Does anyone here write out their guitar parts in tablature? Computer programs?

inmyhandsinmyhands Posts: 11,588
edited December 1969 in Songwriting
      I've always written all my my own songs the old fashioned way. Notes on a staff. My biggest hassle's always been remembering exactly how I played this or that part on the electric guitar. Which position on the neck. Slides or bends or whatever. On a few lead parts I've gone back and rewritten them using guitar tablature with all of it's technique symbols. It works but it's kind of a pain in the ass. I've been looking for a type of songwriting software that allows you to input the notes with an electric guitar and then scores what you've done using both note on staff and guitar tab. Most or all of the songwriting software I've found requires you to input the notes using a keyboard which, of course, cannot possibly include guitar tab in the score produced.
      Does anyone know of a software program that would allow a writer to plug in directly with his axe, play the part using the techniques he or she normally uses and produce a printable score that includes the guitar tablature required to perform the song as originally intended?


  • EugenicScumEugenicScum Posts: 5,321
    In 2008, when I was first beginning to play with musicians and was writing what eventually became Bevar Sea songs, my two bandmates at that time were really good at guitarpro. They would transcribe all my guitar parts, write a dummy bass part if we didn't have a bassist at that time, and would also program the drum parts there. It was a useful trick to have and an interesting way to write and arrange music for sure. I just never had the patience to do that sort of thing. Now I just record using my Zoom recorder.
    Check out my band: Bevar Sea
  • iGougeriGouger Posts: 283
    Not exactly a program, but this is a free site with customizable printable sheet music:

    One of the options on the site is to select either a treble or bass clef for the top half of a staff and put tablature on the bottom half. I liked to use that option a lot back when I was still practicing piano and applying it to my guitar playing. It's harder than the method you described, but alas, as of yet, I do not know of such a program; this is the closest I know of. Even if it's a bit tedious, it's probably good practice for scoring music, especially if you're particularly inexperienced in the area, like I am.  :tongue: Do keep us updated if you do find a program like that though! Would be very nifty. :smile:
  • mr_crowleymr_crowley Posts: 6,581
    I think Guitar Pro is the best option for you Rick. You have to insert manually but when you tab it out it automatically scores it the old fashioned way as well.
    Used that a lot for writing and arranging when I was younger. These days I just do quick demos instead.

    Don't know of any program that transcribes what you're playing automatically though that would be really awesome.
  • inmyhandsinmyhands Posts: 11,588
    Sometimes when I'm just playing off the cuff, "in the zone", jamming I come up with stuff on the fly that I wish I could replay as part of a permanent song structure but, for the life of me, I just can't duplicate it the way it just came out naturally. Having a computer program that would just tab out whatever I'm playing would allow me to go back, select those accidentally great parts, and delete the average stuff.
  • Dinosaur David BDinosaur David B Posts: 17,486
    Your recording software might have something built into it. Logic does, I think you guitar signal needs to be converted to midi, though.  And that will likely be true of any software solution.
    I ain't falling for no banana in the tailpipe.
  • mr_crowleymr_crowley Posts: 6,581
    Or just simply record everything you play and if you feel something good is coming out go back and check out what you did.

    Our singer is recording all our rehearsals on his cell and go back and listen to all of it. He just hits "rec" when we start and let it roll the whole time. Just an idea :up:
  • AgrippaAgrippa Posts: 5,872
    I think "Sibelius" might be a possibillity.

    Description here:

    Site here:

    Free trial version here:

  • JoebuddhaJoebuddha Posts: 2,108
    I have been using guitar pro for over 10 years now and I love it. At this point I have a huge library of lessons and licks that I use with my students all of the time.
    I always recommend this program to my students because it allows me to send them their lessons and they can actually hear and see what they are supposed to be doing.
  • Mr ScaryMr Scary Posts: 114
    Guitar Pro 5. Looks gorgeous, easy to use, decent sounds, with a variety of options (mute, solo, slow down, transpose, time sigs etc). Been using GP since 2001. The only downside is their selling point for buying it as opposed to torrenting is the tech support but I've never had replies to my queries.
  • I use Guitarpro 5 all the time. I come up with lots and lots of riffs over the years so I usually write them up so I don't forget them. At the start it helped to teach me about transcribing too. Nowadays I am astounded by how quickly I know how to write out my stuff. I usually put on a drum track and jam away and that's how I usually come up with my riffs.

    Sometimes I develop those riffs into songs and I use Guitarpro to help put that together. I like to put the multi-track feature on so I can work to make the bass and guitar parts really lock with each other so it sounds like a complete piece of music rather than "here's a good riff and it sounds okay over this generic beat". I will work to make unique parts that accent certain aspects of a riff. Guitarpro is a great visual tool.

    Its fun to go back to riffs I wrote 6 years ago and either laugh at them or tweak them and make them into a new, improved riff.
  • inmyhandsinmyhands Posts: 11,588
    I'm now doing much the same with a Boss RC-300 Loop Station. Sometimes I start with a drum track but most often start with either a melody line if lyrics are already there or a bass track if the words just haven't come yet. At some point I've realized that my guitar life, (writing, playing, singing, creating), and my work life, (banks of computers surrounding me spitting out more information than one person can possibly absorb), are two distinct worlds. My songwriter life will remain tracks on a looper and old school pen and paper. Computers demand my focus. I lose the freedom to write what pops into my head spur of the moment. I need that pure focus on the new material to bring it to it's best.
  • jimmywhirlwindjimmywhirlwind Posts: 15
    edited October 2018

    Hi All, I’m resurrecting this discussion now because I wasn’t a member when it was active. If you’re still chasing the OP’s dream then I have some recent experience to add that you might find useful (if rather disappointing) to know. I too dream of being able to find musical ideas by just playing freely, getting in the zone, and then extracting specific moments of inspiration later in a form more useful than just the audio of what I played.

