For those lucky enough to have been
at HGG3 in Oregon over Labor Day,
one of the lectures discussed how to write and annotate for the harp guitar.
The topic brought up several problems:
different tunings, different numbers of strings, treble banks, sub-basses,
etc. I will attempt to re-cap what was discussed.
First and foremost: why would one want to write down music?
I can think of two general reasons.
One is to share with others and the second is for one to remember what
If we are to compose music for others to study and perform
the only logical answer is to use standard notation. One could argue for a form of tab but that does not translate
to non-stringed instruments. Below
I have my introduction for Amazing Grace. Although
I play on a 5-sub-bass harp guitar tuned to D modal, it does not matter since it
is all lost in translation to standard tuning.
We also have a secure way of documenting timing, which is difficult using
You may want to play around with this for a minute before
continuing and think about how you would annotate for yourself.
Bennett and Doan swear by standard form yet not all of us are as
proficient in reading music. Furthermore, there are multiple places on the neck of a guitar
to play the same note lending itself to different fingering and inadvertently
different interpretations of the same body of music.
This is how I notate my music in tab
form (same piece):
(Note: Nate's sub-bass notes are written along the top. -GM)
This method addresses tuning, tab as well as allowing for
different number of sub-bass strings and sub-bass tuning.
It is a rapid way of writing, conducive to quick documentation on the go.
Downsides are that most would look for sub-bass notes where a bass clef
would be located below the treble/tab. Also
the letters above a treble/tab often refer to chords or sections (A,B,C etc).
Next variant is one that Miner and McKee use:
(Also Bennett and Stropes, among others. -GM)
Now we have
placed the sub-basses in the appropriate
location by using a sub-bass tab clef. With
the tuning on the left all you do is strike to appropriate string.
But all those zeros can be difficult especially as you near the
bottom of the line...
After listening to the lecture Nancy Conescu scribbled on a
piece of paper for me the ideas she had by making an amalgam of the above styles
In this case we still have the tuning to the left of the
sub-bass tab but what she proposed was to add the string number for further ease
I hope that this will simply be the beginning of the
discussion. I welcome feedback in
the forum as well as additional ideas on how people accomplish this task.
When I get to it, I will try to discuss possibilities for treble bank
- Nate Blaustein
Search of A Standard continued...
for that great start Nate! I have a couple other options that we
tossed around, and came up with further variations and observations
regarding the above, if I may...
address some basics first:
right is a section from Acoustic Guitar's Music Notation
how the staff music and tab are stacked together. This seems
to be the norm for everyone (Nate omitted it in his examples for
sake of discussion). When it gets to the point of having two
staves for harp guitar and two tab clefs (three for
Hedges-style 2-handed techniques on the neck), one ends up with
just 4 or 8 bars of music on a page!
can think of at least two solutions for this problem. One is
to eliminate the space-consuming sub-bass portion of the tab (as
in Nate's first example using letters above, and additional
examples following). Another would be to simply separate the
written music from the tab, letting each stand alone on their own
separate pages, start to finish. If the
two must be stacked for learning, that could be an additional
that in the example above, no time value is given to the
tab. In Acoustic Guitar's second example, they show the
common option of combining the note values of written music with
the tab fret numbers. To me, this would seem to reduce the need to
have the written music stacked immediately above, but I see that
in the harp guitar tab of Stephen Bennett and Michael Hedges (Stropes)
they still utilize both versions in one large stacked
5 also shows A.G.'s standard method of notating the
tuning across the top of the page.
I like to avoid confusion
and write the notes at the left of each "string" of the
tab (both treble and sub-bass) as Nate did above.
I'd like to revisit Nate's above Ex. 4 from Nancy Conescu.
an interesting option that essentially doubles the ease of identification
of the sub-bass to be played, by showing the string visually and
numbering it. My guess is that Nancy chose instinctually to
number the strings starting with the one closest to her as she
looked down. To me (and others, I'm sure) this is backwards
- only because the guitar's six strings are always numbered
in the reverse, the furthest string being #1. This being the
historical case, it seems only logical to continue this order,
ending on the lowest sub-bass string.
also used #1-5 for her sub-basses. My inclination (following
arch-lute tab) would be to number them as a continuation of the
six neck strings, i.e.: #7-11. I have shown both options in
the examples at right.
additional issue with this concept is when some of us want to
notate harmonics on the sub-bass strings. For example, in place of
my "0," I write a number 12, 5, or 3 in a circle to
denote an octave, fifth or third open harmonic. Using either
method at right would only confound the issue for me, I'm sure!
I illustrate three examples that combines ideas from Nate's Ex. 2
and the Conescu examples. In this series, I remove the
sub-bass string stave and simply write the sub-bass string to be
played. Three options are shown here: Using #7-11
(myself), #1-5 (Nancy) and Nate's note
I prefer Ex. 9, and, in fact, use this whenever I have more than
six sub-bass strings. I also find it more logical to have
the numbers or letters below the neck stave as this
replaces the sub-bass stave and is where the strings are actually
located in relationship. In Nate's letters example, it removes
the problem of being mistaken for chord symbols also.
some symbol, such as a circle, or a graphic line through or around
these sub-bass values would help visually as well.
aspects to bear in mind: In the first two examples, the sub-bass
tuning would need to be provided, as in Ex. 5. In the last,
the letter system works for most of us only if the tuning is consistent and the
notes are memorized.
- the goal of the HGG3 workshop was to explore not just tab
options, but the possibility of actually creating a standard.
Ignoring for the moment that we haven't even begun to
address treble or other string banks, it would seem that we should
collect votes and additional ideas and comments on all the
options. Then we can start paring down the examples to fewer
choices for easier "second phase" discussion. This will not happen unless all you players
and composers weigh in! I am merely your scribe, throwing
out a few ideas while I'm at it.
- Gregg Miner
Harpguitars.net member Steve Sjuggerud kindly
provided this free tab that includes three of his bare bones,
Bach and Velasco arrangements.
He opted for the the format in Ex. 11, with lines connecting the
lettered bass to the timing of the corresponding neck notes.