Abc notation

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(Redirected from ABC (musical notation))

abc, developed by Chris Walshaw, is a language designed to notate music—tunes and lyrics—in ASCII format. It was originally designed for folk and traditional tunes of Western European origin (commonly English, Irish and Scottish) which can be written on one stave in standard staff notation.

Although it has since been extended in the draft standard to support the notation of complete, classical music scores with multiple voices and clefs, abc remains, at its heart, entirely human readable and playable.

abc Software

Since its introduction at the end of 1991, abc has become very popular. Programs on many operating systems including Windows, Macintosh, and Unix and Linux, as well as Palm and PocketPC, use abc as an input and/or output format. There are programs that produce printed sheet music, search and analyze tunes in databases, or output them as a Midi or Wav files for audio playback. Abc notation software is available under various licenses, both commercial and open source.

The early abc programs made use of the tools the day, such as TeX and MusicTeX. Since then, other conversion tools, especially abc2ps and its successors in tandem with GhostScript, have become more common on microcomputers. Web-based variations of these programs exist that display and play tunes using input forms. A unique feature of abc notation is the ability to manage tunebooks as well as individual tunes. Many thousands of abc tunes are freely available and searchable on the web (see link to Tune Finder below).

Newer programs with intuitive graphical user interfaces (GUIs), some written for a specific operating system and others running across platforms using Java, allow users to interactively edit and display music in staff notation rather than having to input instructions at the command line. There are also applications that convert abc notation to and from other music notation systems such as LilyPond, MusicXML, and others.

A new, largely unexplored direction for abc notation is in collaborative editing and composing environments. There are at least two existing examples of Wikis that have been adapted to display abc in staff notation. One is AbcWiki (, a PHP plug-in implementation running on phpWiki. Another is MusicWiki (, a Python plugin implementation for MoinMoin.

abc Notation Overview

Simple tunes have the common elements of the following example, the Irish jig, Paddy O'Rafferty.

T:Paddy O'Rafferty
|:dff cee|def gfe|dff cee|dfe dBA|
  dff cee|def gfe|faf gfe|1 dfe dBA:|2 dfe dcB||
|:~A3 ~B3|gfe fdB|AFA B2c|dfe dcB|
  ~A3 ~B3|efe efg|faf gfe|1 dfe dcB:|2 dfe dBA||
|:fAA eAA|def gfe|fAA eAA|dfe dBA|
  fAA eAA|def gfe|faf gfe|dfe dBA:|

The lines starting with an uppercase letter and a colon are part of the header and describe Index, Title, Composer, default note Length, Meter, and Key. The remaining lines describe the notes. A number after a note multiplies the duration (default 1/8 for 6/8 time, or as specified in the L: field).

Barlines are specified with the vertical bar |, while repeats and first and second endings are signified with |: (forward repeat), :| (backward repeat), |1 and :|2 respectively.

In Irish music, the ~ denotes an ornament known as a roll, the playing of which varies depending on the instrument used.

The above abc setting has been set to staff notation.

Missing image
Paddy O'Rafferty

External links

nl:abc-notatie pt:ABC notação musical


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