Is there TAB notation to indicate if a downstroke is USX, DSX, etc.?

In TAB there is upstroke and downstroke notation. Let’s just consider downstroke. There are actually three flavors of it: USX downstroke, DSX downstroke, and whatever the three-letter term is that describes an arc-like stroke that always is escaped. Is there any notation for this? I can just invent my own notation (I’m annotating sheet music), but if there is a CtC standard, I’ll use it.


no, there is not. if you use Chris Brook’s book as a reference he uses text: " \ ps " and " / ps " or " \ p.s. " etc.

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I don’t know of notation, as the concepts are still pretty new to the guitar community.

However, I think the distinction of ‘out-stroke’ vs ‘in-stroke’ (out of plane of strings vs in) is super useful; if the pick strokes are already written in, then including some sort of ‘out-stroke’ marking would make it clear to the reader that a note is meant to be picked with an escaped (down or up) stroke.

“in-stroke” would I think be unnecessary because notes that don’t change strings don’t need an escape path.

Worth adding/noting that if a passage is entirely alternate picked, then any time there is a string change there would be an escape stroke, and it’s direction would be made clear by the stroke mark.

Out of curiosity what’s the “use case” you imagine?

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Good question! Most of the time, when players ask this, it’s because they want to use alternate picking to play lines with mixtures of upstroke and downstroke string changes in the same phrase or musical piece. Notation for this isn’t really necessary.

If your picking style is capable of mixed escape, then you don’t need to think about which notes have which escape - the lines are too complex for that anwyay. If your picking style is a single-escape style, then you’re not playing those kinds of lines. Instead, you’re playing mostly single escape lines with only occasional moments of rule breaking. So you would already know from the pickstroke notation when a hack (swiping, sweeping, displacement, helper motion, etc.) is necessary.

Here are two tablature examples. It’s easy to tell just by scanning the tab which picking styles were used to play them. And this tells us what we need to do technique-wise to learn them:

Example A:

Example B:

EDIT: I had originally posted a more verbose answer to this which didn’t really get to the point. This is a common question that really cuts to the heart of how different picking styles work, so I took a stab at being more concise.


Don’t worry about it just use the video, and slow it down. If you need to, think about how you could slow it up just a smidgen, this would been done by converting the video to an audio track, then take the audio track, and restitch it back to a slowed up video of the same percentage. Now you have a better audio quality to a slower version to which you can slow even further. No need for tablature anymore. Just make sure to learn it only if you have a clear view of the guitar and hands. :sweat_smile:

I totally agree with you. For my (current) notation I use t=trapped, and f=free, so

  • “Πt” means “a downstroke that ends up with a trapped pick.”
  • “Πf” means “a downstroke that ends up with a free pick.”

The actual notation is actually up to three characters: (1) Where it starts, (2) the type of stroke, and (3) where it stops, but I usually drop (1).

  • For example, “fΠt” (usual case) and “tΠt” (sweep) are clear to me from “Πt.”
  • For the arc-like stroke “fΠf” I just write it as “Π.”

In summary it looks a lot like the regular notation but there can be a t or f to the right.

I grab sheet music from multiple instruments (piano, violin, etc.) and try to play it, and I sometimes spend hours trying to figure out how to place notes on the neck, etc. Once I finally figure something out I want to annotate the sheet music so I don’t have to recreate whatever I figured out in the first place. Creating TAB is a big pain so I’d rather try to be as explicit as possible on sheet music with a pencil. I’m sure that some people here can do that very quickly, but not me!

Now the way I played the first measure might be stupid, but this is how (as described above, t means ends up trapped, and f means ends up free):

vt Πf vt vt Πf HO Πt Πt

Some smart people will be able to figure it out with fewer hints, like this,

v Π v v Π HO Π Π

but I like things that are easy. I think that being as explicit as possible is good, but it is hard to develop great notation, hence I will copy what I can.

I’m probably not explaining this correctly, but what i’m getting at is I’m not sure there is any point in notating things this way. You can’t control whether individual notes are trapped or escaped. The only thing you can control is which picking style you use, which is based on learning an overall form and accompanying motion. The actual trapped or escaped pattern for each note you play then flows from that one overall form and motion.


The realistic problem is, you almost never get tabs that detailed in the first place. You’re lucky to get someone actually including the picking direction so adding more notation that doesn’t increase the amount of info at all(you can infer what needs to escape super easily once you’re used to it) is probably a bad idea if you want people to actually use it.

It’d say we’d get better adherence by making convention as easy as possible - take it further to reduce the amount of notation and only include picking direction on the beginning of a run or to indicate some kind of change in slant or direction that isn’t expected like if it transitions to economy etc. with the implication that D U D U etc. is happening unless otherwise indicated.

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Exactly, so I can play a few styles—although each has a different maximum speed. Particular pieces of sheet music tend to have portions that are strongly suited to a particular style, so that’s what I’ll try to use, along with lots of “escape hatches” and other forms of “cheating” to reduce complexity (adding HO/PO, etc.). If I’m fast enough, that’s awesome! If not, that’s fine, something to work on.

Agreed about TABs, so I just take sheet music and can do everything from there on a piece of paper. TAB that other people write is often not useful for me, and I have to move everything around until I think it is “optimized.”

This should already be clear from the pickstroke notation. If for some reason you want a reminder, you could just notate “USX” above the staff which would be a lot clearer than symbols on every note.

If you find yourself wanting to notate “DSX” for three notes, then “USX” for a five notes, then “DSX” again, that’s almost certainly incorrect — the phrase should probably not be played with either of those techniques. It should probably be played with a mixed escape technique.

Also, if someone is trying to play something they previously wrote by focusing on which notes are supposed to be trapped or escaped, that’s also probably not going to work.

Conversely, if someone can play a line like Example A, that player cannot typically tell which escape they are making for which notes. They just know the line sounds clean. They will not generally know if a note is escaped or trapped, or if it’s escaped, which type of escape that is, single or double.

Finally, if you film different players trying to play something like Example A and watch them up close in slow motion, you will see all sorts of weird combinations — some notes may be escaped, others may not. Some notes may be single escape others may be double. The same player doing the same line multiple times will even produce different results. A lot of Olli Soikkeli licks look like this. Mystery escape. There would be almost no point in us trying to notate what he does because he can’t even play things the same way twice.

There’s really no practical scenario I can think of where trying to notate the escape of individual notes helps someone play the line, or helps someone learn to do a picking technique. General hints above the staff for whole pieces or whole phrases, sure, why not.

And now I must apologize, I don’t mean to harp on this! I just think it’s a deceptively important question because it dovetails with lots of everyday problems people have learning technique that go beyond notation.


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