Braille guitar tab transcription code

What is a tablature?

A tablature is a musical notation indicating the position of fingers on a musical instrument. It is a physical representation of what you have to do to play a piece of music. With tablatures, musicians can play their instrument more easier because they know exactly which string to strum or not to play their instrument. Tabs are commonly used for guitar, bass, drum, accordion or harmonica.

How to represent a normal tablature for guitarists without visual impairment?

A tablature contains six horizontal lines and numbers on those lines. Every line represents one string of the guitar and every number shows which fret to play.

Reading from bottom to top, a tab represents strings starting from high to low pitch or from string 1 to string 6 :

  • E (small string)
  • B
  • G
  • D
  • A
  • E (big string)

The first fret located between the nut and the second fret is identified by number 1 on one or more strings depending on the tab to play.

The second fret located between the first fret and the third fret is identified by number 2 on one or more strings depending on the tab to play and so on.

Sometimes you will see number 0 on one or more strings of the tablature. This means that you have to play without pressing any fret every time you see the number 0.

You will also see the letter X in a tablature. This means you don't play this string or that we shouldn't hear this string.

Finally, lets say that tabs are read from left to right. The horizontal axis shows time passing by and numbers will be played one by one.

If many numbers are superposed on a tablature, you must play them together. Most of the time, you will play a chord.

Does a Braille code exists for tablatures?

According to the Music Braille Code, 2015 of the Braille Authority Of North America (Article 26.14), Music for guitar or ukulele is frequently printed in a system called TAB (a shortening of the word "tablature"). This notation cannot be directly represented in music braille. If a transcription is required, the TAB must first be translated accurately and completely into staff notation by a qualified reader of TAB.

In this context, the BrailleTAB professional’s team created a committee of blind guitarists in the purpose of establishing standards in the Braille tablature field. From this committee emerged a Braille Code that will be used in tablatures offered by BrailleTAB.

How to represent normal tablatures in Braille?

Reading normal tablatures in Braille is really hard to understand for readers. This way of writing tablatures is not accessible for blind people who can't find easily and rapidly where they are in the tablature. The difficulty comes from the fact that blind musicians must read the tablature from top to bottom searching for notes to play while trying to follow the order in which notes must be played.

For this reason, we searched for a method to represent tablatures which would be easy to understand and would restrict as much as possible tactile exploration while playing.

Also, we wanted to respect the normal tablature representation and be accessible worldwide for Braille readers no matter which language they speak.

BrailleTAB proposes a linear representation of tablatures which introduces the instrument sound effects while keeping the rhythm.

How to write letters and numbers?

BrailleTAB wants simplicity and efficiency in its way of presenting information in Braille. To achieve this goal, we had to take decisions about the transcription code and the way to represent numbers and letters.

Transcription: we decided that information will be written in integral Braille in English and French.

Capital letters: to simplify reading and avoid information overload, we exclude the capital indicator (Dots 4 and 6).

Numbers : Antoine numbers will be used in Braille tab transcriptions and texts as well. Also, we decided to exclude the number indicator (Dot 6) in the purpose of facilitate reading and avoid information overload.

Creation of a symbol chart used by guitarists

In tablatures, the use of symbols to represent actions and techniques is necessary.

For example, the letter h indicates to the guitar player that he has to do a Hammer-on which consists in playing two different notes on the same string by strumming the string only once. This technique is called the Hammer effect.

BrailleTAB created symbols chart corresponding to action or techniques.

Actions Braille Symbols
String 1 e (1-5)
String 2 b (1-2)
String 3 g (1-2-4-5)
String 4 d (1-4-5)
String 5 a (1)
String 6 o (1-3-5)
Struming up q (1-2-3-4-5)
Struming down ù (2-3-4-5-6)
Action ç,y (1-2-3-4-6, 1-3-4-5-6)
Link l (1-2-3)
Add tab : (2-5)
Empty - (3-6)
Bar é (1-2-3-4-5-6)
Double bar éé (1-2-3-4-5-6, 1-2-3-4-5-6)
Repeat start 'é (3, 1-2-3-4-5-6)
Repeat end é' (1-2-3-4-5-6, 3)
Hammer-on /h (3-4, 1-2-4)
Pull-off /p (3-4, 1-2-3-4)
Bend /b (3-4, 1-2)
Full bend /fb (3-4, 1-2-4, 1-2)
Half bend /hb (3-4, 1-2-5, 1-2)
Slide /s (3-4, 2-3-4)
Slide up /su (3-4, 2-3-4, 1-3-6)
Slide down /sd (3-4, 2-3-4, 1-4-5)
Harmonic /n (3-4, 1-2-3-6)
Vibrato /v (3-4, 1-2-3-6)
Trill /tr (3-4, 2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-5)
Tap /t (3-4, 2-3-4-5)
Trem picking /tp (3-4, 2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4)
Palm muting /pm (3-4, 1-2-3, 1-3-4)
Tremolo bar dip (/n) (2-3-6, 3-4, 1-3-4-5, 3-5-6)
Tremolo bar down (/n (2-3-6, 3-4, 1-3-4-5)
Tremolo bar up /n) (3-4, 1-3-4-5, 3-5-6)

How are represented your guitar strings in BrailleTAB?

