very last versions. Might make sense to keep one working version with the additional (working) linked staves as well.

If you know how to do it the notated stave can be recovered from the Tab version - attached here also - and it does work if you make a linked stave from this one.

In general you might have to be careful how you generate Tab versions from multiple voices/multiple staves, but clearly it can be done. Some "editorial" decisions might have to be made.


Here the final result was done by setting the page format - decreasing the page depth to about 130.xxmm before taking the print shot within MS - to Print mode.

Page numbering might still be an issue - because of the pickup bar - but depends on how bothered you or other players are.

Really have just about flogged this particular example horse to death,now.

Attachment Size
Mozart rondo test-tab-v2.mscz 13.79 KB

In reply to by dave2020X

I used linked staves all the time a couple of years back but then I thought, "You don't use the notation so why include it?". The biggest problem I have now is making the fret numbers stand out as there is no way to hold them. This is particularly noticeable when standard notation is also present because note heads are already bold. I make the staves a grey co!our instead and colour code the fret numbers for fngering.

Re-arranging multivoice piano music can take quite a while. A piano piece typically has a lot more pitch range than guitar so need to be compressed. Simply dropping the treble by an octave is not always sufficient since it can lead to pitches overlapping with bass. A key change can sometimes help but after that it's down to editorial choices.

This example was a re-arrangement, (with permission), of a piano piece that I really wanted to play on guitar. It's not as good as the original but it works.





In reply to by yonah_ag

Interesting again - and in your last example you have also included the chords shown above the staves - yet another example of guitar writing syle which I barely understood before. Perhaps if you post any new scores up you could offer the choice of Tab, Tab+notation (linked staves) or just regular notation. Some people might appreciate that.

Do you think many players are Tab only?

In reply to by dave2020X

I could add TAB + Notation to existing scores, (and new ones), but I would do this as separate pages at the end of scores rather than uploading a separate score. For notation on its own I don't know how the string would be indicated to players.

I don't know what proportion of guitarists are TAB only but it's a good question.

In reply to by yonah_ag

I had to think about your comment on notation only. I found this - https://guitargearfinder.com/guides/read-standard-notation/

Right down at the end there are two sections - Finger Numbers and String Numbers. There is a comment that these are rare in notation, but just as with piano notes it's OK to put in finger numbers - numbers for the guitar seem to be next to the note heads. The recommended string for a note can be shown by a number in a circle above the note. How much of a problem this presents I can't say, but for piano music many pianists work out their own fingering, so maybe the same happens in the guitar world.

I once knew a very good guitar player and I was unaware that he played from anything other than sheet music - but perhaps I didn't check hard enough. He also had lessons with some rather distinguished performers, so maybe issues like that are dealt with in lessons.

In reply to by dave2020X

That's a handy guide.

I think that guitarists who get any classical training are soon good notation readers and don't need TAB or help with strings or frets.

For me TAB was a way to get reading music quickly and get on with playing guitar. There are no key signatures to worry about, no sharps, flats or naturals, and no need to learn 2 clefs. It doesn't look as good as notation, in that a piece in notation looks how it sounds due to pitch being shown as vertical position in the stave. A case of analogue vs. digital.

In reply to by dave2020X

And here is something else to throw into the mix. When this thread first appeared, I looked at both versions and didn't like either one. I confess to not being a strong sight reader. I know version one is "correct". But then the thread popped up again and version 2 makes perfect sense to me. The syncopation is obvious to me in version 2. Version 1, I have to work out. I don't use MuseScore for transcription or arranging, so I would probably never run into this kind of rhythm anyway.
And then there is the discussion of playing notes based on when they start, not on their duration. I'm not sure I can divorce one from the other. There are so many things to consider when playing a note.

In reply to by bobjp

Version 2 makes perfect sense to me to too, (I trip over 1), but I'd better stick to the standard – although maybe there is a bit more licence with TAB. The bass notes will certainly be kept standard so these will show where the beats are.

This is from a simple song but the syncopation makes it look complicated.

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