To Tie or Not To Tie ? (introducing the Stuart Saunders Smith Hollow Dot notation)

• Aug 21, 2022 - 17:12

Can I drop the fret 2 note on beat 2 and tie straight through instead – as shown in red?



You can fudge it by making the ties invisible and using slurs instead, which look almost identical. But it may confuse the player.

Edited to correct my muddling of ties with slurs - I knew what I meant and what you wanted!

In reply to by Brer Fox

I don't have any slurs at all; only ties. I though that slurs were straight lines which go between different fret numbers.

Also, in your first measure, beat 2 looks like it should be plucked – but it shouldn't. I just think that my version looks a mess with so many ties.

When it comes to TAB...
You probably have noticed that there are 3 basic flavors available in the Instruments dialog: 'Simple', 'Common', and 'Full'. Additionally, more choices exist in Staff/Part properties - for example, whether or not to 'Show rests'.
While the "Tab 6 str. full' flavor of TAB strives to more closely observe the rules of standard notation with regard to rhythm, TAB is often seen with the less dogmatic flavors (and choices within them).

I think in this TAB the bass notes reveal the time signature to be 3/4 and a competent TAB reader would deduce the upper voice timing:
After all, TAB notation arose to enable folk who don't read standard notation (or have only a rudimentary knowledge of it) to notate, play, and share music in a less formal medium. Kudos to MuseScore for adding TAB years ago as a feature.
(I find it indispensable for 5-string banjo.)

In reply to by Jm6stringer

That does look really clean and there is already an explicit 3/4 time sig in the first measure of the score but not included in my screen snip. (I do show rests but rarely use them as guitar ring tends to make them redundant).

Without TAB in MS I would still be using Guitar Pro.

In reply to by yonah_ag

I do show rests but rarely use them as guitar ring tends to make them redundant.

Also, concerning "guitar ring", a note still decays over time (despite being tied) and placing rests in TAB to "confirm" the guitar is no longer sustaining the sound is hardly needed in all cases.
On the other hand, a sustaining instrument like organ, playing multiple voices, requires more precision in rhythmic notation, which is why standard notation unambiguously affords the necessary accuracy.

In reply to by Brer Fox

Hi yonah,

I can easy read the novel method/solution you've proposed. It's refreshingly self-evident (due to the presence of off-staff rhythms provided by MuseScore's 'Common' and 'Full' tablature styles. And it's self-evident that the note at the tie start lasts until the end of the note to which it's tied.) And you're method successfully removes considerable clutter from tablature notation—which was your initial goal, achieved.

I applaud innovation in music notation. If there was none, we'd not have any notation at all.

Alternately if all innovation were frozen after the creation of a particular notational method we'd be forever suspended in time with Guido of Arezzo, Isidore of Seville, Franco of Cologne or mensural notation.


In reply to by yonah_ag

The star or hollow dot makes mathematical sense and is a nice construct, but in cases like this I'd likely ignore it and let the ties and context communicate the duration.

Regarding star vs. hollow dot, I can see how the hollow dot could look solid at small sizes or "ink" bleed, etc. But I do like that symbolically it's "less" than a solid dot.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Fair enough. The ties are messy, though, and might also confuse some players who only read TAB. There is a "Let ring" in the lines palette which is probably more appropriate and familiar, but I don't know how it would fit in among the rhythm flags. The OP is working on a plugin.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I realise that it's incorrect notation – but it's not notation: it's TAB and maybe the rules for TAB are not quite so formalised ;-)

Since my uploads are aimed at TAB guitar players it would be interesting to know whether they find this easier to read than the alternatives. If the consensus confirmed that it is indeed confusing then I will change it. I'm open to any suggestions which would clear up all those messy ties.

None of the rhythm stems are missing but the intermediate ties are hidden and bracketed in a 'super-tie'. The playback confirms the TAB and if anyone wanted to see this with correct notation they could use Musescore to add a standard stave.

