Wednesday, April 2, 2008

little autoharp arrangements or TAB on the web

In my opinion, the reason why there isn't much "autoharp music" on the web is that there are only a few people with adequate software and the background to be able to use it, and because going so far as to actually "TAB" the arrangement is asking too much.

Given skills and software, there has to be motivation to do significant work in providing arrangements. More likely, it will be packaged as a book that might make a few bucks, make it worth doing. Some gratitude expressed by a few people nice enough to let you know is not enough to motivate owning $600 software and doing perhaps weeks of work in putting a basic collection of tunes together.

That software costs $600 a pop (Finale and Lucille Reilly's soon-to-be, Sibelius). Keep in mind that "adequate" software also answers the call to produce a MIDI version as well as a PDF document to post on the web, not just printed sheet music. A scanned version will not meet expectations.

I have found some less expensive software alternatives, but a fully polished project (one tune) is not a trivial undertaking. Web publishing is more demanding than just creating a nice printed songbook for ourselves or our club. Software intended to print music is not enough.

TAB is also a waste of time, easier to do manually, because no one will wind up playing it exactly that way, only one person's idea of technique for the tune. TAB is more useful for teaching a technique, a lick, not a tune. A tune might be a vehicle for learning a technique but we can't say that TABBING should be standard for every transcription.

What is TABBING? It is instruction for the picking hand. The rest is just "notation". Notes, chords, and lyrics is "notation" or "notation with lyrics". Another useful way of packaging terminology and what the page needs to provide is to specify "instrumental" or "vocal". Being either/or is a page busier than it needs to be.

Definitely focusing on the picking hand, tabbing is instruction for the left hand or chording hand (the other) only indirectly, nothing more specific than what chord goes where. I don't believe an arrangment should indicate open notes for a diatonic player. Those players can figure that out for themselves.

I also don't think a tune well suited to diatonic and poorly suited for chromatic should be arranged for either/or. The arranger should be expressing some judgment about the tune. We shouldn't murder a tune just so we can say no one was left out. It gets deep here quickly, but I can say that some tunes represented as jamming standards are dreadful on a chromatic because they only sound right with the flow provided by open noting or perhaps when played by one of our few flying-finger virtuosos who don't use open notes. I want to give credit but don't sincerely believe these tunes are going to sound right without open noting, no matter who one is by reputation or claim. What will happen is that the tune will be "adapted" or "arranged", not played note for note. The autoharp is not a mandolin.

All we really need is "how the tune goes", the chord framework, not necessarily every possibility, and any lyrics. On a song, chording for melody just gets in the way. Chord only for accompaniment. Playing melody in many cases doesn't come off well anyway, often quite awkward or stilted without some open notes.

Again, an instrumental version should be separate from vocal accompaniment chording and lyrics.I am saying the sheet should be designed for either singing or for playing, not both. A fully developed instrumental break might be a couple of extra staves just for that, all the chording included. The problem with the autoharp instrumental is that in notation every note becomes a chord, which is a pretty busy looking arrangement. There is an indication to stay on the same chord or to move to another.

Useful versions of MIDI arrangements or - better yet - MP3 recordings would be more essential, so we would have a reference to learn a tune by ear. The ability to read music is not a prerequisite to learning new tunes.
Bob Lewis


Anonymous said...

I have been playing the wonderful Autoharp since 2006 and love the music that comes from this awesome instrument more as I play it, however I have become interested in playing songs with the beautiful minor chords and have been unable to find songs written in minor keys.
Would you be able to direct me as to where I might find them?
Thanks, An Arkansas Autoharper

Bob Lewis said...

Your search would be greatly aided by posting about it on Cyberpluckers. Go to and subscribe.

Anonymous said...

Stings's songs have a lot of minor chords.