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Open Letter to the Guitar Community...( from Harvey Reid)

This has been expanded and re-written and posted on PartialCapo.com

I am asking you to try to understand and possibly to vote on a deceptively tricky issue of guitar notation/TAB that has arisen as a result of the use of a partial capo on the guitar. I believe I am the first person to record and publish music for the partially capoed guitar, and I have been exploring this issue for 35 years now. I have published many books on my own, co-authored a college textbook for Knopf (1981) that has a chapter on the subject, and published in the Journal of Research in Music Education on the subject of partial capos in guitar education.

Recently, the first pieces of music for partially capoed guitar were printed in national magazines (they were transcriptions of my playing, done by Acoustic Guitar Magazine) I have a problem with how they were done, and before I completely rewrite all the TAB I have done to date or launch a campaign, I would like to request a discussion among those who may be involved or affected by it, and see if we can reach a consensus as to what the best method is. I will be glad to send you a copy of an arrangement I have done, or of a Finale file I have made (Macintosh) of the same tune to show you the problem.The world should not have to endure inconsistent systems of TAB for this. It would be a triumph of civilization over barbarism if we reach a consensus on how this should be done, and I would like to hear opposing arguments and engage in a friendly discussion of this issue. We are at a point in history where this notational convention needs to be properly established, and I suggest we discuss it, and make a decision to all do it the clearest and most intelligent way, and not just the easiest or simplest way or the first way it occurs to us.


It seems almost trivial, but it is deceptively tricky. I am in complete agreement with the idea that it is best to notate guitar music with a standard notation staff and a TAB staff below it, and have done all my work to date this way. It was my conclusion in 1983 that it is essential to:

1) make sure the standard notation reads as it sounds... This is unlike the way classical guitar people sometimes deal with non-standard tunings, (primarily Dropped D tuning) where some things have been written as they feel, so that you play as if you were in standard, and thus the notes do not read as they sound. The widespread use of altered tunings plus this new issue of partial capos, combined with the vast number of people who do not actually read music on the guitar make this a pretty easy choice to make, though sticking to this decision complicates other choices we have to make. The fact that the standard notation people and the classical guitar community cannot really use their notation system for non-standard tunings underscores the seriousness of this issue, and also brings up the issue of who is going to decide how to notate partially capoed guitar music.

2) count TAB numbers from the capo and not from the nut. In the case of the popular Esus capo configuration on fret 2 it is not obvious which is better, but there are many other ways of partial capoing where the issue is clearer. [capo diagram] Imagine capoing at the 5th, 7th or even 10th fret and leaving one open string. It would not make sense to the player to think that a G chord there was 10-9-0-0-0-10. Your instincts as TAB reader would make it 3-2-0-0-0-3 just like you always play it. Same thing when you capo at 1st fret and capo all except the G string, which I do a lot. There is no question that as a player you think of the capo as the nut. Which you do whenever you use a capo, partial or not. We also use this capo a great deal to teach beginners and intermediate players, and when they play, they are playing G chords and C chords, and they are thinking the capo is the nut even more than do us more advanced players.

The Third Hand Capo has been used steadily by hundreds of trained music educators for more than decade at many universities, hospitals, and therapy applications, and it use in education may be its greatest value.

Now the hard part...

This notation problem is aggravated by the fact that Finale and other notation/publishing programs for the computer cannot handle it gracefully. Finale is set up so the TAB is inextricably linked to the notes on the staff, and if you were to capo strings 3, 4 and 5 at the 2nd fret (E suspended configuration) then a note played 2 frets above the capo on the G string would show up as a 4 in TAB. If you tell the computer that the guitar is tuned 1 whole step low, then the standard notation staff will come out correctly, and a note played 2 frets above it on either the G or high strings, for example, would show up in TAB as a 2, which I think is best. Now the gotcha... How do you notate open strings? [capo diagrams] Clearly an open G string (in Esus with capo 2) would notate on the staff as the real A note that it is only if you do not tell the computer that the guitar is tuned down, (which we just did to enable notes fretted above the partial capo to come out correctly) and a 2nd fret above the capo on the G string will show up as a 2 in Finale's TAB or a 4, depending on how you tell the computer to tune the guitar. You could tell the computer that it was actually tuned to Esus, which would make the open and fretted notes on the capoed strings come out right, but the uncapoed trings would then have their TAB 2 frets off. And there is also the even-thornier issue of how to notate under and behind-the-capo frettings. I do this commonly, and a negative number is the obvious choice, except for the even thornier issue of how to notate somethings fretted under the capo. It is not a 0, since that is the nut. We could call notes fretted behind the capo as negative numbers -1, -2, yet there still is no way to notate SAME FRET AS THE CAPO numbers. Perhaps a zero with a slash or theta , which is in most computer keyboards. I am getting ready to publish some new things, as are some other publishers, and a quick decision would be helpful. I am beginning to think that the simplest way to do it is to count TAB from the nut, thus avoiding negative number, making the computers happy, and only confusing beginners.

Thank you,

Harvey Reid

Box 815 York Maine 03909

207-363-1886 (phone/fax)