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Guitar And Lute Tab: The Apple And The Tree

Sep 12, 2008
If you want to be loose with your definitions, it is possible to say that guitars have existed for over five thousand years. Prior to the development of the electric guitar and the use of synthetic materials, a guitar was defined as an instrument having "a long, fretted neck, flat wooden soundboard, ribs, and a flat back, most often with incurved sides." Ancient drawings tell us that instruments matching that description have existed since before the inception of Greek civilization. Considering that the oldest known written music is held to be approximately four thousand years old, it is logical to assume that guitar tab has been around as long as the instrument for which it is designed.

Guitar tab is the term used for written guitar music, or tablature, which is the style of written music generally used for fretted stringed instruments, such as the guitar. Of course, the guitar of today, or the classical guitar, is generally agreed to have been born in Spain in the middle of the 19th century. However, that birth was the result of a long and complex history of diverse influences and instruments. Suffice it to say that at least half a dozen instruments are believed to have influenced the form of the classical guitar, and every one of those instruments had tablature for its music, including what is probably the most well-known of the guitar's ancestors, the lute.

Lute tablature was and is conceptually similar to that of the guitar, although in modern times, sheet music for the lute comes in at least three different varieties. The most common of these is the French Renaissance system, and it is similar to guitar tab in that a six-line staff is used. Additionally, as with the guitar, various instrumental tunings may be used with any lute tablature. This also means that a guitar can usually be used to play music written for the lute with only minor adjustments to the guitar. Such crossover clearly marks the ancestry of guitar tab.

The guitar tab of the 21st century differs greatly from its ancestors in one very important way-it has no method of communicating the rhythm of a musical piece. This is a common complaint among modern guitarists, as unless one has heard a song before, it is nearly impossible to know what it should sound like. In contrast, the tablature of bygone eras had a whole system of notations above it that dictated a song's rhythm and told artists when a note should be plucked and for how long. One advantage to lute tablature is that it has retained rhythm notation and uses staffs to guide the artist's tempo.

As mentioned, modern lute tablature comes in at least three different varieties. However, guitar tab is not standardized at all and the result is that different sheet music publishers adopt different conventions. Songbooks and guitar magazines usually include a legend setting out the convention in use. Although it is impossible to know for sure, it is likely that this situation is not dissimilar to that of lute tablature several hundred years ago. At that time, when all music was handwritten and almost nothing was standardized, let alone sheet music, it is unlikely a musician in Italy would have understood a piece written in Spain without a great deal of effort.

As mentioned, modern lute tablature comes in at least three different varieties. However, guitar tab is not standardized at all and the result is that different sheet music publishers adopt different conventions. Songbooks and guitar magazines usually include a legend setting out the convention in use. Although it is impossible to know for sure, it is likely that this situation is not dissimilar to that of lute tablature several hundred years ago. At that time, when all music was handwritten and almost nothing was standardized, let alone sheet music, it is unlikely a musician in Italy would have understood a piece written in Spain without a great deal of effort.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, lute tablature, and subwoofers.
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