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Nicolaus Bruhns , "small" prelude in E minor in new German organ tablature ...
... and in today's notation

Tablature (like Italian tabular , organize tabular 'from Latin tabula , board', (game) board ') or handle notation is in the music a kind of notation for music . At the beginning of the 14th century tablature were invented to several voices polyphonic vocal music for an instrument together ascribe to tabulate.

In the music of Western Europe in the late Middle Ages , the Renaissance and the Baroque, various forms of tablature were used for keyboard instruments such as the organ , harpsichord and virginal as well as for stringed instruments such as (European) lute , theorbo , vihuela , guitar , viol and harp .

Organ tablatures use tone letters (German), digits (Spanish) or note symbols on lines (Italian) and are tone scripts that can also be played with other instruments.

Tablatures for lute instruments use letters (French) or numbers (Spanish, Italian) on the lines representing the strings or (as in German tablatures) free letters and numbers (see historical lute and guitar tablatures ). Lute instruments differ from one another in their different number of strings and tuning; their tablatures are instrument-specific fingerings.

The rhythm is generally indicated above the system of signs with rhythm signs. Barlines and time signatures were often missing. Volume specifications such as f (orte) and p (iano) and tempo specifications did not exist until after the Renaissance.

Modern guitar tablature (see Modern Guitar tablature ) serve as a practical alternative to musical notation .

Tablatures or fingerings for harmonica instruments: see accordion school .

Keyboard instruments

New German organ tablature

Example of a German organ tablature

The new German organ tablature (often also called North German organ tablature) differs significantly from other tablature notation systems, because it is not an instrument-specific notation, but rather a universal, much more space-saving way of representing music graphically. It developed in the second half of the 16th century from the so-called old German organ tablature, which in turn is a combination of line (for the upper part) and letter notation (for the lower parts). The new German organ tablature was increasingly used in the 17th century for writing down scores of all kinds of instrumental and vocal music. Most of Dieterich Buxtehude's sacred vocal concerts, for example, have been handed down exclusively in tablature.

Development of the new German organ tablature

The new German organ tablature is a musical notation that consists exclusively of letters and symbols. Each voice consists of three levels:

  1. the indication of the grade value
  2. the indication of the respective octave
  3. the indication of the note name by a letter (alterations are made clear by slight modifications of the letter)

The individual parts are arranged one below the other according to the “modern” score font.

The graphic on the right illustrates the structure of the new German organ tablature using the example of the first bar of the clerical concert "Wake up calls us the voice" by Franz Tunder, listed below. An alteration can be found right at the beginning of the first measure in part 3. It is made clear by a strong lower line attached to the letter (in this case 'f'). This very economical notation makes clefs and key signatures superfluous.

As in this example, the individual voices are sometimes written relatively close to one another to save space, so that letters and characters often overlap. The large gap between the 3rd and 4th voice is due to the singing voice that begins later.

The transfer of a score written in new German organ tablature into "modern" musical notation looks like this (the original on the left, the transfer on the right), performed here at the beginning of the sacred concert Wachet calls us the part for soprano, 3 violins and basso continuo Lübeck organist and master craftsman Franz Tunder (1614–1667):

Beginning of the spiritual concert “Wake up, the voice calls us” by Franz Tunder Transmission of the opening bars of the sacred concert “Wake up calls us the voice” by Franz Tunder

Spanish organ tablature

In 1555 Juan Bermudo mentions two numerical tablature systems for the notation of music for keyboard instruments. In Spain, however, another type of tablature was used, which was first handed down as cifra nueva by Luis Venegas de Henestrosa .

In this tablature, each part is given a line. The pitches are noted as digits, from f = 1 to e 1 = 7. Either points at the top behind the note (increase by one octave per point) or dashes at the bottom of the note (decrease by one octave per line) are used as octave symbols . Accidental signs are placed after the grade as b (decrease) and x or * (increase).

The rhythm is notated above the staff by showing the duration as a small note after which the next note to be played occurs. Repeating durations are not noted again. If a voice should pause, this is indicated in the voice by a slash. There is also a sign for the binding, which is in the form of a comma.

The time signature and basic accidentals are noted in front of the first staff, but there crosses are shown with today's natural sign.

This type of tablature was in use until the mid-17th century. It is particularly suitable for printing with types and was therefore easier to reproduce than the musical notation.

Francisco Correa de Arauxo : Tiento tercero de sexto tono , beginning in Spanish organ tablature
Transfer to modern notation

Historical lute and guitar tablatures

From the emergence of polyphonic playing on the lute around 1500 until the end of the 18th century, music for lute and lute instruments such as orpharion , theorbo , colascione , angelique , cister , mandora , vihuela and guitar was notated in the form of tablature. The first lute tablatures are likely to have been written before 1473. The oldest surviving printed lute tablature dates from 1507. The oldest lute books contain tablatures with tabulations of vocal pieces such as motets, madrigals or canzons. A distinction can be made between types of tablature that are notated on lines, so-called Romance lute tablatures (Italian, French, Spanish, Neapolitan), and a type that does without lines ( German tablature ).

