Rapid Tablature Encoding using Fronimo

I have been using the Fronimo tabsetting program for about 15 years, and have found a way to encode tab files quite rapidly, so I would like to share with you the way I do it, in the hope that you may find it helpful.  I also made a little instructional video showing how I create a medium-length fronimo file.  I also have a video showing my favorite options and shortcut keys for fronimo, as well as a video showing making an edition of a German tab piece.

Creating your Favorite Format

Fronimo has a way of setting a default format that will be followed when you start a new Fronimo file or read in a midi or TAB file.  You create the format by starting a new file using file/new. Ctrl-N, or hitting the top leftmost icon on the Fronimo window. Hit OK to create the file. Hit F5 to bring up Section Options. Set each tab to your favorite setting.  For me, the settings are:

Tab                  Settings


Section             Title = centered

                        Hide page number on first page

                        0 blank pages before section

                        0 blank pages after section


Styles               French Tablature

Tablature letters on spaces

Crotchet =  |`

Tablature stem style (2nd from the top – go to top and go down 2)

Uncheck “Fermata over rhythmic sign”


Note spacing   Packed

Minimum horizontal space between signs = 400


Staves              First system indenting = 0

                        Endings line height = 1

                        Slur and font thickness = 0

                        Fatter slurs = unchecked

                        Staff lines = 6

                        Right justified bars

                        Right justify the last bar.


Bar numbers    Bar number offset = 0

                        Bar numbering base = 5

                        First bar to be marked = 0

                        Number on first bar of every staff = unchecked

                        Number on first staff of every group = unchecked

                        Enclose number in a box = checked


Instrument       Renaissance 6 courses

Next, you can set default page formats using F6:

Tab                  Settings

Layout             Gap between systems                         2.23

Systems per page                                0

%note spacing                                     100

Gap between title and subtitle                        0

Gap between staff and lyrics              5

Notes               Footnote on first page only = checked

                        Footnote to left = selected

                        Page # string   = - # -

                        Page number font size = 12

                        Editorial notes marked with letters = unchecked

                        Editorial notes all at the end = unchecked                                        

                        Gap between free text and footnotes = 5

Fonts               Notation font = Ouverture 12

  All fonts        Tablature font = Fronimo Recercare

  “Regular”      Title font = Times New Roman 24

                        Subtitle font = Times New Roman 16

                        Notes font = Times New Roman 14

                        Lyrics font = Times New Roman 12

                        Bar # font – Times New Roman 8

                        Staff name font = Times New Roman 14

I also hit F9 to set alternative letters (for French tab).  I leave all unchecked except I check the “c”, as the alternate symbol is easier to read and harder to confuse with “e”.

If you are sending me Fronimo files for my website, it would be helpful if you used the formats explained in this tutorial, as it would save time.

After setting the above to your particular taste, hit OK. Then hit file/save as.  Select “template” and name it “default.ftt”.  Then copy default.ftt into your Fronimo directory (where Fronimo.exe resides). You can also create other templates for different tab styles and formatting characteristics.You can save templates with different names so if you want to edit many files with the same settings, open the first one and save as <chosen name>.ttf. The program cleans all the measures for you and saves the template. The next time you want to typeset with the same style just open that named template instead of creating a new file. You can have as many templates as you need.

If you are editing a series of similar pieces or pieces from the same MS or book, you can copy one of the pieces already edited (by highlighting the file name and hitting ctrl-C then ctrl-V) and rename the copy to fit the new piece you are working on. Then open the new piece.  Delete the notes in the old piece by holding down the ctrl key and clicking on the first bar, then hold down the ctrl key and click the last bar and hit ctrl-X to delete them all. Sometimes, due to a little glitch in Fronimo, you may have to do this twice before it does the delete.

Then you can edit Title, composer, subtitle, and footnote to taste. You can copy and paste footnotes from file to file, so long as you open the new file in the same Fronimo window as the old one.

Useful Shortcuts

A good feature of Fronimo is that it allows you to define shortcut “hot keys” for those things you do frequently. Go to view/toolbars/customize. Click on the keyboard tab. Click on each category and put in your shortcut keys.  The ones I have found most useful are:


Already built-in:

Add mensural staff                 ctrl-shift-A

Add tablature staff                 ctrl-shift-T

Add new section:                    alt-A

Delete staff:                            ctrl-shift-delete

Move staff:                             ctrl-shift-up or down arrow.

