For many years, Powertab was my program of choice when creating ‘ukulele tabs in PDF format. It allows the user to input fret numbers onto the “strings” and automatically puts the notes on musical staff. The note duration and rhythms can then be changed/added for the benefit of those who read standard notation (you can’t choose to remove the staff, so if you want to do just plain tab, stick to a text editor).
The Powertab program is free and is said to run on Windows versions 95 to XP, but I ran it using Vista without any problems.
Once you get Powertab installed (just follow the instructions), you need to go in and change some default settings to accommodate for the ʻukulele’s four strings and tuning. Click File>New to bring up a window that asks for you to select the “initial tablature staff setup”. Select the “4” string option under “Guitar Score” and then click the little Windows icon in the upper right corner to save it as your new default.
To get the notes on the staff to correspond with the ʻukulele’s tuning, click on the little red guitar button under “file” (first column, second row).
This pulls up the “guitar setup” page which controls the staff display and MIDI playback sounds. Name your track in the “desc.” box if you like, keep the number of strings the same, change the “MIDI” sound to “acoustic guitar (nylon)” to get the closest ʻukulele sound, and leave everything else in that column the same.
Now move to the “tuning” column. This is where you pick the tuning you hear (MIDI) and see (standard notation) in your file. For a low G tuning, set your strings up as A3, E3, C3, G2 from top to bottom using the little arrows on the right to go up and down through the different octaves (that’s what the numbers show – what octave the said note is in). For high G you would just change the G2 to a G3 (one octave up). This makes the MIDI file sound lower than an ʻukulele itself, but keeps the notes on the staff in the proper octave. Again, you can click the default button in the lower right corner to save this tuning as default.
Update: – I got this tip from Dominator – who got it from someone else (thanks man!). Instead of “tuning down” to A3, E3, C3, G2 (or 3), put the tuning as A4, E4, C4, G3 (or 4 for high G). That’s one octave up. Now adjust the little box that is labeled “Off” (offset) so that it says “-12”. This will offset the tuning so that it displays in the correct octave as well as sounds in the correct octave when you play it back with MIDI.
Putting fret numbers on the strings is pretty straightforward. Move the blue cursor with the arrow keys or by clicking where you want it to go and enter a number.
Select the note you want to add an articulation to with the blue cursor. Then click the articulation in the bar above the staff. Some of the symbols are confusing, but hover your mouse over them and a little explanation will pop up.
Changing Note Durations:
To change the length of a note, select it with the blue cursor and choose desired duration with the little dark blue notes at the bottom of the screen.
Right now (in the image) I have the current note set as an eighth, it will change if I choose something different. You can also add dots (for dotted rhythms) and other things like accents, staccato triplets, etc…
You can add a rest in an empty position on the staff and tab by putting the cursor in the empty spot and choosing the desired rest duration from the drop downs to the right of the note duration bar. The current rest duration is shown to the left of the drop down. When you add a rest, the rest button is depressed (showing duration), you can remove the rest by clicking the button again, deselecting it. The rest and drop down to the right is for a low melody. Just use the rest box on the left for normal tabbing (adding a low melody gets confusing really fast, so I won’t cover it). At the far left is a multi-bar rest option (for long pauses).
Dividing Measures/Adding Repeats:
Once you have a full measure you can add a divider by clicking the button with a vertical line on it – right above the “2” on the ruler above the staff. This brings up a box that you can choose divider types with – normal, dashed, repeats, ends, etc…
Adding/Removing Lines Of Tab:
You can squeeze a lot of notes into one line of tab, but it’s nice to give yourself some space to stretch out. Add a new line of tab at the bottom of the score by clicking the button with a music staff and a green “+” sign (located under the MIDI controls). You can add a bar of tab above or below the selected line by clicking the staff button with the green arrow pointing to where the new line will go. A line of tab can also be removed by clicking the staff button with a red “-” sign. You can also attach a second staff for multiple tracks or ʻukulele parts by clicking the button with two staffs connected together.
To add a chord above the staff where your cursor is, click on the little “Cm” button (three buttons to the right of the “little red guitar”).
