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[All] Impact of music notation software on notation conventions for guitar scores

When I was writing the previous article, I noticed something interesting while researching various guitar bend expressions using multiple music notation software.

The expression of guitar bends differs between Western-style and Japanese-style. What I learned was that music notation software, basically imported from Western countries, is not good at expressing the Japanese-style guitar bends.

This may have an impact on notation conventions when creating guitar scores using music notation software in the future, so I would like to think about this in this article.

Guitar bend notation expressions vary by era and region

First of all, let's clarify the differences between the Western-style and the Japanese-style of musical notation for guitar bends.

(1) Western-style guitar bends expression

In Western guitar scores, bends on the staff side are written with a shape like an angular slur (hereinafter referred to as an angular slur), and bends on the tablature side are written with a curved arrow (hereinafter referred to as a curved arrow) is now common. 

If you look at the numbers on tablature, in the Western-style, only the notes to be picked are given numbers, and the numbers are hidden for notes whose pitch changes after bending, and the pitch change is expressed only with curved arrows.

Some Western-style guitar scores from the 1980s and 1990s used curved arrows on both the staff and tablature sides; I suppose this is probably an older style.

Regarding curved arrows, looking at the oldest rock guitar publication in my possession, published in 1986, I can see that this style was already in use at least at that time. (Please note that music notation software did not yet exist in this era.)

(Source: “Steve Morse Songbook”, 1986 Cherry Lane Music Co., Inc., ISBN: 0895243237)

As I mentioned in the previous article, most of the current music notation software is designed to use this "angular slur + curved arrow" or curved arrow-only bend expression.

(2) Japanese-style guitar bends expression

One of the representative notations for the rock guitar in Japan is the one published in Young Guitar, a long-established rock guitar magazine first published in 1969.

For comparison, the Western-style bend notation is shown again below.

In Japan, bending is called “choking”, so Young Guitar magazine uses the symbol "C" to represent it, and also uses a normal slur as a graphic symbol.

If we focus on the numbers in tablature, we can see that in Western-style tablature, the numbers after the bend are hidden, whereas in the Japanese-style tablature, the numbers are expressed with the same fret number. 

The note’s pitch in the staff rises immediately after the bend. On the other hand, in tablature, the numbers (= pitch) remain unchanged, creating an inconsistency between the two.

However, in actual performance, the frets that are pressed do not change during a bend, so I think this is a reasonable expression in terms of easy-to-understand.

Problems when expressing the Japanese-style guitar bends with music notation software

In addition to Guitar Pro and Dorico introduced in the previous article, the majority of music notation software, including Sibelius and Notion, link the contents of staff and tablature.

These software have a convenient function that allows you to enter a number in the tablature and the corresponding pitch note will be automatically entered in the staff, and vice versa, allowing you to create a guitar score with staff + tablature easily.

However, when it comes to bends, you will see this function is based on Western-style bend expressions only.

The standard tablature function in music notation software always makes the pitch of a note and the numbers in the tablature the same. Therefore, the Japanese-style bend expressions, where the numbers on the tablature are not changed after the bend, ignoring consistency with the notes on the staff, cannot be achieved with this function.

For example, if you try to express the Japanese-style guitar bends in Dorico, the number after the bend will not be fixed at “7” as in this example, but will be changed to a number that corresponds to the pitch after the bend, in this case “9”.

If you do not want to change the numbers on the tablature immediately after a bend, you can create a separate dummy track that keeps the rhythm the same but does not change the pitch after the bend, so the numbers on the tablature do not change, and combine it with the original staff. Also, complicated settings such as muting dummy tracks are required during playback.

Only Finale and MuseScore can express the Japanese-style guitar bends

Among the major music notation software, Finale is the only one that do not link the contents of the staff and tablature. Therefore usually you would be frustrated to have to copy and paste the contents each time something is changed. BUT, because the contents of the staff and tablature are not linked, it is possible for Finale to write the Japanese-style guitar bends without any problems.

・Japanese-style guitar bends expression using Finale

In MuseScore, you can choose tablature that is linked to the staff or tablature that is not linked, so you can express Japanese-style bends just like in Finale.

・Japanese-style guitar bends expression using MuseScore

If you look at back issues of the Japanese domestic guitar magazines, you will find that the Japanese-style guitar bends expression was already established around 1988-1989, when Finale, the oldest music notation software in use, was released in the United States. 

However, Finale does not seem to have been developed for the Japanese guitar market, so it is thought that the reason Finale is able to express the Japanese-style guitar bends is simply a coincidence of product specifications and notation conventions.

The basic specifications for bend expression in Finale have not changed since at least 2004, so it seems unlikely that this will change in the future.

The future of the Japanese-style guitar bends expression

The prototype of the modern rock guitars, Gibson's Les Paul was released in 1952, and Fender's Stratocaster was released in 1954. Perhaps reflecting the short history of the instrument, the era of unification of the guitar bends notation has lasted a long time.

However, in the future, if music notation software becomes more popular among general guitar enthusiasts in Japan, the Japanese-style may be replaced by the Western-style, which is easier to make by the music notation software.

In the past, there have been cases in which the specifications of music notation software initially developed to aid music notation production have appeared to affect music notation conventions. It seems likely that something similar will happen with guitar bends in the future.

With this in mind, I think guitar players and the guitar score publishing industry should deepen communication with music notation software developers and discuss what the standard music notation for the guitar should be. Particularly it is true when a global standard for guitar bend notation has not yet been established yet.



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