Edit lyrics:                               ctrl-L

Rebeam notes:                         ctrl-R

Half rhythmic values               ctrl-H

Double values:                        ctrl-D


Measure displacement mode:  ctrl-M

Verify measure length:            alt-V

Section annotations:                alt-I



Toggle page mode:                  alt-F

Full page view:                        alt-P

Full width view:                      alt-W

Rapid Data Entry

By long trial and error, I have hit on the fastest way to encode the data. The first step is to put in a time signature.  You should do this even if there is none in the original – you can figure out what it should be. You can always delete it later if you want, although I don’t. I use modern time signatures, as they are usually easier to read than the old ones and more precise in their values. I also use modern mensural notation.  It may not be as cool, but it’s easier to read.

Entering rhythmic symbols

Make sure you have numlock on, and use French tab style. You can change this later if needed.

Place the cursor above the staff. Using the number keypad, insert the rhythmic value for each note. 1 = semibreve, 2 = minim, 3 = crotchet, etc. You might want to move the keyboard to the left a little so your hands align better. After inserting each rhythm flag, press the right arrow key to move to the next one. Use the forefinger of the left hand do this.  Leave the 1st three fingers of the right hand on keys 1, 2, and 3 of the keypad. From here, you can easily reach numbers 4 5 and 6.  7 and 8 are rarely used. The dot key on the keyboard dots the rhythm flags. Rhythm flags, unlike mensural notes, cannot be double-dotted. Hit enter on the keypad to move to the next measure. You will find you can enter all the rhythm flags very rapidly using this method. You can go into F2 to put in repeat signs, first and second endings, etc. Also, you can put in negative numbers into F5/bar numbering to adjust for pickup measures and tuning “measures” at the beginning of a piece.

Next do a ctrl-R to rebeam the notes and an alt-V to check for rhythmic errors. If there is a mistake in the source on the rhythm, correct it and use F2/notes to put in a footnote explaining what the original showed. I prefer to use y=190 to put the footnote number under the staff so it does not get in the way of the rhythm flags, and adjust x to align it under the place where you are making the correction, though you will have probably to adjust the alignment later after you format the page. After doing a ctrl-R to beam the notes, watch out particularly for beams of three notes, where you would want to take the beam off one of the notes. A mistake in beaming can be “manually” adjusted using the “-“ key to toggle beams on and off.

Now it is time to enter notes. 

French tab

Put your right hand on the arrow keys and the left hand fingers on asdf. Move the cursor around with the right hand and type the letters with the left. When below the staff, keypad 1 2 and 3 generate /a, //a, and ///a, respectively. 4 5 6 7 8 9 generate the lower bourdons.  You can generate notes like //e or /c, etc., by hitting the letter first, then the proper number of  slashes. Ideally, you can get to where you can enter most notes without having to look at the keyboard, but I usually check every bar or two to see if I did it right, depending on how confident I feel. Since you have already put in the rhythmic values, it’s easy to see where you get off track, because the notes don’t fit anymore.  When you have entered all the notes for a bar, move to the next bar by hitting enter or by hitting right arrow twice. Erase unwanted notes with spacebar and redo.  If a note is correct but positioned wrongly, you can adjust the position by putting the cursor on it, holding down the ctrl key, and using the arrow keys to put it in the right place. This feature is very useful at times, such as when you have a series of right notes on the wrong line.  Do not try to correct mistakes in the original at this time.  That comes later. You are simply entering exactly the original notes. That way, when you do make changes, you will be able easily to see what was originally there and can make an appropriate footnote for the change. 

Italian/Spanish/Neapolitan tab

Move the keyboard a bit to the left. You will mainly be using the number keypad to enter the notes. Keep your left hand on the arrow keys. I have found it most helpful to position my left hand so that the middle finger is on the down arrow, the ring finger on the up arrow, and the forefinger on the right arrow. If you are consistent about finger placement, the action of moving the cursor around can become automatic. Enter the notes with your right hand. Keep your thumb on the 0 key and your first three fingers on keys 1 2 and 3. When above the staff in Italian tab mode or below it in Spanish mode, the keypad generates the bourdons as with French tab. To insert numbers above (or below) the staff, use the number keys above the keyboard, not those on the numpad.  In mid-staff, you can also use these numbers to enter notes.  To enter notes above 9, use the shift key to add 10.  Hence shift-0 gives you X, shift-1 gives you XI, etc. You can’t go above 9 on the bourdons -- but then you never have to.