This brings up a window that you name the chord in. To do so, click on the root note (name note – Cm would be “C”) and then choose the formula (major, minor, 7th, etc…). You can add extensions and bass notes if you like. Check the “preview” to see what will be displayed. Then click OK. You can add a chord just by clicking in the thin “chord space” above the staff once you have added the first chord.
The chords show up above the staff like this:
Adding File/Tab Information:
You can add info about the song (name, artist, album, etc…) by going to View>File Information. None of this is visible while you are working in Powertab, but it shows up as a nice looking header once you print (see below).
Sometimes the notation signs don’t cover all the bases and you need to add some of your own narration. Add a text box in the vicinity of your blue cursor by clicking on the button with “ab|” on it (located to the right of the chord button). Write your note, change the font and size (using the Word style controls), and click outside the text box – now you can drag it around. As you add to the tab, the text boxes seem to migrate around, so you will need to move them back into place every once in a while.
Using the MIDI Controls:
The MIDI feature lets you hear what your tab sounds like. This is especially helpful when working on rhythms. It is a computer, so it only knows what you tell it to play, but if a tab is done correctly it can sound pretty close to the real deal.
Note: you must tell the MIDI function what tuning setup to use by making sure that “Gtr 1” is displayed at the beginning of the score. It is there by default, but if you remove it by accident, highlight the note you want the MIDI input to start on and click the “Gtr. in” button and select the instrument setup you would like to use.
The controls are similar to your CD or tape player. You can play your tab from the beginning by clicking on the leftmost alien-green arrow (the arrow has a small line to the left of it). Or, play the tab from the measure the blue cursor is in by clicking the next green arrow to the right. Pause the playback by clicking the pause button and stop it by clicking the stop button. Toggle the metronome on and of by clicking the green triangle.
Creating a Chord Diagram List:
If you make a chord dictionary, it will show chord boxes under the file information when you print the tab. To open up the chord diagram window, click on the chord box button located to the right of the “little red guitar”.
To add a chord to the diagram list, click on the chord box button in the upper right corner of the window (it looks the same as the one above). This brings up a smaller window with a blank chord box. Click on the frets where you want the fingers to go – click behind the nut for open strings. As you create the chord voicing, the “suggested names” list on the right will change. Pick the most relevant name once you finish the chord. A lot of the time the suggested name includes a bass note (slash chord – C/B). You can edit the name by clicking on the “Cm” button above and to the right of the chord box. This window works just like the first chord window I described (above). Continue adding new chords until all grips in the song are covered. You can edit and delete chords as you go along by clicking either the pencil or red “X”.
There are a few more musical notation things that are pretty self explanatory like key signatures, time signatures, dynamics, tempo, rehearsal signs, and more. The general rule is: wherever your blue cursor is, is where the item will show up. Saving and loading files is just like any other program.
Note spacing and “musical correctness” usually gets lost at some point in the process of creating a tab, so it’s nice that the folks who made Powertab included some cleanup tools.
The first is the justify function. Click to a line of tab and click the justify button (located under the MIDI controls, it has a half dozen or so horizontal lines on it) to even out the note spacing according to durations and rests.
The second feature is the score checker. It guides you measure by measure through notation errors (like having too many or too few notes in a measure, missing end bar, and all kinds of other things). Bring up the score checker window by clicking on the button with a green check-mark superimposed on music staff (to the left of the MIDI controls).
The score checker tells you what the problem is and what measure it is in, but beyond that, you are on your own. It’s great theory practice to figure out total durations and the various other errors you might run across.
Printing to PDF:
If you want to be able to share your tab in an easily accessible format once it is finished, I recommend “printing” it to a PDF file. If your computer is set up right, you should be able to go File>Print and select “PDF” from the printer name drop-down and click “OK”. Then just name your file and locate it so you can find it for future use. If your computer is not cooperating (like mine) “PDF” won’t appear in the drop-down and you have to do some trouble shooting. My solution was to download the free PDF995 file converter. Found at: http://www.pdf995.com/download.html. Once the program is installed, “PDF995” should become an option from the printer name drop-down. You have to see a splash page and click “keep using sponsored version” every time you print, but it seems to do the job fine.
There are plenty more features to experiment with in Powertab, but this should get you started. Practice makes perfect. Good luck!