In all tablature forms, the rhythm of the music is noted above the relevant tablature characters (numbers or letters). Note symbols are used for this, initially the white mensural notation (in Spanish, some Italian and early German tablatures), and in the 17th century more and more modern notes are used. Reduced forms were also common, namely flags on the stem without a head. In the reduced form of the mensural notes, note stems with two or more flags were often connected to form groups of two or four (16th century, “little ladder”). In detail:

Tablature types for lute instruments
  • Single note stem with a short flag on the left: Brevis (double whole note)
  • Simple note stem without a flag: whole note
  • Note stem with a flag on the right: half note
  • Note stem with two flags on the right: quarter note
  • Note stem with three flags on the right: eighth note
  • Note stem with four flags on the right: sixteenth note

However, the rhythm signs do not designate individual tone durations ( note values ), but rather they mark the duration until the next tone is played. If durations of the same length follow one another, this is usually not noted again.

The following auxiliary symbols are used in French tablature: To identify held notes ( tenuto ), diagonal lines are used from the notes to be held up to the end of the note duration. Slashes between the tablature letters of a chord denote the Separée -play (played in quick succession). In Lautentabulaturen are slurs is only since the mid-17th century. To designate the fingering of the right hand , one to three points are noted for the index, middle and ring fingers and a small, vertical line under the tablature letter as a symbol for the thumb.

Romanesque lute and guitar tablatures

Italian lute tablature

In the Romanesque lute tablatures (from approx. 1500) six horizontal lines are used, which represent the six playing choirs of the lute above the fingerboard ( choir = pair of strings).

In the Italian lute tablature , the lowest line stands for the highest choir. For the fret positions are numerals used, 0 to not gripped choir means 1 the first fret, two the second fret etc. For the seventh choir will use a 0 is used on the line system, other authors of some authors a horizontal crossed 0 above Line system. The Arabic numerals 8 and 9 are used for the eighth and ninth choirs, while the Roman numeral X (above the system of lines) is used for the tenth choir. For the eleventh choir, some authors use the 11 (also notated “ij”), while others use a V, which is probably derived from the 11. The numbers 12 to 14 are usually used for the twelfth to 14th choir.

In the French lute tablature and Spanish lute tablature, on the other hand (the latter only - as Vihuelatabulature - in Luis de Milán , 1536) the top line represents the highest choir. In the Spanish lute tablature, like in the Italian numerals, are used. The French lute tablature (as it was used, for example, for Johann Sebastian Bach's lute works ), on the other hand, uses letters, whereby a means the chorus not fingered, b the first fret, c the second fret, etc. The letter c is through in the majority of the preserved French lute tablatures r replaced. In France, from around 1630 onwards, the letter e is written in the form of a Greek φ in the French lute tablature. The letter a is used under the system of lines to denote the bass choirs that are not fingered ( drone strings ). A is the seventh chorus, / a the eighth, // a the ninth, /// a the tenth chorus (instead of / a, // a, /// a, some English authors write 1, 2, 3). The numerals 4, 5, 6 and 7 are generally used for the eleventh to the 14th choir.

Chord tones are written vertically on top of each other, whereby in the application for baroque guitar (and chitarra battente ) not fingered choirs belonging to the respective chord ("open strings") are often not notated.

German lute tablature

Designation of the handle positions in Hans Neusidler , Nuremberg 1544

The origin of the linear German lute tablature can be traced back to the 15th century. The blind organist Conrad Paumann is considered to be its inventor. It was used in the German-speaking area until the beginning of the 17th century ( Długoraj 1619, Königsberger Lautenbuch, etc.).

In German tablature, the tones to be grasped are marked by numbers and letters arranged one above the other and next to one another. The first five choirs are numbered 1-5 in the tablature (1 is the lowest, 5 the highest). The grip positions are indicated by a letter of the alphabet ; H. the first choir in the first fret is the letter a, the second choir in the first fret is the letter b, the third choir in the first fret is the letter c, the fourth choir in the first fret is the letter d, the fifth choir in the first fret is the letter e ; the first choir in the second fret is the letter f, the second choir in the second fret is the letter g, etc.

The letters j, u, w were not used. Two more characters are used for this, namely et (similar to the number 7 ) for the position of the fourth choir / fifth fret and con (similar to the number 9 ) for the fifth choir in the fifth fret. From the sixth fret upwards, the letters of the alphabet are repeated, either adding an apostrophe (a ', b', ...), commas over the letter, or doubling the letters (aa, bb, ...).

