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Context

I've transcribed the Title Screen song from Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow for classical guitar and I am now polishing the sheet.

Here are measures 15 and 16 of the direct transcription of the original song, which has 3 melody channels (voices) and a noise channel for percussion effects (which I omitted). Note the coloring of each voice on the left side of this image:

Direct transcription

And here are the same measures in the guitar sheet, where I mixed (as best as possible) the 3 voices of the direct transcription into a single guitar sheet (remember that guitar is a transposing instrument which plays one octave below what's represented on the sheet):

Guitar transcription

This guitar sheet may seem confusing (which is the point of this question), so here's the same image but with additional text notes and colors to highlight each voice and the duration of the confusing musical notes (voice 1 is blue, voice 2 is green and voice 3 is red):

Guitar transcription (colorized)

In my opinion, on measure 16, the three voices are such that it is very hard to create a non-ambiguous guitar sheet. Despite my best efforts, this was the best that I managed to do. I see four points that might cause confusion to readers on the guitar sheet:

Guitar transcription (4 problems)

Note 1: This piece is not meant for sight reading. Instead, it is meant to be thoroughly rehearsed before performing, as it is very tricky to read without the tab (and to play). I want to print two versions of the score: one with tab and the other without, so the sheet alone must be readable by itself.

Note 2: This score is being produced with Guitar Pro 8.

Note 3: In the answers, please ignore the confusing notation in the pictures for artificial harmonics, where both the harmonic pitch and the note pressed with the left hand are notated in the sheet. This notation is forced by Guitar Pro 8, I cannot do anything about it (as far as I know).

Questions

I have 5 questions: 4 of them for each one of the 4 points identified in red in the last image and a 5th one asking for a better alternative for measure 16 of the guitar sheet (if there is any). Please provide a point-wise answer, if possible:

  1. Is the duration of every note in here clear (that C is a quarter note and the others are triplet quarter notes)? Also, note that the G from voice 1 (blue) is pointing down here.

  2. Voice 1 is now pointing up instead of down like in the previous note (point 1). Is it clear that this is not a quarter note, but actually a triplet quarter note affected by the |--3--| notation below? In other words, is it clear that the G pointing up in point 1 is not affected by the triplet, but the F (also pointing up) in point 2 is?

  3. Is the duration of each of the notes here clear? I'd say voice 3 (red) (the bottom note) is clear, but what about the other two?

  4. Here, the stem of the quarter note E in voice 2 (green) is pointing up because if I pointed it down, its stem would blend with the stem of the eighth note F from voice 3 (red) below it, and then the E would seem like an eighth note as well. Is it clear that the E is a quarter note and not a triplet quarter note (affected by the |---3---| notation abouve it)?

  5. What is a better solution to represent measure 16 of the guitar sheet in a legible, non-confusing and non-ambiguous way? I don't necessarily require answers taking Guitar Pro 8 into account (although it would be appreciated of course), because I am even finding it hard to imagine how measure 16 could look non-ambiguous on paper or in a better music notation software.

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  • 1
    Consider that a single part of a single, monophonic instrument can still represent more than one voice. In particular, the octave+ jumps are suspicious! Besides that, consider if you really want to transcribe the piece literally for academic correctness, or rather arrange it for artistic effect. Dec 15, 2023 at 9:00
  • @user1079505 Could you clarify to me the difference between part and voice please? Dec 16, 2023 at 18:47
  • @user1079505 Also, I believe you are referring to the voice 1 (in blue) on the first half of measure 16. In these GameBoy songs (and other retro videogame consoles'), the composers typically had just 3 single-pitch MIDI channels and one noise channel for percussion effects. This was a typical hardware limitation of the consoles' sound chips. So sometimes we see things like voice 1 in this song, where they use the otherwise empty (with pauses) parts of the sheet and use that MIDI channel to fill up or complement the harmony. Nowadays, it would likely be written in an auxiliary sheet and voice. Dec 16, 2023 at 18:59
  • 1
    As I understand the terms, "part" refers to what a single instrument plays. "Voice" refers to a coherent melody. Bach's violon solo suites often use "compound melody"; a single part plays two (or more) voices. Sometimes alternate notes belong to different melodies. The fugue in the famous d-minor pieces alternates melodic notes with a dominate pedal (hinting that fugue subject was originally composed for violin.)
    – ttw
    Dec 23, 2023 at 2:32

2 Answers 2

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First, a frame challenge: Why does the reader need to know the precise duration of every single note? Are they muting each note at the end of its duration? Are you muting each note when you play it? Play the piece yourself, simplifying where necessary, and match the notation to what you're actually doing; this will make it much more practical for someone else to follow, sight reading or not.

Second, ties are a tool to clarify rhythms. As a rule, any note value crossing a subdivision longer than itself (quarter across the half-measure, eighth across the beat, etc.) should be broken up across that subdivision. Your original three-staff version follows this rule, and I'm not sure why you made things harder by changing it.

