How to notate percussive guitar sounds

of Jürg Hochweber 
(Guitarist and composer)

a) Introduction

Writing sheet music for the guitar places particularly high demands on a sheet music writing program and of course also on the composing guitarist or copyist. Anyone who has ever tried to write down a passage that was spontaneously improvised on the guitar knows what I'm talking about. This has the following reasons:

1. There is no uniform spelling: the following 4 sections mean roughly the same thing: 

2. Sometimes a lot of voices are crammed into a single staff:

3. There are a multitude of special characters that are not used uniformly:

4. If the fingering of the gripping hand (1,2,3,4) and the plucking hand (p, i, m, a) are given, and slurs, articulations, etc. are added, you have to make sure that nothing is overlaps and everything remains clear. A single note can have many associated characters:

5. Many effects such as rasguado, pitch bend or percussive elements cannot be precisely noted.

I am assuming a basic knowledge of Finale and will only explain a few special features of the guitar notation. I used FINALE 2000, but most of it applies to other versions as well.


b) Input of guitar fingerings for a melody

For the usual handles, it is best to use the following method:
After we have entered the melody, we select the chord symbol . The menu item 'Chord'. From this we choose from the various input options'enter in score ' and make sure that 'Show guitar fingering charts' is selected, now we click on the first note, tap D. and press Enter. The fingering and the chord symbol appear above the note. We proceed in the same way with the other desired melody tones:



c) Unison
Very typical for guitar notation are double notes that belong to both the upper part and the lower part, so-called unison notes:

How would I do that? First I enter the upper part on level 1 and the lower part on level 2.
That gives z. For example the following picture:

If there are double notes next to each other, make sure that under Options> Document Settings> Music Orientation Options> 'Avoid collisions' is not selected. (In certain cases this is of course desirable)

Now the note heads of the half notes are still covered by the eighth note heads. That's why we're changing the eighth note noteheads to hollow noteheads:
We vote level 1, then Special tools, then in the menu that appears'Noteheads' and click on a measure. There appear Markings.
We double-click on the eighth note we want. The window 'Selecting the symbols'.
There we double-click on the symbol 250, which represents a hollow notehead and thus get the desired note image. (If necessary, always refresh the screen with Ctrl + U!)

Note that it is not a good idea to simply use the empty symbol 32 for the notehead, as the positioning of the stem is no longer correct. (Several noteheads can be edited within one bar with shift-click).
Now we have a clean sheet music image, as we would expect from guitar sheet music:



d) special characters
How do we write all the special characters now? FINALE does not provide us with much in advance, but it does give us the opportunity to create all conceivable characters once and then in one template (Template) so that they can be used again and again later. How do I E.g. a 3 in a circle? I've been asked this question many times. Although all of this is already there in my prepared, downloadable template, I'll show one way how this character can be created from scratch:
Choose 'Articulation tool '> click a note (the selection of the articulations appears)> click 'produce' > Character set> choose the character set Wingdings'Size about 16> OK> click'original'> double click on sign 131> OK. > Select.

Now the 3 appears in a circle next to the note.

FINALE also provides us with a character design tool that can be used to create all kinds of new characters. In addition, it is even possible to assign acoustic properties such as volume, emphasis, pitch distortion, etc. to each character, which are then played during playback. But since this is very time consuming and requires thorough knowledge, I provide my personal, professionally designed guitarstemplate (guitar2.FTM) available for download free of charge.
It can be found as a compressed ZIP file on:
Copy it (unzipped of course!) Into your template directory, [typically C: \ Finale2000 \ Templates] or make it your standard template as follows:

Options> Program options> More options> Enter the name of the start directory!

Now when we open this template, enter some notes on the articulation tool click and then click a note, all guitar characters defined in this template appear:


It is very similar with expressions: there are two types: text and characters, here are only the characters:

What is the difference between expression marks and articulations? Musically there is actually none, each sign can be one or the other or both. The only difference is in the application and editing options. I basically have them all in my template Articulations set up in such a way that when aligning horizontally they automatically get more horizontal space, if necessary, while the Presentation designations do not affect the horizontal alignment of the notes:



e) Special lines

The following lines are very often used in guitar pieces:

to draw roughly the line with the Roman III, we choose:
intelligent characters, the list of intelligent characters appears. We Ctrl-click the last field , a list of your own lines appears, which are predefined in my template, we double-click the line with the Roman III. Then we can double-click anywhere on the score and drag it to the right and get the line we want.