German tab

No one really wants to generate German tab, but it works really well to enter German tab in Fronimo and then change the style to anything you want. There are several types of German tab.  Under F5/styles, you can select German tab and then select the style of the tab you are reading.  There is also a new Fronimo font that is specific for Ochsenkuhn (use F6/fonts to find it).  Otherwise, a good Fraktur font will approximate the look of the original. After entering all the rhythm flags as above, switch the style to the appropriate German tab style. Enter notes as with French tab.  Use “-“ to generate a line through a note for the higher fret positions.  I find it helpful to have a diagram of the German tab symbols to refer to.

Mensural notation

Entering mensural notes is similar to doing Italian tab.  With the keyboard moved to the left, use the left hand to position the notes and 0-9 on the keypad to insert them. 0 is a breve, 1 a semibreve, 2 a minim, etc. 9 enters a long. Unlike with tab, entering a mensural note automatically shifts the cursor one position to the right, so you don’t need to do right-arrow after each one, but you do need to use it to go to the next bar. To do chords, after entering the first note, use the arrow keys to the position of each of the other notes in the chord and press +.  With the cursor on a note, pressing s sharps it and f flats it.  e generates an editorial accidental above the note.  a shows an advisory accidental. There are ways of showing two or more polyphonic lines on a staff using “layers”. This is complex and beyond the scope of this little tutorial.


Before changing the style of the tab, go through it measure by measure and correct any differences between your version and the original. If you spot errors in the original, correct the notes and put the corrected notes in brackets (put cursor on the note and press [ ), with a footnote to state what the original showed. Next, referring to the original, play the piece in Fronimo and look closely at any place that sounds weird or wrong. Errors that did not show up in the visual proofread will likely show up in the auditory one.  Do not skip either proofreading step, however tempting it may seem to do so.

Fingerings, ornaments, and slurs

I put these in last, once all the notes are correct, using F3. I start with the right hand fingering, single dots first, then 2 dots, then three dots or thumb fingerings, if present (very rare). I think it is smart to do each as a separate action. Once these are done, I add ornaments. Shortcuts for the ornaments are: “#”, “.”, “ ‘ “  and “ ‘ “ (which appear on the left side of the note) and “ . “ (which appears on the right side). These ornaments are toggled on and off by pressing these keys. If you need to, you can also create ornaments under F3/ornaments. Also you can shift ornaments from right to left using the arrow key at the lower right of the ornaments dialog box. Ties and slurs are what I put in last. There are also triplet slurs. The diagonal line in this dialog box draws straight lines. You can adjust the height of the slurs and reposition their end points using this dialog box.


Formatting should always be the last step. First check to make sure all the little footnote reference numbers are correctly placed. Next make sure the beaming is correct, using “-“ to correct it when necessary. You can also reset the rhythm signs to only appear when the rhythm changes by using edit/clean rhythmic values, although IMHO that makes the music a little harder to read.  Using full page mode or print preview mode, hit F6 and adjust % note spacing, gap between title and staff, and gap between systems to make a nice-looking page, with the last line on the last page right-justified. You can fine-tune this somewhat by using F5/note spacing. You can also use measure displacement mode to fill out the last line, if you can’t do it per the above.  See the Fronimo documentation for details on measure displacement mode. If you have a lot of footnotes, you might have to increase the page height slightly in file/page setup by decreasing the top and bottom margins so the footnotes don’t overlap the music. The minimum you would want to go with this is 7mm top 7mm bottom, before you start losing stuff off the top or bottom of the page. I use letter format rather than A4, so with A4 it might be a little different. A little quirk of Fronimo is that sometimes the footnotes look overlapped when they shouldn’t be.  In this case, writing out the file, then reading it in again will give a better picture of the final result.

Other features

Fronimo has many other great features.  You can have multiple sections in a piece. One caution:  some features do not change from section to section, such as all the values in F6. This shows up principally in formatting.  After I format the first section using F6, the remaining ones usually have to be adjusted using F5/note spacing so they come out looking neat.   You can “tell” a section to start on a new page or to continue on the same page. A small section might not need a whole page. With F2/text, you can put arbitrary text on the music. To put data in the Fronimo file that  does not appear in the printout, use the “Section annotations” option (Edit/sections/section annotations or alt-I in my shortcut). These can include data about key, difficulty, type of piece, and instrumentation, and general remarks. I have these in a particular format so that they can be read into a database. My subtitles and footnotes strike a balance between what the performer would like to see on the sheet and what can be read into a database. For more data on my special formats and notations, see http://gerbode.net/conventions.html and http://gerbode.net/fronimo_formats.html.