Be sure to check out tab-by-mail
What is Tab?
Tab is a typesetter for lute tablature, for renaissance and baroque
lutes and theorboes, in French and Italian notation. It runs on
many computers but is developed on the linux operating system.
Tab is a command line
or "dos" program, which does not use the mouse. You use tab in
conjunction with a word processor or editor program and a
PostScript display/printing program (like Ghostview).
You edit a plain text file with special commands to enter the
lute tablature, then you run tab to convert that input into
PostScript output that you can print or display with the right program.
Because I, as a programmer, have not spent my time on a
fancy user interface, I have been able to extend the formatting
capabilities of my program. There are other tablature programs
that you can use to enter music and save in tab format to take
advantage of tab's high quality fonts and proportional spacing.
The Legal Stuff:
"tab" is copyright by Wayne Cripps, 1995-2018, and is his (my) property
exclusively. You may use this software non-commercially without
any charge and freely distribute it to others, provided that you acknowledge
Wayne Cripps as the owner, tell others where you got this software,
and give them a copy of this document. You may not use tab commercially,
distribute it commercially, or use any part of it in any commercial
software distribution without explicit permission from Wayne Cripps.
If you use tab to typeset a book or other material for sale you
must send one copy to Wayne, free of all charge, and post paid.
Tab is provided "as is," without any warranty, explicit or implied,
of any kind!
Where did this information come from?
This document is located on a web site,
What tab runs on
Tab runs on Unix, Linux, Windows, and Mac OSX
It can also be used remotely
(Most serious users use tab by mail.)
Tab is not a point and click
program - rather it is one part of a multi step procedure. You must
have other software to use tab to produce output on paper or your
screen. Most people need to have a PostScript printer to print
the tab output. If you run tab by mail you
don't have to worry about setting it up on your machine, and
you are assured of always having the latest version.
I personally use and develop tab on linux (fedora core) and Mac OSX.
Printing tablature that someone else has entered
The easiest way to get tablature that someone else has formatted is to go
to my web site,
and simply click on the PDF or EPS tag for the music you want.
This is a lot easier than trying to use Tab yourself!
Usually your computer will have no trouble printing the PDF version
of the music.
Most people start using tab to print out files that someone
else has entered into tab format.
Music like this can be found along with the formatted tablature at
You can click "tab source" to download it.
I recommend that first time users use tab-by-mail
rather than try to install tab themselves.
Creating tablature with tab
First you use your word processor to create a plain ASCII text document
with carriage returns in a special format like this:
this typesets something that looks like this:
only a lot nicer!
Then you run tab on this document to produce a printer format file,
in either PostScript or dvi format. You then use your printer
program - lpr, dvitohplj, gs, dvitops, Drop-PS, etc to send the
document to a printer, or use
or xdvi to view it on your
screen. (Note that you must find and install these programs
yourself!) Sometimes, if you name the file file.eps, you can import it
into a graphics program or word processor, like PageMaker.
tab by mail
The most productive professional tab users use tab by mail.
They don't have to worry about setting it up on their machines
and always have the latest version.
- You can send tab source to the e-mail server,
as part of the body of your message and not as an enclosure.
Be sure to go to your mail reader's settings panel and look for
sending options, and send the mail as "plain text".
If you can set the format or encoding to "plain text" that will help too.
Turn off smart quotes, smart dashes, and anything else that is smart!
- You will get a postscript formatted document in the return mail.
When the return mail comes,
some mail readers will save the PostScript enclosure to a file
for you, and you can print the file.
If you mail reader does not do this
you can delete
the mail headers, so that the letters
are the very first characters on the
very first line of your file, and send it to a printer.
If you are running an old version of DOS you *may* have to insert
a control-D (0x4) at the beginning of the postscript file.
Then you send it to your laserwriter as you do other files.
if the Subject line is
Subject: midi-tab you will get
a midi file in the return mail instead of PostScript.