In reply to by yonah_ag

To be clear - tablature is a form of notation, even if different from standard music notation. But of course, what you say is true - it has different rules, and more options to choose from. Still, that doesn't mean it's a good idea to make up your own. I'd say, look at published tablature (included from respected online publishers) to see how they handle these, and then you'll have a better idea of your range of options. And I'd recommend sticking to one of those, since that what others will be used to, and you don't want people guessing at what you mean if you can can help.

In my limited experience, many publishers of course don't represent rhythm at all on the tab staff, only the standard notation staff. Which means, no ties at all, and no notes to tie to, which solves the problem nicely. But of the ones that do represent rhythms on the tab staff, I can't say I've seen this particular combination of note values and ties. One approach I have seen is to simply use slashes to show the beats if you don't want to go with the no-rhythm-at-all approach. But if you're going to show the rhythms for every note, I do think it likely to be misleading to show a rhythm but then somehow expect people to realize they aren't supposed to play it. Unless you are positive this really is in common use by some publisher your readers are familiar with, I still recommend against it.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I am not aware of any publishers that publish TAB only scores: they all have linked standard notation which carries the rhythm info so there are no examples for me to draw upon. Of course, no rhythm at all is really not an option for TAB only scores.

Standard notation already shows rhythm that people are not expected to play and it is not misleading. This happens whenever there is a tie. The note is simply sustained but the rhythm allows the player to count correctly.

I would be interested to know what other tabbers make of my intended usage. Is it self-explanatory or is it confusing?

In reply to by yonah_ag

I've seen plenty of tab-only scores, and many show no rhythm. They rely on people basically already knowing how the thing goes and they just want to know the notes.

Ties are indeed how you show notes that aren't meant to be played. And that's why I'm saying your example needs them on the rhythms you are showing. If you just want to show beats, why not use the standard that everyone else uses - slashes?

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

My understanding was that slashes show when to strum a chord. This is indicated in 2 beginner books that I have: Guitar for Dummies and Hal Leonard Guitar Method. In my case I don't want the note re-plucked but just want it to continue sounding.

My "super tie" was an attempt to bracket multiple individual ties but I will accept your advice and revert to standard notation ties. I can live with the messiness and thereby avoid potential confusion.…

In reply to by yonah_ag

Slashes on the staff are sometimes used to show rhythms, although those normally have stems - see the Handbook section on "rhythmic slash notation. Otherwise, how can you actually indicate rhythms other than just plain quarter notes? For instance, here's a typical strum rhythm:

Screenshot 2022-08-23 6.38.25 AM.png

Four stemless slashes like that book shows would more normally indicate, play whatever rhythm you want.

Anyhow, I'm not talking about slashes on the staff; the staff is already being used for tab. I'm talking about slashes above the staff (also stemless). This is often used to clarify rhythms of chord symbols in lead sheets by showing where the beats occur relative to the chords:

Screenshot 2022-08-23 6.41.12 AM.png

And I've seen the same technique used in tab:

Screenshot 2022-08-23 6.45.02 AM.png

Anyhow, I'm not saying there aren't other solutions here, but I am suggesting that researching what exists in the literature and using notations that are actually in common use is almost always going to communicate your intentions than inventing new notations that others will have to guess at.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I have looked but I really can't find anything regarding TAB + rhythm without standard notation. I have used guitar Pro and TablEdit both of which stick to standard rhythm notation, even when using TAB only mode.

So, I'll go with the standard rather than risk any confusion from something novel.

(There's sort of a gap in standard rhythm: I can use a crotchet to give a 1 beat duration; a dotted crotchet for 1½ beats; and a double-dotted crotchet for 1¾ beats. The obvious omission is that there is no such indicator for 1¼ beats. This would solve the messy tie situation nicely.)

In reply to by yonah_ag

Someone else propagated a trailing asterisk for a "5 ticks note" ... but I can't find any reference to this anymore. All these "5er notations" have never caught on ...
Edit: Ah, well, I should've scrolled a little to that huge image of just that asterisky idea. Forget what I said.


In reply to by hmmueller

It was in the linked article above that I found mention of Smith's hollow dot, which I then googled and found the thesis showing an example hollow dot. I like it as it looks like an empty dot, as opposed to the standard (full) dot. I will be sure to document its meaning in my score but it looks self-explanatory really.

