rfbooth.com :: music :: tax

For various reasons I wanted to typeset a transcription today, and so I thought I'd give Power Tab a try. Well, it took me a good five minutes or so to get anything done at all, largely due to the help file being utterly opaque on basic operations, after which it was all relatively easy, if occasionally frustrating. So, here are a series of thoughts and hints.

This is not, as you might assume, a sort of word processor for tablature. To fall back on the Office metaphor, since we all no doubt know it, this is not Word - it's Publisher.

The first way this manifests itself is in the “section” concept. A section is nothing to do with the musical content or structure; it is, purely, one physical line on the finished score. It's a layout idea. This would be less annoying if there were any easy way to split a section into two at bar lines, or join two adjacent sections, but as far as I can tell there's nothing short of cutting and pasting between sections and then inserting or deleting the sections manually. This is Broken. You can add a new section (line) to the end by pressing N.

You can't type into a section if there isn't any more (physical, layout) room on that line. (It took my longer than I care to admit to realise this; my defence is that it's clearly Broken.) You can make the notes get closer together by pounding on the - key. Advice: if you're getting close to the end of the line, contract it all way up with -. You can then get the rest of the line in, and hit j to spread it out nicely to fill the space.

You insert notes by moving to the place you want (with the arrows) and then typing the fret number. Note durations are selected on the bar at the bottom of the screen, or using shift-arrows. You insert bar lines manually, pressing f. Rests you have to insert by clicking at the bottom, there's no shortcut. Yes, that is annoying.

Obvious corollary to the “no automatic bar lines”: it will cheerfully let you enter as much as you like in a bar, regardless of time signature. I think it complains if you try to midi-play it, at least. Surely this is the sort of thing computers are good at? I suppose it's all back to this being a transcription layout tool rather than a real transcription processing tool.

If you're anything like me, it will take you half way to forever to figure out how to delete bar lines or rests. Answer: select them, then click on the “insert bar line” or “insert rest” toolicons, which are greyed out (selected), much like toggling bold or underline in your word processor of choice.

Extra Special Annoying: I couldn't figure out any way to triplet a bunch of notes without mouse-dragging to select them first. Anything that requires you to use the mouse for common tasks is Broken (see also rests).

That's about it, really, based on my brief usage. Hopefully this may help some of you get to grips with this a little more painlessly than I did.

Note that, probably despite appearances, I don't hate this; in fact, I think it's very good. The flaws are minor, and if there were keyboard shortcuts to split and join sections at bars and for inserting and removing rests, I'd have no quarrels with it at all (and these must surely be easy to add). For freeware it's great, and I'll probably be using this most of the time rather than Mup, my old favourite (the advantages of Mup: potentially faster input, MUCH higher quality output, much more flexible for non-guitar projects, cross-platform; disadvantages: requires more thought to use and as such is highly non-suitable for occasional use.). If the getting-started in the help actually told you how to get started, I wouldn't have bothered with this, but since it doesn't I found myself compelled.