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Topic: Notating for Guitar (Read 18026 times) previous topic - next topic

Notating for Guitar

Guitar is a challenging instrument to sequence. So I'll write a little mini-tutorial, hopefully without getting too verbose. First off, to sequence for guitar, you have to think like a guitarist... or get a lobotomy ;-) [I can say things like that, I'm one myself...] Joking aside, you have to treat the guitar as six separate instruments - one for each string.

One of the first lessons in classical guitar is "Don't move a finger of the fretting hand unless you have to." A corollary is "Don't right-hand-mute the strings unless you have to."

The way guitar pieces are written are not how they're played, in terms of note duration. I'm attaching a little file that illustrates this. The file (4K) includes the files gitsampl.nwc and study_c.nwc.

The first staff of gitsampl.nwc is how you would more-or-less enter it in from a piece of sheet music (within the limitations of NWC). Go ahead and play the file. The other six staves are muted as supplied. Sound pretty awful and chunky, doesn't it?

The other thing people forget is that guitar music is sounded an octave lower than written. Guitarists, being simple-minded creatures, would find it tough to cope with a grand staff. So, to allow squeezing everything on one staff, the music is written an octave higher. The first staff is with a "regular" treble clef, and the guitar sounds too high and plinky. So be sure to select an octave lower when defining the treble clef for your actual guitar staves.

Back to the other point. Thinking like a guitarist means actually figuring out which string each note is played on, and writing a staff for each string to allow the notes to ring for their full length until a "virtual finger" changes position. See staves 2-7 of the gitsampl.nwc, which represent strings 1-6 of the guitar.

Another refinement is to "arpeggiate" the chords. Most guitarists will intuitively break up chords by running a thumb or finger over the strings. This gives that unique guitaristic "feel" to chords, especially at the end of a piece. Finally, adding dynamics can make a world of difference.

So let's hear what this is all about. Reverse the "mute" status of all the staves; the easiest way to do this is to press the "m" key, then click the "reverse all" button, click OK. (Thanks to Richard Woodroffe for this shortcut suggestion.) Press home, then F5 to replay the file. Sounds more like a guitar now, doesn't it?

Also included is the completed sequence of this little study by Sor (study_c.nwc), for your midi-ing enjoyment. Additional sequences by Sor are available from the Scriptorium.

Re: Notating for Guitar

Reply #1
Fred, you are a genius! Thank you very much for this!

Re: Notating for Guitar

Reply #2
Sadly, Fred Nachbaur cannot login to read your kudos since he passed away in 2005 from an aggressive form of cancer.  But wherever he is now, I'm sure he appreciates your praise! 

There is an easier way to produce sustained chords and arpeggios for guitar NWC scores than putting each string's notes on a separate staff.  Simply put a Pedal Down mark at the beginning of the chord or arpeggio and a Pedal Up mark when the chord changes.  Set Visibility to Never so they don't show up in the score.  This will allow you to notate on a single staff without using hidden staves at all.

Re: Notating for Guitar

Reply #3
I am sorry to hear he has died. I have not been here for a while (I did not realize it has been years), so I did not know. I remember him well, though. He was a very valuable member of this community.

And, clearly, through his old messages he is still helping us. For which I am grateful.

Re: Notating for Guitar

Reply #4
I have one minor addition to Fred's hint, which I came about because I was using his ideas on my latest little composition. Since we are using six separate staves, one for each string, we can pan each staff slightly differently.

What I did was give the low E the pan of 59, then A=61, D=63, and so on, adding two to each staff, all the way up to 69 for the upper E. This keeps the guitar in the middle, but fills the auditory space very nicely. You can hear each string distinctly, but you still have the impression they all belong to the same guitar.

For an example, please visit and listen to Story Teller (you can watch it as a video or listen to its MIDI, plus you can download the score).