Around 1500 a sixth choir was added to the European lute in the deep. The symbols for the sixth choir and its fret positions varied depending on the author ( Hans Judenkönig , Hans Neusidler , Hans Gerle , Matthäus Waissel ).

Chord tones are written vertically one above the other. Melodic movements are noted in the top line regardless of the pitch of the voice.

Alfabeto and Cifras

Alfabeto at F. Corbetta

A special case is the name of the frequently recurring chord fingerings in the tablature for guitar, developed by Juan Carlos Amat (as Cifras ) and developed after 1580 and widespread in the 17th century . In Spain, Arabic numerals ( cifras ) and symbols were used for this. In Italy (as with Francesco Palumbi and 1606 with Girolamo Montesardo), Latin capital letters and symbols were used to designate the chord fingerings, the so-called Alfabeto (also Alphabeto , in Spain also called Abecedario or ABCedario ), which is also used in Spain as well as in German and French Language area was a common system. However, the letters in tablatures (for example by Gaspar Sanz or Corbetta) for the baroque guitar do not denote any keys and accordingly the chords displayed can be transposed (for example - in the "first" position - means + an E minor fingering, A is a G major fingering, not A major or A minor , B denotes the fingering for C major, C for D major, D for A minor, E for D minor, ... I for A Major, K for B flat minor, L for C minor, M for E flat major.). A number above the letter can indicate the relative position of the gripping hand: If there is no number above it, A stands for G major, with a 3 above for a shift of the handle by two frets on the fingerboard and a B major chord then sounds . In addition, the direction of the striking hand is indicated by lines pointing downwards or upwards. Some composers such as Foscarini and Carlo Calvi also used symbols for altered ("dissonant") chords. This type of notation, however, hardly allows for demanding voice guidance (in the Syntagma musicum Michael Praetorius compares such music-making with the "shrinking" of comedians and buffoons). After 1630, Italian guitar composers also integrated the alfabeto into the line system of the tablature. In such a mixed system, the notes or strings to be omitted when playing chords are marked with a point. The Alfabeto was in use until the second half of the 18th century ( Antoine Bailleux , 1773). A combination of Alfabeto (for ragueado ) and melody ( punteado ) was first found in 1629 by Foscarini.

In the 20th century, the Australian guitarist Joe Washington presented a combination of chord symbols with numbers and symbols notated above them to indicate the melody and rhythm as a Strata system .

Modern guitar tablature

“All the little birds are already here”: above in conventional notation and below in guitar tablature

In modern guitar tablature, six (or more) lines are simply used to simulate the strings of the fingerboard as they are arranged from the player's point of view. The numbers indicate which fret of the respective string has to be grabbed. 0 stands for an open (not fingered) string. The length of the tone can be specified with the usual note symbols above the numbers. On the Internet, however, there is often a simple ASCII guitar tablature without this information.

Example of an ASCII guitar tablature





This is one possible tablature of the English melody Greensleeves . It begins with a strike in the 2nd fret of the G-string, numbers on top of each other mean that several strings are struck at the same time. The number of hyphens between the numbers can also be used to display the relative duration of the sound to a limited extent .

Example of a professional guitar tablature

The printed tablatures provide more detailed information on playing technique. Here is an overview of the most common styles of play:


Outside of Europe

Tablature notations are also common in many non-European musical cultures. In Japan, for example, music for stringed instruments is written almost exclusively in tablature, with not only every instrument but also every school having its own notation.

Tablature programs

A tablature program is software for creating tablature on the computer. Tablature programs for guitar and electric bass are likely to be the most widespread. With tablature programs for sounds such as Django, Fandango or Fronimo, the programmers try to imitate the historical models graphically. In addition to writing tablature, most tablature programs also allow you to write notes and listen to MIDI files. Since the 1970s, the possibilities of transcribing old tablatures using computer programs have also been researched.

  • abctab2ps is a cross-platform , free program (GPL), which uses an extension of the abc notation format for notation of tablatures and outputs tablatures as PostScript
  • Guitar Pro is a commercial music notation and tablature program, which for the first time brought a realistic sound library with version 5, which has been improved many times over in the current version 6 (as of July 2010).
  • Octava from Obtiv is another commercial program that was developed in 2006 and enables tablature editions for lute instruments with up to six strings.
  • kguitar is a free program (GPL) for operation under Unixoid systems (such as GNU / Linux ), which not only allows you to edit classic tablatures but also to convert them from and to MIDI , the third-party formats Guitar Pro, TablEdit and ASCII tablature supports as well as instruments with different numbers of strings; It contains a clear guitar chord editor and analyzer with a chord library and a faded-in playable fingerboard.
  • Lilypond is a free program ( LGPL ) which, in addition to normal notation, can also generate modern tablature and can run on all common PC operating systems.
  • Power Tab is a closed source - Freeware program for operation under Windows
  • SongWrite is a free program ( GPL ) for use under Unixoid systems (e.g. such as GNU / Linux ), which can process the Guitar Pro file format.
  • TEFview is a freeware with which TablEdit tablatures can be printed and viewed.
  • TuxGuitar is a cross-platform , free program ( LGPL ) which can process the Guitar-Pro and Power-Tab file formats, among other things.


