Music: Practice & Theory Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for musicians, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've started playing the harpejji, a 16-stringed instrument with an isomorphic fretboard.

Due to its very nature, there are several different frets for a given pitch. Has there been an attempt to remove the ambiguity in standard musical notation for similar instruments before?

share|improve this question
"Remove the ambiguity for similar instruments"? You mean like a GUITAR? Yes, people have been playing guitars for quite a long time. – user1044 Aug 10 '12 at 3:59
no, not like a guitar. Because there are fewer strings and wider intervals between strings on a guitar, your choices are naturally very limited. On a harpejji there are many more choices because of the greater number of strings and the smaller intervals between them… – andrewdotnich Aug 10 '12 at 4:03
Nonsense. On a guitar a given pitch can be played at several different fret positions on several different strings. Playing polyphonic music on guitar is quite difficult precisely because the performer has to figure out which string to play a given note on based on what other notes he has to play nearby. I take it you have little experience with the guitar. – user1044 Aug 10 '12 at 4:07
I wonder if there is some special notation used for indicating how to play certain passages on a chromatic button accordion, and in that case if that could be helpful for the harpejji. – Ulf Åkerstedt Aug 19 '12 at 23:32
up vote 6 down vote accepted

You are asking about tablature notation, which indicates not only the pitch to play, but which string to play it on. Tablature was developed for the lute and is used to this day for the guitar.

Standard notation for classical guitar addresses this also, by providing numbers next to notes. Certain numbers indicate which string to play the note on, or sometimes also which fret position to place the hand to reach the note. The notations "p", "i", "m", and "a" indicate which right-hand finger to use to pluck the note.

share|improve this answer
I have seen a little tablature notation for guitar (despite, as you correctly surmise above, not being a guitarist), but I can't help but think it would get quite unweildy for an instrument with 16 strings (to say nothing of the 24-string bass variant). Are there any other notation systems people have used over time? – andrewdotnich Aug 10 '12 at 6:12
Not that I know of. You're a pioneering player of a new instrument, so maybe you can help develop a better method of notation. Study the standard classical guitar notation and the tablature as a starting point. Good luck! – user1044 Aug 10 '12 at 18:59
You could modify the traditional guitar tab with the following changes: make a space between in each group of strings, use a different color for each group to make it stand out, use line width to express diameter of each string (a set of lower strings would have progressively heavier lines as you descend). – filzilla Aug 10 '12 at 23:03

I suppose a violin can be considered to have an "isomorphic fingerboard", as each string is tuned a fifth up from the one before (as opposed to the guitar with unequal intervals between the strings). There are many notes that can be played on more than one string on the violin. You will sometimes see an indication like "sul D", meaning "play this note on the D string."

Edit: Sometimes in violin music a single Roman numeral indicates which string should be played. Likewise in organ music I indicates Great manual, II the Swell, III the Choir or Positif. I think the violin strings are numbered from the top down. I is the E string. Similarly you could assign Roman numerals to your instrument's strings and indicate which string would be used for the top note of the chord.

share|improve this answer
That's true, I hadn't considered the string section of instruments. The harpejji's strings are only a tone apart, though, so the number of options are much greater… – andrewdotnich Aug 10 '12 at 2:10
What's this about a guitar having "unequal intervals between the strings"? Guitars are tuned in all 4ths except for one exception, the major 3rd between the G and B strings. – user1044 Aug 10 '12 at 4:03
Sounds like a good working definition of uneven to me… – andrewdotnich Aug 10 '12 at 6:07
@andrewdotnich: When you say "one tone apart", do you mean as notes in a C major scale, or as half steps as in 12 tone scale? – awe Aug 10 '12 at 6:40
@awe: sorry, confusing choice of words. I mean neither, actually. If you start a string at C, then go across the fretboard, the notes are: C D E F# G# A# C – andrewdotnich Aug 10 '12 at 7:24

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.