Gaspar Sanz had a tablature system for the baroque guitar which features a mapping between alphabetical letters and chords. From the linked page:

Sanz's tablature is remarkable in that it is topologically correct, representing the first string in the lower line and the fifth string in the highest printed line. In this epoch, guitars only had five strings. It also features the "italian alphabet", a shorthand system that assigns a chord to each letter, so that melodic chord progressions can be written and read very neatly (with rhythm information) as a simple sequence of letters, a concept related to the recent Nashville system. For example, there is a "Zarabanda francesa" (french sarabande) which includes the sequence CIFI+H2+G2K2IFCM2N2CAIC, which means:

  • CIFI: D major chord, A major, E major, A major
  • +H2+G2K2: E minor, B major, E minor, F# major, B minor
  • IFCM2N2: A major, E major, A major, E major (variation), A major (variation)
  • CAIC: D major, G major, A major, D major

There are 2 things which confuse me in the above:

  1. How is this system topological? I don't see a schematic representation of the strings. It looks like the paragraph is mixing Sanz's tablature and an "italian alphabet" system.
  2. How is the alphabetical notation mapped to chords? e.g., C seems to be mostly D major but once it's A major. Also, where is the rhythmic information?

3 Answers 3

  1. Yes, this paragraph is about Sanz' influence on both tablature and symbolic chord notation. It does not imply that both things are necessarily combined. In fact the example shown on the same page does not show chord notation at all, but it does feature a representation of strings as described.
  2. There is no clear relationship between italian alphabet notation and musical pitch notation, and the choice of chord symbols appears to be arbitrary (see this article). -- The Wikipedia example shows rhythm indicated by small notes above the tablature staff.
  1. Sanz' tablature is topological in the sense that it reflects the order of the strings as viewed by the player:

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as opposed to a mirror image of them, as other tablatures of the time (and previously) used:

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or notes without indication of string:

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  1. Here is Sanz' own illustration of the Italian alphabet:

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As you can see, rhythmic information is indicated by a combination of super-script notes and downwards/upwards 'ticks' (indicating strum direction):

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  • p20

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  • p14

Note: that's an error on the wiki page. C indeed refers to a D chord, not an A.


The Wiki article has a link to the Biblioteca scan of his work. Book 1 is mostly strummed using the alphabet notation. Page 27 & 29 has a table matching the letters to tablature.

www.donaldsauter.com/gaspar-sanz.htm discusses his tablature, and renders Book 2 in modern tablature.

On the tablature, rhythm is indicted by notes above the score. They are also on the strumming pages, but more compactly.

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