Web links

Commons : Tablature  - collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: Tablature  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Adalbert Quadt : Lute music from the Renaissance. According to tablature ed. by Adalbert Quadt. Volume 1 ff. Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1967 ff .; 4th edition, ibid. 1968, volume 2, foreword (1967) and introduction.
  2. Peter Päffgen: Lute music before 1500. In: Guitar & Lute. Volume 9, Issue 6, 1987, pp. 58-61.
  3. Francesco Spinacino : Intabulatura de Lauto, Libro primo. Venice 1507.
  4. ^ Adalbert Quadt : Lute music from the Renaissance. According to tablature ed. by Adalbert Quadt. Volume 1 ff. Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1967 ff .; 4th edition, ibid. 1968, Volume 2, Preface (1967).
  5. James Tyler (2011), pp. 8-18.
  6. ^ Adalbert Quadt: Lute music from the Renaissance. According to tablature ed. by Adalbert Quadt. Volume 1 ff. Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1967 ff .; 4th edition, ibid. 1968, Volume 2, Introduction.
  7. See for example Edmund Wensiecki: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1759). Lute music . Revised and edited for the guitar, with a brief introduction to the lute tablature. Music publisher Friedrich Hofmeister, Hofheim am Taunus 1965; 8th edition ibid 1977, pp. 73-80.
  8. James Tyler (2011), p. 12.
  9. ^ So Sebastian Virdung , Musica getutscht (Basel 1511), and Martin Agricola , Musica instrumentalis deudsch (Wittenberg 1529), quoted in: Oswald Körte : Laute und Lautenmusik. Leipzig 1901, p. 76 f.
  10. Jerry Willard (Ed.): The complete works of Gaspar Sanz. 2 volumes, Amsco Publications, New York 2006 (translation of the original manuscript by Marko Miletich), ISBN 978-082561-695-2 , volume 1, p. 9.
  11. See for example James Tyler: The Role of the Guitar in the Rise of Monody: The Earliest Manuscripts. In: Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music. Volume 9, No. 1, 2004; Online: example from 1584 .
  12. See also Nina Treadwell: Guitar Alfabeto in Italian Monody: The Publications of Alessandro Vincenti. In: The Lute. No. 33, 1993, pp. 12-22.
  13. ^ Frank Koonce: The Baroque Guitar in Spain and the New World: Gaspar Sanz, Antonio de Santa Cruz, Francisco Guerau, Santiago de Murcia. Mel Bay Publications, Pacific, Mon. 2006, ISBN 978-078-667-525-8 , p. 2.
  14. ^ Frank Koonce: The Baroque Guitar in Spain and the New World. 2006, p. 10 f. ( Alfabeto Chord Charts and Reading Alfabeto Notation ).
  15. Jerry Willard (2006), Volume 1, pp. 19-21 and 25-32.
  16. Jerry Willard (Ed.): The complete works of Gaspar Sanz. 2 volumes, Amsco Publications, New York 2006 (translation of the original manuscript by Marko Miletich), ISBN 978-082561-695-2 , Volume 1, pp. 9 f., 19 and 25–32.
  17. ^ Adalbert Quadt : Guitar music from the 16th to 18th centuries Century. According to tablature ed. by Adalbert Quadt. Volume 1-4. Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1970 ff .; 2nd edition ibid 1975–1984, foreword (1970).
  18. James Tyler: A Guide to Playing the Baroque Guitar. Indiana University Press, Bloomington / Indianapolis 2011, ISBN 978-0-253-22289-3 .
  19. ^ Frank Koonce: The Baroque Guitar in Spain and the New World. Mel Bay Publications, Pacific, Mon. 2006, ISBN 978-078-667-525-8 , p. 11.
  20. Joe Washington: The Strata System - based on chord diagrams. In: The Beatles for classical guitar. 20 solos - arranged by Joe Washington. Wise Publications, London / New York / Sydney / Tokyo / Cologne 1978, pp. 7-10.
  21. Hélène Charnasse: Transcription German lute tablature by computer. A research area of ​​the ERATTO team (CNRS France). Translated from the French by Ingrid Hacker-Klier. In: Guitar & Lute. Volume 1, Issue 4, 1979, pp. 16-23.
  22. ^ Stefan Buschhausen: Polyphonic tablatures .
  23. Octava as a note editor .