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Using abc Notation for Writing Out Fiddle Tunes

 

 

Introduction to abc notation

The abc notation system is a method of writing out music as plain text. It was invented by Chris Walshaw in the 1993.  An abc music file can be interpreted by abc software which can display it as standard musical notation, print it out, and play it on your computer’s speakers.

Because abc files are plain text they can be exchanged between computers using any operating system. Tunes can be sent in the body of e-mail messages; they don’t need to be attachments. They’re also small and download quickly. They can be edited in any word processor, although an abc reader is best because it lets you display it and play it back for purposes of proofreading.

  • I have heard people comment that they don’t like abc notation because they can’t read it and prefer to read standard notation. This is a misunderstanding: you don't have to read abc notation. The abc notation is translated by an abc reader into standard musical notation or into a midi file which you can listen to.

Because it’s so convenient abc notation has become practically the default format for writing out fiddle tunes. It’s nearly perfectly suited for writing out a melody line with chord symbols. Although it doesn’t give you quite as much formatting flexibility as more conventional music composition programs, the advantages generally outweigh the disadvantages.

  • Actually, as I wrote out the tunes for this web site I discovered that abc notation can handle nearly everything I wanted, including much that I had previously assumed was not possible.

Pitch is indicated by the letters A-G, with lower-case or upper-case letters (and if necessary punctuation) to indicate the octave. Duration is indicated by numbers. There are provisions for indicating keys, tune type, timing, and all the common elements of a tune.

A Comparison: abc Notation vs. Other Notation Software

 

Why use abc notation? We've already looked at the advantages of using text files to write out tunes. How about the software itself?

 

I find with most notation software that unless I use it regularly I have to spend a lot of time relearning it each time I use it. With abc notation if I forget something it's easy to look at the online documentation and generally I get the answer quickly.

 

The disadvantages generally have to do with things that it doesn't do, or that it doesn't do well. These are only occasionally problems, and in the process of preparing these tunes I've solved most of them. For writing out fiddle tunes the ease of use more than balances out the few problems.

 

 

Click on the Next Page arrow to look at how abc notation works, starting with the tune header.

 



 

About abc Notation I ~ Introduction to abc Notation

Here we look at abc notation: what is it, and why should we use it. Important note: You don't have to understand how abc notation works to find a tune on the Internet and play it or print it out. But it's a great way of writing out music and is worth knowing at least something about.

 

Links to Related Pages

 

 

Header2TopLine
abc Codexx
Tune Links (16, indented)

 

 

Introduction to abc notation

The abc notation system is a method of writing out music as plain text. It was invented by Chris Walshaw in the 1993.  An abc music file can be interpreted by abc software which can display it as standard musical notation, print it out, and play it on your computer’s speakers.

Because abc files are plain text they can be exchanged between computers using any operating system. Tunes can be sent in the body of e-mail messages; they don’t need to be attachments. They’re also small and download quickly. They can be edited in any word processor, although an abc reader is best because it lets you display it and play it back for purposes of proofreading.

  • I have heard people comment that they don’t like abc notation because they can’t read it and prefer to read standard notation. This is a misunderstanding: you don't have to read abc notation. The abc notation is translated by an abc reader into standard musical notation or into a midi file which you can listen to.

Because it’s so convenient abc notation has become practically the default format for writing out fiddle tunes. It’s nearly perfectly suited for writing out a melody line with chord symbols. Although it doesn’t give you quite as much formatting flexibility as more conventional music composition programs, the advantages generally outweigh the disadvantages.

  • Actually, as I wrote out the tunes for this web site I discovered that abc notation can handle nearly everything I wanted, including much that I had previously assumed was not possible.

Pitch is indicated by the letters A-G, with lower-case or upper-case letters (and if necessary punctuation) to indicate the octave. Duration is indicated by numbers. There are provisions for indicating keys, tune type, timing, and all the common elements of a tune.

A Comparison: abc Notation vs. Other Notation Software

 

Why use abc notation? We've already looked at the advantages of using text files to write out tunes. How about the software itself?

 

I find with most notation software that unless I use it regularly I have to spend a lot of time relearning it each time I use it. With abc notation if I forget something it's easy to look at the online documentation and generally I get the answer quickly.

 

The disadvantages generally have to do with things that it doesn't do, or that it doesn't do well. These are only occasionally problems, and in the process of preparing these tunes I've solved most of them. For writing out fiddle tunes the ease of use more than balances out the few problems.

 

 

Click on the Next Page arrow to look at how abc notation works, starting with the tune header.