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last-edited 28-Aug-2008/20:49:20+1:00 by Luke


TabHelper is a Freeware Windows application that allows the creation of Lute and Guitar tabulature files using Microsoft Excel as the editing environment.


Wayne Cripps' excellent TAB software is designed for typesetting lute and guitar tabulature based on a plain text ASCII file (TAB file format). The input format is transformed by TAB into a beautiful typeset output in Postscript format.

Wayne Cripps suggests to visualise the TAB format as follows:

I see this as a representing tablature on its side (through a mirror).

This is illustated below:

Text inputTypeset output from TAB

Motivation for TabHelper

Whilst TAB is very good at typesetting the tabulature, the TAB format itself is not very user friendly. It is hard to visualise the piece being composed or typeset, and in particular one cannot easily play back from this format, as it does not look very much like the output format.

Other issues are that one cannot always rely on the text column to see which string a note falls, due to the fact that the positions are offset by any extra decorations or letters that are part of the TAB file format. For example, in the sample above, one cannot immediately see in the TAB text input the fact that the top course of the first chord falls on the same course as the next note (namely the 2nd course), due to the dotted rhythm element.

So to enable easier editing and creation of TAB files, I created TabHelper.

What TabHelper does

TabHelper lets you use Microsoft Excel as an editor to lay out the tabulature. This has the following benefits:

  • Content can be laid out left to right on "staves", using the natural grid of MS Excel
  • The tabulature has a much closer resemblance to the final output, permitting ease of comprehension, verification, and even informal performance during the typesetting process.
  • Formatting hints can be given (e.g. bar lines)

The example used above is illustrated again in the following screenshot of TabHelper format, which I hope you will agree is easier to comprehend than the raw TAB text format, whilst still remaining faithful to the essence of TAB.
The similarity between the editing environment and resultant output is now much closer. One can now clearly see the fact that the first chord uses the same top course as the second note (namely the 2nd course). Bar lines are also visible.
TabHelper format in MS ExcelTypeset output from TAB

Effectively we have rotated the TAB lines back through 90 so that it is clear to see. All the standard TAB commands can be used apart from a few differences, which are documented in the associated Help file.
Direct PDF output
TabHelper works with the TAB binary for Windows allowing you to create typeset output directly. TAB produces Postscript output, and so TabHelper also works with GhostScript to produce PDF from this postscript content. To enable this, you must install GhostScript on your machine
TAB and Fronimo import
From version 1.1, TabHelper can import TAB and Fronimo files. This feature is still under development, but appears to be most reliable for TAB files. Fronimo FT2 files and FT3 files can be imported, although your mileage may vary.

see software/tabhelper/screenshots

What's in the package?

The TabHelper installation package includes:
  • TabHelper 1.0
  • TAB source code and binary, developed by Wayne Cripps.
  • TabManual.pdf - Manual for TAB commands, written by Leonard Williams.

You need to have:If you don't have Excel or are not running Windows, you can still use your favourite spreadsheet editor and use the online converter: software/tabhelper/online-converter


Download TabHelper
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