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History of Guitar Tablature (TABS)
A notational system that uses letters, numbers or other signs rather than staff notation. The basic principle of tablature is that the player is told, by letters or figures placed on a staff, how to produce the sound of the required pitch from his instrument. A further indication shows the duration of each note. The most important tablature systems are those for keyboard (mainly organ) and lute. Most keyboard music of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance is notated in tablature, using letters and note stems with flags. Early examples present the top part in staff notation. This German system continued in occasional use into the 18th century. There also existed Spanish systems, in the mid-16th century, using numerals.

For the lute and other plucked instruments, tablature systems serve an obvious purpose. There exist several different systems, some using numerals and some using letters, but they all follow the same basic principle in that they tell the player which string he should stop and at which fret he should stop it. The cumbersome German system uses all the letters of the alphabet; French tablatures use letters, repeating the pattern on each string (i.e. ‘a’ indicates an open string, ‘b’ stopping at the first fret etc). Spanish and Italian tablatures, use numerals in the same sense; in Spanish and French tablatures, the lowest line of the ‘staff’ corresponds to the string or course lowest in pitch, but in Italian it corresponds to the highest.

For the guitar, tablatures originally followed the system used for the lute in France, Italy or Spain. In 1606 an alphabetical tablature system was devised whereby each letter stands for a particular chord. Tablatures have been used for most plucked instruments, such as the chitarrone, the mandolin and the theorbo, using the French system or the Italian. Among bowed instruments, the one for which tablature was chiefly used was the lyra viol (or viola bastarda). In recent years tablatures have been designed for such instruments as the ukulele and the accordion. They have also been used for wind instruments to indicate to the player which finger-holes should be covered. Strictly speaking, systems such as those used for the notation of harmony and Braille notation rank as tablatures. So does Tonic Sol-fa, which is a form of solmization.

[Music Encyclopedia]

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