Tutorial 7: Guitar Tab and Fretted Instruments

Finale offers a variety of features for notation of guitar and other fretted instruments. In this chapter you will learn how to create a score with tablature, edit tab staves, enter bends, slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, and even enter music into your score using a MIDI guitar. If you do not plan on notating for guitar (or another fretted instrument), feel free to skip ahead to the next chapter.  

Creating Guitar Tablature

Let’s start by creating a new document containing both standard and tablature notation. We’ll use the Document Setup Wizard to do this.

The document you just created is already set up to take into account the standard guitar transposition which sounds an octave lower than written. Now, let’s learn the best way to enter music into a guitar score.

Copying Music to and from a Tab Staff

There are a few ways to enter into a tab staff. We’ll start with the most basic, copying music directly from a standard staff into tablature. To demonstrate this we’ll start with a document that already contains music in standard notation.   

In this case, the fret numbers represent the pitch as played on the lowest possible fret in standard guitar tuning.

Now, let’s say you want the tab positioned farther up the neck. Here’s how to specify the lowest fret for any music copied from a regular notation staff into a tab staff. The Selection Tool should still be selected.

This ability to copy music from standard notation into tab, and specify a lowest fret, can be applied to smaller areas of the score by selecting part of the measure. To do this, click and drag over a region including the partial measure(s).


To set the lowest fret for an entire tab staff, click the Staff Tool, double click the tab staff, then click the Select button at the bottom. Enter a value for Default Lowest Fret, then click OK back to your score.  


In addition to translating standard notation directly to tablature, you can also copy tablature directly into a standard notation staff. We will use the second half of “Spanish Dance No. 2” to demonstrate this. For this example the tablature is entered for you already.

In addition to changing the lowest fret while copying, you can also change the lowest fret for any region of tablature with the Selection Tool. To do this, highlight a region of the tablature staff. Then, choose Utilities > Change > Lowest Fret. Enter the new Lowest Fret and click OK to apply your changes and return to the score.

Changing the String and Fret Number

You can edit tab numbers and move them between strings manually with the Simple Entry Tool. This method gives more control over the movement of single and non-contiguous fingerings.

If you look at measure five in the tablature staff you’ll see that the fourth note is played at the fifth fret of the fourth string. It might be easier to finger this passage if that note was fingered at the tenth fret of the fifth string. Simple Entry makes this task easy.   

You can also easily change the fret number. The Simple Entry Tool should still be selected.

Entry Directly into a Tab Staff

In addition to copying from a standard notation staff, you can also enter tab directly into a tab staff. This comes in handy if you are working with a tab staff only or already know the tablature and not the standard notation. Again, we’ll continue to use the same file we’ve been working on to describe how to do this, first by entering tablature with your mouse, and then with your computer keyboard.

Use the up and down arrows to move a selected fret number up or down a string. The number will adjust to reflect the same pitch on the new string.

If you do not have a numeric keypad, you can press to add a 0 on the caret pitch, then hold down - (Mac -) and type the number.

To see a list of Simple Entry keyboard shortcuts from the Simple Menu, choose TAB Specific Commands.  

Refer back to Tutorial 1a for information on entering standard notation with the Simple Entry Caret.

Instead of typing the string and fret number, you can also use a MIDI device to enter tablature with the Simple Entry Caret. First, from the Simple Menu, ensure Use MIDI Device for Input is checked. Then, with the Caret active, choose the rhythmic duration (, and (Mac: , and ) and the number on the QWERTY keyboard) and then play the note. Finale will place the fret number on the appropriate string.

There are many additional keystrokes you can use while entering tablature using the Simple Entry Caret. For a complete list, from the Simple Menu, choose TAB Specific Commands.

Entering Slides, Bends, and Tremolos

You can enter these common elements of tab notation into your score using the Smart Shape Tool. Since these items often appear in both the standard and tab staff, we’ll start by entering them into the standard staff and then copy them down to the tab staff. To prepare for this section open Tutorial 7a “Blues Scale.”

Use pre-set Metatools to quickly enter Smart Shapes into a tab staff. For example, hold down the B key and double-click a fret number to enter a bend curve, N for a bend hat or hold down E, double-click and drag for a tremolo.  

You will notice the last note is translated to the open A string. Now, let’s move this down to the E string for the tremolo.

Now, let’s say we want to add a 1/4 bend on the second to last note.

Now, you may want to add a bend indication in the standard staff on the second to last note.

For compete information on entering all Smart Shapes, see the User Manual under the Smart Shape Tool.

Hammer-ons, Pull-offs and Other Markings

We’ll continue to use the “Blues Scale” document to demonstrate how to enter hammer-ons and pull-offs. This method can be used to enter a variety of other markings as well. The Smart Shape Tool should still be selected.

Now, you can use the arrow keys to make fine adjustments. To enter a pull-off, follow the same steps, only choose the “P” custom shape in the Custom Shape dialog box.

Use the above method to enter a variety of performance indications used regularly for fretted instruments. In the Smart Line Selection window you will  find figures for bends (B), releases (R), palm mutes (P.M.), harmonics (A.H. and P.H.), picking, and others.

Entry Using a MIDI Guitar (Optional Section)

You can use a MIDI guitar to enter music into your score much like you can with a MIDI keyboard using the HyperScribe Tool. Finale can even record the string you use for each pitch while entering directly into a tab staff. Here’s how to use a MIDI guitar for entry.   

The MIDI data for each string on a MIDI guitar reaches Finale on its own MIDI channel. In order to properly organize this information, you need to tell Finale the MIDI channel assigned to each string. In this dialog box, enter the channel for each string as defined on your guitar-to-MIDI interface and click OK. Consult your interface’s instruction manual for information on assigning strings to MIDI channels, or viewing the currently selected MIDI channel for each string.

As you play each measure, the numbers appear compressed together; only when you’ve completely filled a measure (and moved on to the next) does the full-fledged notation appear.

Now we’ll copy the tab you just entered into the standard notation staff.

Hints and Tips for Tablature

For complete information, see Tablature in the User Manual.

  1. Up and down pick markings can be entered with the Articulation Tool.
  2. You can add stems and beaming to tablature by configuring the Staff Attributes of your tab staff. Click the Staff Tool, double click the tab staff and click the Stem Settings button in the Staff attributes dialog box.
  3. To customize the smallest note value for a HyperScribe session, first configure your Quantization Settings. From the MIDI menu choose Quantization Settings. For more information, see Quantization in the User Manual.
  4. If you are using a non-standard tuning, or other fretted instrument (lute, banjo, etc.) you can manually customize your string tuning in the Staff Attributes. Click the Staff Tool, double click the tab staff, click the Select button at the bottom, then click the Edit Instruments button.
  5. To use fret letters instead of numbers, click the Staff Tool, double click the tab staff, click the Select button at the bottom, and check Use Letters.