Guitar in hands, starting from the string on top to the bottom one, you will hear the following notes if you only strum the strings.

  • e (String 6)
  • a (String 5)
  • d (String 4)
  • g (String 3)
  • b (String 2)
  • e (String 1)

As you can see, E is on string 1 and 6. To avoid confusion, E low will be represented by the letter “ o ” in Braille.

The following chart represents the Braille notation of notes which are on a guitar neck.

String Braille Notation
String 1 e e (1-5)
String 2 b b (1-2)
String 3 g g (1-2-4-5)
String 4 d d (1-4-5)
String 5 a a (1)
String 6 o (2-4-6)

Example of a chord transcribed in Braille

  • Do major chord
  • o:x a:3 d:2 g:0 b:1 e:0

In the previous example, notice the X letter on string 6. This letter indicates you don't have to strum this string.

In BrailleTAB, chords that will be used in a tablature will be transcribed at the beginning of the document. The guitarist will then be able to get familiar with those chords before starting to read the whole tablature in Braille.

How to read a Braille tablature?

We recommend you refer to the section called "What is a tablature" to understand how is presented a normal tablature.

For the Braille guitar player, BrailleTAB has the preoccupation of representing the tablature in a linear way and indicates clearly the introduction of different sound effects of the instrument while keeping the rhythm.

Normal tablature example :

  • e |----------------------5-- |
  • b |------------------4------ |
  • g |--------------3---------- |
  • d |-----------2------------- |
  • a |-------1----------------- |
  • e |---0--------------------- |

Braille tablature example :

0:0 a:1 d:2 g:3 b:4 e:5

Normal tablature example with slide effect :

  • e |------------------------ |
  • b |------------------------ |
  • g |------------------------ |
  • d |------------------------ |
  • a |-----5/s7------------- |
  • e |------------------------ |

Braille tablature example with slide effect :

ça:5 /s a:7y

In the previous example, notice the use of letters ç and y in Braille. Those letters indicates that in the sequence following the ç, actions, techniques or events will have to be done.

How to represent a song in Braille?

The main purpose of BrailleTAB is to offer guitar tablatures in Braille. However, it occurs often that a song contains chords as well as tablatures.

In this case, BrailleTAB will use the following adaptation for the transcription of a song in Braille.

Example of a song transcribed in Braille including lyrics :

  1. Song title : A horse with no name
  2. Author : America
  3. Transcription note: This tablature has been transcribed by JP Lessard and Tommy Theberge
  4. Song strumming: ù ù qù qù é ù q q qù é
    • Triplet feels
  5. Song chords : em d6/9/f#
  6. Braille transcription of chords :
    • em o:0 a:2 d:2 g:0 b:0 e:0
    • d6/9/f# o:2 a:x d:0 g:2 b:0 e:0
  7. Song including chords :
    • All song em d6/9/f#
    • Solo
    • e:0 çe:0 /h e:2y e:2 çe:2 /h e:3y e:3 çe:3 /s e:5y e:5 é çe:5 /s e:2y e:2 çe:2 /h e:3y e:3 çe:3 /p e:0y e: çe:0 /h e:2y e:2 é e:0 çe:0 /h e:2y e:2 çe:2 /h e:3y e:3 çe:3 /s e:5y e:5 çe:5 /s e:7y e:8 e:5 e:7 é e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 é e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 e:12 é e:10 e:9 e:7 e:9 e:7 e:5 e:7 e:5 e:3 e:5 e:3 e:2 é e:3 e:2 e:0 e:2 e:0 b:3 e:0 é

In the example above, notice the use of letters ç and y in Braille. Those letters indicates there is a chord at this place in the song.

Acknowledgements

BrailleTAB wants to thank the following persons and organizations for their contribution in this project :

  • Project's Instigators : Jean-Pierre Lessard and Tommy Théberge
  • Technical and advisory committee: Antonin Plante, Martin Morin, Nathalie Tellier and Stéphane Tellier
  • Braille Experts: Alexandre Bellemare and Jessica Dion
  • Website Accessibility and Web developer: Yannick Babin
  • Designer: Jonathan Ayotte
  • Encoding: Annabelle Bourgon
  • Translation: Mélissa Brière

Founding members: l'Association québécoise des parents d'enfants handicapés visuels (AQPEHV), deputy of Marie-Victorin, Catherine Fournier, la Fondation des Aveugles du Québec (FAQ) and the Government of Canada.