New Hampshire Country Dance Fiddle Tunes Website

Introduction to abc Notation


Using abc Software

On this page we look at abc software: some of the reasons for using abc software, and some of the available choices.

There are two parts to the section on abc notation. This is part of the Introduction to abc Notation section. Please use the abc Notation menu above to navigate the abc pages.

In this tab I will assume a basic understanding of abc notation but perhaps little practical experience with it. If you find yourself getting confused consider reviewing the previous tabs. As I mentioned on the previous page, one of the advantages of abc software is that it's generally free or inexpensive. There are other advantages as well.

  • It displays the tune in standard musical notation
  • Most abc software can play the tune back for you as you go along.
  • That combination makes it especially useful for writing out music; the ease of playback makes for easy and effective proofreading.
  • Those who prefer to learn by ear can download an abc tune from the Internet and use the playback for learning.
  • Because abc notation is so easy to use and the software is mostly free, many thousands of tunes are available on the Internet to download, print out and play back. This is a great source of learning materials!
  • Even better, if a tune isn't written out as you prefer, it's easy to make modifications to make it fit your needs.
abc Reader Software

In order to use abc notation you'll need to have software to read the abc code. Its two main jobs are (1) to convert the abc code to standard notation, and (2) to play the tune for you.

There are two categories of abc readers: apps that you download and keep on your computer, and websites with abc reader software. You can find out about lots of software, mostly free, at the abc Notation website run by the inventor of abc notation, Chris Walshaw. The Software page lists lots of software and web-based abc readers. Chris also published a guide to abc software which presents what he considers the best abc software. It's a few years old but it remains a good guide.

  • As he says, EasyABC is probably the best software for most people.
    • Macintosh users: EasyABC remains the best software for most purposes. The good news is that the official version is now 64-bit compatible (as is required for recent versions of the operating system).
    • The 64-bit version is largely equivalent to recent 32-bit versions. Its one weakness is that you have to open tunes from the FileOpen menu; it doesn't seem to work to double-click on a file.
  • If you'd rather use a web-based abc reader, the abcConverter is very good.
Using the Software I: EasyABC

Here are instructions for getting started with EasyABC; they are followed by instructions for using the web-based abcConverter.

  • Assuming you've installed EasyABC, copy the abc code of interest and open EasyABC.
  • The EasyABC window has four parts, and they can be resized to meet your needs.
  • Click in the section labeled ABC code and paste in the abc code you copied.
    • The code should appear in that window, and the upper portion should display the tune in standard notation.
  • Playing the Tune: You can use the controls at the top of the EasyABC window to play the tune, stop playback, change the size of the display ("Zoom"), adjust the speed of playback, and set where it starts playing from.
  • Printing the Tune: To print the tune, pull down the File menu and choose either Export selected or Export all. Then choose one of the PDF options that appears, depending on whether you want each tune to be a separate document or all the tunes to be in one document.
    • Please note that if you use the regular Print command (File ➛ Print), it prints out at low-quality; but if you do it as described above the print quality should be very good.

That should get you started with EasyABC. Now let's look at abcConverter.

Using the Software II: abcConverter

Here are instructions for getting started with the abcConverter.

  • Copy the abc code of interest and click on the link above for the abcConverter.
  • Click in the white space in the middle and paste in your code.
    • The abcConverter seems to do better without the Header file, so only paste in the code for the tune.
    • Important Note: If you don't have the header code certain things won't work.
    • To be safe, you should probably include a few lines of header code: (1) Near the beginning, the lines that begin with "%%font" and (2) near the end of the header code, the lines that begin with "%%setfont".
  • Most likely you can leave the various settings unchanged.
  • Playing the Tune: The abcConverter doesn't play tunes directly but if you click on the midi button it downloads a midi file. You should be able to double-click on it to play it.
  • Printing the Tune: To print the tune, click on the pdf button. That creates a PDF of the tune which can be used for a high quality printout.
    • Please note that if you use the regular Print command (File ➛ Print), it prints out at low-quality; but if you do it as described above the print quality should be very good.

Again there's a lot more that can be done with the abcConverter; it should be reasonably easy to discover with some experimentation.

Using the Software III: abc & HTML

There is a third, very different way of using abc notation: abc code can be included as part of an HTML document. Doing so has two very important benefits. (1) It allows us to put standard notation directly on a webpage, and (2) when clicked on, the tune plays back with a basic chordal accompaniment. This forms the basis for the playable tunes that are used throughout this website, and is discussed in moderate detail in the Playable Tunes section of the website.

On the next page we'll look at links to web pages related to abc notation: pages about how it works, abc software, pages filled with tunes in abc format, and more.

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.