There is a lot of spam on the net these days, and tab-by-mail gets
its share! So I have had to put in some traps to catch the
spam. In particular, if you send your tab source file as an
enclosure it may disappear. If your tab source file does not
have any bar lines it may also disappear. If you think this is
happening to you let me know!
Mail composing programs try to get fancier all the time, and if
you don't get a return message it may be because tab-by-mail
may not know about the new features your mail program has added.
If that happend to you please let me know.
Getting the tab program source code
Getting the tab program source code via git
You can get the source files from gitHub ..
in linux and mac command line the command is
git clone git://github.com/mandovinnie/Lute-Tab
to upload fixes, if you have write permissions
git commit CHANGELOG
git commit -a
git push https://github.com/mandovinnie/Lute-Tab.git
(the repository is in the vinnie account's name. If you have the permissions you can add file with "git add", incorporate updates to files with
git commit -am “comment", and pushd the updated files back to the server with "git push".)
there is also a repository at Dartmouth - but you might have to be me to access it.
git clone email@example.com:wbc/lute-tab.git lute-tab
You can get the source code for tab on the web.
The sources that work for both Unix, Linux, and Windows are in the
form of a tar file like lute_tab4.3.47.tar.
The URL should be
tab on linux and unix
Vincent Damewood wrote
instructions for installing tab on unix
a long time ago, but it still may be useful. You can also read the
next section about Max OSX which is really just another unix.
tab on Mac OSX
tab runs on Mac OSX quite well in the unix terminal environment.
I use (as of fall, 2006) Preview to display the formatted
output, though I used to use MacGhostViewX. Preview comes with recent
versions of Mac OSX, and converts PostScript to PDF on the fly.
MacGhostViewX refreshes its display when the file is updated.
You will need gcc from the developers package to compile tab.
http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~wbc/lute/MacTab.html for a lot more
Both MacPorts and Fink include gv to look at the PostScript files.
tab on Windows
Tab can be compiled on windows by using Visual C++. On very rare
occasions I may make a version available myself, to people who
have the skills to handle unix tarfiles. I recommend, however, that
if you do not have the facilities to compile tab on windows yourself
you use tab-by-mail.
building tab on windows with Visual Studio 2005 C++.
As of 2019, there is a precompiled version of Tab for windows
README - the definitive list of tab commands
file in the web site has all the commands necessary and is generally the definitive source
of information if you dont read the source code. The version may be out of date.
The up to date version comes with the source code.
There is a users manual written by Leonard Williams
and an Appendix
creating your own fonts
It is possible to create your own fonts for tab, if you have
access to MetaFont, which is distributed along with TeX. Mathematicians
will know all about TeX. It is also possible to change the way
tab works, if you are a programmer, as the source is available. I
will consider doing modifications for people.
More information about tab fonts
Ghostview is a PostScript viewing and printing
utility which is essential for tab users. You can read about
it and download it (for free!) from
I found it very easy to install on my windows-nt box.
Since I develop tab in my spare time, and I am not charging money for it,
I prefer to extend the functionality and appearance of tab.
rather than putting my energy into making it easy to install and use.
You may find it challenging to learn, compared with other software
products which are intended for the mass market, but if you are
persistant your efforts will pay off.
if you write with questions
Different computers operate in *very* different ways.
If you write to me with questions, *please* tell me what kind of computer
you have. PC users tend to assume that everyone else has a pc - this
is not true! Some people, like me, don't even know how to run one.
The ancient "Tab for DOS" is quite different from tab for Windows, so be sure to tell
me if you are running windows.
Tablature in tab format
There is a large collection of music in tab source format
the Tab archives along with the formatted music.
I would be happy to put any well formatted music that you
have intabulated using Tab in the archives.
October 2 2006
There have been
visitors here since January 12, 1998
I started the "tab" project in the summer of 1991, the same year that I got my first lute.