STL: Italian vs. French notation – take your pick

STL is an absolute notation, so, for example, 3-5 always means course 3 fret 5 where courses are numbered in the standard way i.e. course 1 is always furthest away from you when you are playing the instrument.

However, when we come to display tablature, there are two conventions:

  1. Italian convention – course 1 is shown at the bottom of the stave. This is what Sanz used.
  2. French convention – course 1 is shown at the top of the stave. This is the convention used in modern guitar tablature and in lute tablature.

In fact there is nothing to choose between the two, and most Baroque guitarists should aim to become fluent in both conventions.

STL allows you to give a compiler information about what convention to use. By default, STL assumes the Italian convention. To switch this to French, just add the following line in the STL file header (i.e. above the first page):

FRENCH

For example, here is the first line of Sanz’s Canarios in Italian tablature:

...
P-1
    TITLE Canarios
    COMPOSER Gaspar Sanz IMSGE 1.8.1
    S-1
            T-3
            Q   2-3:.
                1-0
        B-2
                1-2: 4-0
                ...

CanariosItalian 

Now in French tablature:
...
FRENCH
P-1
    TITLE Canarios
    COMPOSER Gaspar Sanz IMSGE 1.8.1
    S-1
            T-3
            Q   2-3:.
                1-0
        B-2
                1-2: 4-0
                ...


CanariosFrench
So you can see that the gaspar Postscript compiler can generate Italian or French style tablature automatically. Notice that the only change to the STL file is the addition of the keyword FRENCH.

The gaspar compiler generally tries to do the right thing (e.g. swaps slurs over), but you might find that there are a few cases that need manual tweaking. For example when an adornment is placed over a note (as in bar 4 above), there could be interference with the durations and this might need to be fixed.

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