A cheap way to score songs for guitar

Tablature is a method of notating music for guitars. Rather than a traditional score, tabs note the string and fret number of each note or chord. Tabular is an affordable Mac application that lets you create tabs by hand. Unfortunately, it does some simple tasks poorly, although some more-advanced tasks are handled well.

When I bring a song to rehearsal, I like to bring a quick chord chart for reference. It’s a relatively simple task that proved difficult in Tabular. For starters, because there is no chord database, I had to use the Chord Editor to create the chord before inserting it into the score. To further compound the problem, Tabular only creates chords in the first position on the guitar fretboard. I can use the editor to create a Cmaj7 chord on the third fret, but not on the eighth fret. Also, I like to insert beat markers — those little slashes on the staff showing the beat pattern for the chords. Tabular won’t do that.

The rough framework of our next top-40 hit.

Tabular’s problems aren’t insurmountable. Chords can be created in any position on the tablature staff, and you can adjust whether the chord itself is a quarter or eighth note (and so forth) quite easily. The somewhat kludgy Note tool lets you add the chord names above the score, and you can also use this tool to add lyrics. According to the developer, a chord database will be added in a future version. Where Tabular does a better job is in scoring riffs that combine single notes and chords, and creating tabs similar to the ones you find in music magazines. You can easily insert symbols indicating pick direction, or if the note should ring out or be palm-muted. Tabular also does some of the heavy music-theory lifting for you, automatically inserting any necessary rests to ensure all the beats in a measure are accounted for.

While it’s missing some key features like the chord database and the ability to print the tablature for multiple instruments on one page, I was able to use Tabular to quickly create tabs of riffs I was working on. It’s not perfect, but Tabular is an improvement on some competing free tablature applications.

The bottom line. Once you learn to work around some of the limitations in Tabular, it becomes a useful tool. But if you need the chord database, you might want to wait for a future version.

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