The only line that can also be dragged down is the top one in the list of your own lines. With this selected, to get an exactly perpendicular line, we can hold down the shift key and double-click anywhere on the score and drag it down.



 f) Tablatures

Note: the following applies to Finale 2000. In Finale 2003, the creation of tablatures has been drastically improved!

Finale also gives us an albeit rudimentary way of writing tablatures. Tablatures are an alternative way of writing notes for instruments with strings and frets. They represent fingering, with the 'staves' representing strings and numbers representing the frets. A 3 on the top line means the third fret on the 1st string, in the case of the guitar a g. Historically, the tablatures are even older than the standard notation for stringed instruments. In the 16th century only tablature was notated.

Tablatures have the following advantages:
-very compact, space-saving notation.
-Easy to read and easy to write (by hand).
- Partly saves fingerings on the gripping hand, as the desired string is fixed.

Tablatures have the following disadvantage
-Tones do not emerge from the score.
-Rhythmically, it is not clear how long notes should continue to sound, because only the time of use is determined.
-When playing with other instruments, the other players cannot do anything with the tablature.


FINALE's tablature plugin:

In order to write tablatures with FINALE, we must first write everything in standard notation. Then we select the area that we want to convert to tablature, click on Plug-Ins in the main menu and select 'Automatic tablature'. A window will appear where we can select various settings. When we have noted our standard notation in the octaved treble clef, as is common practice, we must first reduce the pitches for the guitar strings by the amount 12 (12 semitones). So the number series 76, 71, 67, 62, 57, 52, replace with 64, 59, 55, 50, 45, 40. If we click on OK FINALE should add an additional tablature system to our score.

But watch out, this will only work in cases where none of the unison notes mentioned occur. There FINALE tries to double the notes on two different strings, which usually leads to an error message because it is not technically feasible. In the standard notation, we therefore first have to replace one note of both with a rest in all unison passages. We do this by using the eraser in 'Simple Entry' and click exactly on the note head. Of course, if we want to keep the original notation, we first have to make a backup copy of it, which we can paste back in later.

It is well known that a tone can usually be played on different strings. FINALE always selects the option with the lowest number of frets, e.g. 3rd fret on 1st string and not 8th fret on 2nd string. In our example, however, you will probably play the e at the x mark on the 2nd string. How do we change that? We click on the note tool and then on the 2nd line of the tablature. Each digit on this line is marked. We now simply drag the desired marking onto the 3rd line with the mouse and FINALE will correctly convert the 0 into a 5 there. Now we have to remove the original digit. We click again on the 1st line, right-click the corresponding marking and click on 'remove'. We do the same with the next two notes:

Such a tablature is simply intended as an additional reading aid; the standard notation must be retained as it contains the rhythm.


Do we want one complete tablature with stems etc. so that we can remove the system with the standard notation, we have to consider a few more things, and this is nowhere described in the FINALE documentation. Here, too, we first have to write everything in standard notation. Tied grades should be avoided as far as possible. These would be ignored and replaced by invisible pauses. Then we proceed in the same way as just described, but select in the settings window for automatic tablature Rhythmic notation: 'Necks up' and TAB write key: 'only in first line' and receive the following:

To edit the tablature we have to consider the following: FINALE treats the tablature as a group of 6 individual staves with only one line, and at the top an additional staff without a line for the stems with empty noteheads, i.e. 7 staves (accolades). Now the top system overlaps with the three following lines. If we want to change something there, FINALE always selects the system with the note stems. So we absolutely have to adjust the top system a little temporarily slide up. We do this by using the Measure Tool and drag the top marker on the far left of the tablature upwards. Now you can use the Score Tool pulled back onto the correct string.

At the end the staff with the stems can be pulled down again and the standard staff removed:

There is usually still some work to be done to show repetitions etc. But that would go beyond the scope here.


g) Conclusion
Overall, it can be said that you need a certain amount of training, but then you can work very efficiently and quickly with FINALE. And the trickiest guitar specialties can also be displayed.

Jürg Hochweber, Nov. 2000,