AROBAS MUSIC Guitar Pro 5.1

Arobas Music Guitar Pro 5.1 is a fretted-instrument transcription program that lets you create, edit, and play back tablature and traditional music notation.
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Accurate transcription of guitar and related stringed instruments is a highly specialized task that often defies capture with standard music notation. The use of tablature is a tradition dating back to 16th-century German music for the lute. Unlike standard notation, tablature illustrates note placement on the fingerboard as well as fingering — a necessity, as most stringed instruments offer several ways to play the same note. Orchestral-scoring programs may lack necessary features for accurately representing guitar-oriented music.

Arobas Music Guitar Pro ($59.95) is more than a tablature-editing program but less than a full music-notation program. Arobas touts its Realistic Sound Engine (RSE), a collection of sampled instruments that provide aural feedback.

I installed Guitar Pro on my dual 1.42 GHz Power Mac G4 with Mac OS X 10.4.8, 2 GB of RAM, and a MOTU 896, and on my 3.06 GHz Pentium 4 notebook with Windows XP, 1.5 GB of RAM, and an M-Audio Ozonic. Installation was not complicated. Both versions have the same features, though the Mac one has a floating Tools palette, whereas the Windows one has a toolbar positioned above the score.

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Guitar Pro 5.1 is the latest version of the popular guitar-transcription software. It lets you create and edit fretted-instrument scores in tablature or traditional music notation and play them back using its Realistic Sound Engine (RSE).

Our Plucky Hero

Methods of entering notation include using your computer's keyboard, clicking on an onscreen keyboard or fingerboard, and using real-time or step input from a MIDI controller. Arrow keys let you navigate the tablature or notation staff. For MIDI guitar and other stringed-instrument controllers, Guitar Pro recognizes multiple-channel modes and correctly assumes one channel per string. If your string controller uses an alternate tuning, you can set up the track so that notes are displayed at the proper frets. You can set up capos or even banjos with the fifth string starting at the fifth fret.

The Mac's floating Tools palette offers a handy feature: adjustable transparency. You can place the palette anywhere onscreen and still view the chart. The palette furnishes bar markings, durations, ties, upward or downward beam directions, octaves, chord diagrams, dynamic markings, and guitar-specific effects such as hammers, bends, and natural and artificial harmonics. You can even insert markers for referencing specific parts of the song. Anything available in the palette is also available from the Mac menu.

Guitar Pro doesn't let you change fonts, but Arobas plans to offer that feature in a future update. Meanwhile, the program supports Recordare's MusicXML, so you can export the file to another program that allows a higher degree of customization.

Compared with Mac and Microsoft General MIDI synthesizers, RSE does a superior job of following guitar articulation symbols; hammer-on and pull-off notes play back without retriggering. Bent notes, although never quite as articulate as when they're played on a real guitar, play back quite smoothly. Unlike other tablature programs, Guitar Pro lets you create multitrack arrangements with a full band. The RSE sound set includes a variety of drums, bass, and even amp tones and reverbs (albeit with no programmability); that's a potentially great tool for teaching and practice, as you can provide a full context for guitar tracks. Still, I would have liked to see more fretted instruments, including banjo and mandolin.

Picky, Picky

I was never able to get RSE to work reliably on either my Mac or Windows computer; selecting either of my FireWire audio interfaces consistently muted playback and produced an error message. Surprisingly, when I switched from Core Audio to Sound Manager on the Mac (despite the stated system requirements of OS X 10.4 for RSE playback), RSE output played back through my audio interface, but denser arrangements of four tracks or more produced grossly distorted audio. And although Guitar Pro can render RSE tracks to a WAV file, I consistently received error messages followed by a progress bar, but no resulting audio. I never got RSE to work with my Ozonic under Windows at all, despite downloading the latest ASIO drivers. According to Arobas, RSE does not yet work well with FireWire interfaces. You can always use your operating system's resident GM synth for an audible, albeit somewhat graceless, confirmation of your score.

Arobas Music Guitar Pro could potentially occupy the very top rung of guitar-oriented tablature and notation programs. Its facility in creating accurate guitar notation quickly is impressive, which is why the faulty implementation of its sound engine is especially frustrating and disappointing. Documentation suffers from a few translation problems, and help and troubleshooting advice for setting up audio is minimal. I fully expect that Arobas will address these issues; in every other respect, Guitar Pro is worthy of your consideration.

Value (1 through 5): 3
Arobas Music/eMedia (distributor)