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As we are all aware, the convention is to write guitar notation an octave higher than concert pitch. However, this convention is problematic for anyone putting together a score for extended range guitars.

An 8-string guitar's lowest note is an F sharp. In the following image, we can visualise this. In the treble clef we see a bottom E as it is in standard notation, followed by an F sharp. In the bass clef we see this same E, followed by its true position an octave lower, and by the true position of an 8-string guitar's bottom F sharp.

enter image description here

This suggests that there is nothing illogical about writing the notes in their true position. We are merely changing the clef.

Some of you may be wondering why we should care, especially since extended range players are in the minority. However, there are enough such guitarists to warrant having a discussion on this. After all, the impetus for my post is the fact that I intend to put some scores online. I didn't really want to publish them using the traditional convention, so it would be nice to hear someone say they agree with me.

Thank you for your thoughts!

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    Hi James. We are a Q&A site, rather than a discussion site. However, this would be a fine question for the chat room. Once your reputation reaches 20 points, you'll be able to post there.
    – Aaron
    Jun 20, 2023 at 2:15
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    I think this "question" would be fine if you edit it to be more questiony. Jun 20, 2023 at 2:48
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    ... to something like: "How should 8-string guitar be engraved?", and show the problem with using standard 6-string guitar notation. Jun 20, 2023 at 9:00
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    Welcome! You can check out these help pages about the topics covered here and how to get objective answers. I encourage you to edit this question, since I think what you're really asking, and the answer you got, is "What's the most practical way to go about this." Jun 20, 2023 at 13:44

2 Answers 2

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Guitar notation developed for music with most notes fitting within 3 octave range. 8 string electric guitar with 24 frets covers almost 5 octaves in standard tuning.

The best solution may depend on the specific material to be notated. Some things to be considered:

  • the guitarists are used to notation in treble clef transposed by an octave, so it might be the best starting point
  • if music is monophonic, with passages gradually moving between high an low registers, maybe additional octave shift marks are sufficient
  • otherwise I would suggest notation similar to piano staff, with both treble and bass clefs transposed by an octave. The image below shows an example notation of the 8 open strings in standard tuning, in two versions:
    1. distributing the notes uniformly between the staves
    2. notating the top 6 strings on the upper staff, and using the bottom one for the bottom two strings only.

enter image description here

  • For polyphonic two-handed tapping material a good solution would be to devote each staff for each hand, and either change clefs as needed, or use octave shift marks.
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  • Thank you for your answer. I agree that using the bass clef in this is a way of providing a solution that works and does not stray from the convention for guitars. However, my point still remains that in the case of 8-string notation, there is theoretically no justification for differing from the way piano staffs are written.
    – James Y.
    Jun 20, 2023 at 16:13
  • @JamesY. it's all matter of conventions and convenience (for the reader!). There is no theory that would dictate which clefs to use. Jun 20, 2023 at 16:33
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Notation isn't about about logic, it's about communicating the music to the performer in a way that they will be able to read fluently.

Traditionally, guitar music (when written in staff notation) uses a treble clef (with an octave shift). You might well argue that even 6-string guitar music ought to written: at sounding pitch, in bass clef. But, that's not what guitarist are used to, and they probably don't want to learn a new system when the system they have already learnt is perfectly adequate.

I suggest using a grand staff (with an octave shift) and putting the extra 2 strings in the bass clef staff (as in user1079505's second bar).
This is not because it is more logical, but because the guitarist will already be familiar with the notation for the normal 6 strings, and the extra 2 strings will be easy to distinguish.

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    This. Muscle memory is far more important than a "more efficient" personal system invented by someone else. Jun 21, 2023 at 6:51

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