Then, to answer your questions in rapidfire:

  1. Yes, this is clear.
  2. I think that would just be confusing. The triplet now looks like it goes with voice 3, which looks like an orphaned triplet-quarter.
  3. Nope, not clear at all. I'd have to squint for a bit before I saw the top one as anything but a dotted eighth.
  4. This is as clear as it can be in my opinion, especially with the upper voice in octaves. Others may disagree.
  5. Here's a basis to build from, which happens to preserve your exact durations:

Voices 1 and 3 share downward stems for the first half of the measure, then 1 splits. 2 has upward stems throughout. More described below.

But again, don't take my word for it; play it through and try to reflect what you're actually doing and thinking.

You'll note that voices 1 and 3 adhere to my second point, but I've preserved the dotted quarter in voice 2 for a few reasons: One, the common 'tresillo' rhythm (dotted x, dotted x, x) is often given a pass due to its simplicity. Two, there's nowhere for a quarter stem to go in beat 3. And three, it makes voice 2 stand out visually, helping the stray quarter amidst the triplets make sense.

Three voices is a lot for one staff! There are good notational and cognitive reasons to pare it down to two distinct rhythms when possible. The good news is that a guitar is more like a percussion instrument than a violin, and, in extreme cases, you can just do this (EXAGGERATED FOR COMEDY; PLEASE DO NOT):

Duration is dead. All notes have been jammed into a single voice, lasting exactly until the next note begins, even the triplets

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  • Those are very good points. Usually I use the same original durations for the notes in the guitar. I reduce the duration of a note when it is impossible to play the entire duration and I never extend them beyond the original duration on the sheet, even that ends up happening because of the left hand shape. I just didn't reach that part of the arranging/transcription process for this particular sheet yet. Also, I am guilty of having used notation such as that last image back when I used Guitar Pro 5 and didn't know about multi-voice sheets. Good times! (but terrible sheets) Dec 15, 2023 at 20:58
  • 1
    Also, thank you very much for this great and helpful answer! I decided to change this answer as the accepted one because it gives very meaningful advice for transcribing/arranging multi-voice songs such as this for guitar. However, for everyone else reading this, I highly recommend checking @Aaron's great answer, as it produced a clean sheet preserving even all of the original song's notes' durations. The guitar sheet trims down the first F of voice 3 to a triplet quarter note, which makes things a lot easier to notate in sheet. Dec 16, 2023 at 19:20
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TL;DR

Preferred solution (described below)


Step by step solution

Following the standards laid out in Behind Bars, here is the process I went through.1

Step 1: MuseScore defaults for 3-voice entry

m. 15–16 layout example, MuseScore default

There is plenty of awkwardness here: quarter notes and dotted quarter notes sharing a stem (allowed, but awkward), overlapping stems (e.g. m. 16 beat 2), and overlapping ties (m. 16). It also make it seem that in m. 16 beat 1, the voice 3 F is part of voice 1's triplet.

Step 2: Down stems for lowest voice

This is not made explicit in Behind Bars, but is consistent throughout the examples.

m. 15–16, Voice 3 down stems

This resolves some of the stem/slur crossing, but also creates the same problems in new places, such as the unclear stems in m. 15 beat 2.5. It also make m. 16, beat 3, voice 2 look like an eighth note rather than a quarter note.

Step 3: Adjust stems in middle voice

This step resolves various collisions. For example, in m. 15 beat 1, the dotted quarter notes in voices 1 and 2 are now combined, as with the following eighth notes and half notes. The stemming in m. 16 beats 1 and 2 is clarified, and voice 2's beat 2.5–3 tied eighth-note and quarter note, although the usual way to write is, is now combined into a single dotted quarter note, which is sufficiently clear, because the other voices clarify the beats and beat divisions.

m. 15–16, Voice 2 adjustments

An obvious problem, though, is that the voice crossing in m. 16 beats 1 and 2 is totally unclear, such that the voice leading is lost.

Step 4: Final adjustments

m. 15–16, recommended solution

The main adjustment here is giving more space to m. 16 so that the individual beats are better clarified. Voice leading lines are also added to show where voice 1 crosses voice 2. In m. 15, I made voice 1 and 2's initial dotted quarter notes into tied quarter and eighth note to help the eye follow all three voices. I also adjusted some stem directions and lengths and note offsets for visual clarity.

Given that this is intended for study, so sight readability is somewhat secondary, this is the solution I find easiest to follow.


1 Gould, Elaine. Behind Bars (Faber Music, 2011). See especially pp. 310 – 313, "Keyboard: Part Writing." The guitar notation section does not address part writing.

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  • What a great answer! Thank you so much for the time you spent writing it so cleanly! I just have one point I'd like to debate: are the first three notes on the start of measure 16 of your solution unambiguous? There might be people who think they are not meant to be played at the same time. Dec 16, 2023 at 19:06
  • (follow-up of my previous comment): The first F of measure 16 can a triplet quarter note, because the next F later on will be on the same guitar string and fret, and as such would stop the F quarter note from ringing through its entire duration. Dec 16, 2023 at 19:10
  • 1
    @GandalfTheBard The down beat of m. 16 is a little strange looking, but I think clear enough once the performer has time to study the score. You could certainly cojoin the F with the triplet G, but then there should be an eighth rest for that voice in the triplet so that it remains clear which voice is which.
    – Aaron
    Dec 16, 2023 at 19:39

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