Post by Thomas Morley Post by David Kastrup
You could say the same about tablature. Obviously, it has its place.
Even Bach wrote stuff for lute tablature.
There are some lute tablatures of Bach's works for lute, namely for
BWV 995, 997, 1000.
But for some of them it's sure Bach didn't wrote the tablature
himself, for others it's quite unlikely.
FWIW tablature was a very popular notation system for lutes and viols, from
late 16th to early 18th century, especially in England, France and Germany.
Lute/viol tablature is actually a very good fit for the nature of the
instrument because these are solo instruments with a range of 3, 4 or more
octaves. Using staff notation, notating a chord spanning 3 and a half
octaves would normally necessitate using 2 staves, like in keyboard music,
but unlike keyboards on the lute and viol the hands are not independent of
each other. So tablature is actually a great solution.
There's also this substantial and sadly practically unknown repertoire for
the lyra-viol, which employed some 30-odd different tunings. Using tablature
allowed players to easily switch between the different tunings without
thinking about fingering.
If you look at music for the modern classical guitar, you'll it's notated
one octave above sounding pitch, just so the music would be centred more or
less on the staff, but every time there's a 6-string chord you get these
enormous ladders extending above and below the staff. But then again, you
don't hear any guitarists complaining...
Apart from lute tablature there's of course also organ tablature, which was
more or less a local north-german phenomenon, but which held at least from
the 15th century through the late 17th. In organ tablature pitches are
notated using letters, bearing a vague resemblance to lilypond code
actually. A good portion of Buxtehude's organ music is notated in tablature,
as well as some of his sacred vocal music. Parts of Bach's Orgelbüchlein are
also notated in tablature. As to why the practice existed, it's not very
clear but one can guess that tablature was a fast way of writing music at
the keyboard - no need for drawing staves and a each note requires a single
stroke, instead of drawing note heads, stems, beams etc. It is also very
economical for homophonic music.
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