In reply to by yonah_ag

It's not at all self-explanatory. And even if you include your own "secret decoder ring" to explain in, it's still going to be completely unreadable to 99.99% of the population, because people are simply not used to it and won't immediately recognize how to play it. They'll need to do the math each and every time they encounter this until they've seen it a few thousand times and the pattern recognition factor starts kicking in. The chances of that actually happening are infinitessimal.

Again, if the goal is for people to actually read your music, stick with familiar patterns actually used in the music people are accustomed to reading and will instantly recognize and be able to play perfectly the first time without needing to break out the slide rule. There is no advantage whatsoever in inventing new notation if it makes it harder for people to read, and that's virtually always the case.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

So, let's see: it's 3/4 time; there are only 2 rhythm indicators in the measure and the first is an eighth note. Mmm, I wonder what duration the other indicator could stand for? So in context rather than in general I'd say this was self-explanatory.

If there was a complex rhythm then maybe it would be difficult but it's clear that from the "and" of beat 1 the note is held until beat 1 of the next measure, so the required count is 1-and-2-3 1-2-3-and which is nothing unusual, and certainly not needing a slide rule, abacus or table of logarithms.

It may be confusing for notation readers but I think that since TAB players have often managed without any rhythm indicators they will have no trouble with this. Additionally, the playback clarifies any possible confusion.

I'm not inventing new notation: this is the invention of American composer and percussionist of some repute, Stuart Saunders Smith.

In reply to by yonah_ag

Again, the whole point is, people aren't supposed to have to do math in order to read music. There are only eight rhythmic patterns normally used, and people have seen each of them tens of thousands of times by now. Any time you introduce a pattern that deviates from the familiar, you create a situation where people have to stop and think and that's a sure-fire recipe for errors.

Again, if you want your music to be hard to read and want to hear the mistakes people make trying to make sense put of rhythm that would have been perfectly clear notated in the conventional way, it is of course your right to invent whatever notation you want. And indeed, it is also your right to use an experimental notation invented by someone else that none of your readers have ever heard of or read music from. But if you want it easy to read, stick with the familiar. This is just plain common sense and I'm not sure why you resist it so much.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I replied to your hyperbole with my own. There really is no math to do here at all. I am not arguing the general case for using a hollow dot but it's use in the specific circumstance alluded to in this thread.

Why are you so resistant to the possibilities of improving notation. This hollow dot is not my own invention and is appropriate for the current situation. Whilst I value your comments, as your musical knowledge greatly exceeds mine, there are other qualified voices to be heard as well.

Stuart Saunders Smith is clearly a composer and musician of some note and his hollow dot has been described in a graduate thesis thus:

A dot following a note traditionally signifies an addition of half of the note’s value; Smith’s creation of the hollow dot adds one-quarter of a note’s value to its duration and fills a practical need for notating complex rhythms. This method greatly improves readibility by eliminating the need for ties and can be quickly learned and applied by the performer.

I believe that in my score that it does indeed increase readability and that for TAB only guitarists it is simpler than the multiple ties required by standard notation. If my intended audience gives me negative feedback on the score because of the hollow dot then I may remove it.

So, I resist in this case because I believe that the hollow dot is the better solution. I have taken on-board many of your recommendations in the past so you know that I do listen to your advice.

In reply to by yonah_ag

I'm not at all opposed to the idea of notation gradually improving over the course of centuries. I am simply trying to help you create music that others will read well. Not just one or two people who say they find it acceptable, but across the entire population of music readers. Until a notation catches on with more than just one or two composers and their fans, and starts to become familiar to the millions who read music, it will be harder to read on average for most people. No graduate thesis can change that. At least, not quickly enough to help you today. If you wish to join the revolution and promote the use of experimental notation that won't be as readable today for people today but may change things for future generations, go for it!

Anyhow, as always, I give advice for free, but for arguing, I would have to charge, and I don't have time on my schedule anyhow. So I'll leave the discussion with one more clear statement of my free advice: if you want your score to be as readable as possible to as many musicians as possible, use notation they are already familiar with.

Do you still have an unanswered question? Please log in first to post your question.