    Inmyhands wanted automatic tab from audio because he often couldn’t recapture the original moment of inspired playing. This is certainly a problem that I’ve experienced but not actually the one that drove my recent investigations - there are other motivations for automatically extracting the musical content of audio, and there are end results other than tablature, but since this thread was originally about getting tab automatically, I will describe my attempts to do just that.

    First off, as I’m sure you know, none of the major tab programs (Guitar Pro, Tux Guitar, Power Tab) have this function directly, and neither do any of the more general notation programs (such as Musescore). Yes, you can plug your guitar into GP but it is only a Line In for playing along with the score. However, they can import MIDI and convert it to tab. So maybe if we could convert guitar audio to MIDI then we can eventually have the result we want.

    Now, I completely agree with inmyhands’ comment that music mode and computer mode are too different to allow proper artistic flow. One is auditory, tactile, and direct;  the other is a pain in the arse of visual processing, ‘logical’ thinking and tapping buttons. By necessity, I make music on computers but it is generally unpleasant and frustrating,though I continually strive to make it more direct and artistic. Yes, audio -> MIDI -> tab would be an extra layer of work that takes us away from the guitar but it could be performed after the playing and might be scripted well enough to be painless. The question is, does it work at all?

    MIDI guitar is one of those weird niches that most players avoid and, historically, rightly so: no one wants a horrible looking MIDI pickup stuck on their Les Paul. But software-only technology has greatly improved (especially with developments in machine learning) and programs like Melodyne extract pitch and rhythm from general polyphonic audio and output it as MIDI. 

    Melodyne is expensive and not tailored for guitar so I got hold of MIDI Guitar 2 from JamOrigin and thought my problems were solved. It is designed and trained specifically for guitar and does a fantastic job with polyphonic guitar audio. ‘Fantastic’ meaning that its pitches are mostly accurate (I would estimate 95% on medium complexity stuff using up to 3 strings simultaneously), and it captures very fine variations in your dynamics and timing.  And it even takes audio files and not live guitar, which is great because you can just record your stream of consciousness playing and deal with it later, at your leisure. In principle, you could even extract MIDI from any of the isolated guitar tracks (eg EVH) you find on YouTube. 

    But, capturing everything is a not always a good thing. String noises are also converted to MIDI which show up as (often but not always)  very short notes that are (often but not always) out of the guitar’s pitch range. All the imprecisions and variations in your timing are preserved - it does not quantise timing at all, so a piece you intended to be all 16th notes may have some notes that are closer to 8th or 32nd, especially when multiple strings ring for different lengths or if you lift your finger early. And if you are a bit late on the beat, then that is captured too. If you import this into GP now it will contain notes that aren’t notes and notes that aren’t the correct length or on the correct beat. 

    However, you can attempt to address both issues in your DAW on the MIDI piano roll - filter the playing noises and quantise notes to the intended basic rhythm. Yes, more hassle and time but if the end result is good then it may still be worth a script or something (I realise I sound like Homer Simpson saying “it’s still good, it’s still good!”). Unfortunately, the process is prone to error – it’s hard to distinguish between short real notes and playing noises, and variations in note length mean that quantisation doesn’t always give you what you intended when you import to GP. 

    But honestly, the final kicker is that GP must decide how to map pitches to frets and fingering, and it is usually not where I actually played it. Now, this last problem is not even really a technical one, it’s in the nature of the guitar itself vs instruments that only have one place to play a note. I found some research papers that are trying to guess the most probable fingerings based (again) on machine learning but there is nothing commercial yet. And even then, if you used nonstandard voicings I suspect it will struggle. And I kick myself now because this should have been obvious from the start. 

    Verdict - for simple stuff it can work OK. For anything rhythmically complex, chordal and with open strings and messy playing, the result is probably not worthwhile. Maybe someone else will have more success than me, and I havent given up hope completely, but my focus has changed to things with more immediate payoff. 

    But I am happy to say that I did get an unexpected benefit from investigating this. As I said at the start, tab isnt the only output of audio analysis and it wasn’t actually my original target. MIDI guitar is really intended to stay as MIDI and to trigger virtual instruments directly. That was my orginal one-man-band motivation for getting it: to be able to quickly enter all the non-guitar instrument parts in my songs as MIDI using the instrument I am most comfortable with, and to do so preserving performance information. 

    I was then going to do arrangements and refinements of all parts and instruments on the MIDI piano roll in my DAW, but the process of first filtering and quantising the MIDI guitar on the piano roll made me realise how appallingly unintuitive it is for guitarists: I would look at this blizzard of dots and not be able to make head nor tail of it. What the hell am I looking at? I thought that if I could see it as tab then I could easily tell what was noise and what was note. And looking for tab software I paid attention to Guitar Pro at long last  (I had never looked at it before because thought it was Guitar Hero…) and I saw how it could help me solve different problems in the one-man songwriting process. More of that soon … unless the concensus is that these topics are boring as hell. 

    Final point, and bringing it back to the original thread theme. The OP said they will stick with pen and paper and staying in music mode. I can definitely understand that and felt exactly the same way when I first started trying to enter parts into GP. And yet, after practice I have actually got fluent enough at note entry now to rival pen and paper. I am still playing guitar in my head while I do it and once the music is in the machine, the possibilities for editing and arrangement, and eventual recording, are great. I think it is still worth learning even though the tabbing process will (probably) never be as effortless as simply playing and letting the computer do the rest. 

    Has anyone had more success than me with this issue? Do tell!

    Post edited by jimmywhirlwind on
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