Abc notation

abc is a language for notating music using the ASCII character set. It was originally developed by Chris Walshaw. Although it is a computer-based musical language, a key goal has been that it be also easily read by humans. It was originally designed for use with folk and traditional tunes of Western European origin (e.g. English, Irish, Scottish) which are typically single-voice melodies which can be written on a single stave in standard notation. The syntax also supports metadata for each tune. [cite web|last=Walshaw|first=Chris|publisher=abcnotation.org.uk|url=http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/|title=abc music notation :: introduction|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008]

The original open-source software [http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/abc2mtex/ abc2mtex] is a front-end for generating TeX commands for typesetting the music in standard notation. Later 3rd-party software packages have provided direct output (bypassing the TeX typesetter) [cite web|last=Vint|first=Jim|publisher=abc2win.com|url=http://www.abc2win.com/|title=ABC2Win Shareware Music Notation Program|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008] , and have extended the syntax to support lyrics aligned with notes, [cite web|last=Methfessel|first=Michael|url=http://www.ihp-ffo.de/~msm/|title=abc2ps|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008] multi-voice and multi-staff notation, [cite web|last=Moine|first=Jean-François|url=http://moinejf.free.fr/|title=abcm2ps|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008] tablature, [cite web|last=Dalitz|first=Christoph|url=http://www.lautengesellschaft.de/cdmm/|title=abctab2ps|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008] and MIDI. [cite web|last=Allwright|first=James|url=http://abc.sourceforge.net/abcMIDI/|title=abcMIDI|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008]

Since abc is ASCII-based, any text editor can be used to edit the music. Even so, there are many software packages with various features that read and process abc notation. Most of the software is freeware or shareware, and are readily available on many computer systems including Microsoft Windows, Unix/linux, Macintosh, PalmOS, and web-based. [cite web|last=Walshaw|first=Chris|publisher=abcnotation.org.uk|url=http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/history.html|title=abc music notation :: history|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008]

History

In the 1980's Chris Walshaw began writing out fragments of folk/traditional tunes using letters to represent the notes before he learned standard Western music notation. Later he began using MusicTeX to notate French bagpipe music. To reduce the tedium of writing the MusicTeX code, he wrote a front-end for generating the TeX commands, which by 1993 evolved into the abc2mtex program. [cite web|last=Walshaw|first=Chris|publisher=abcnotation.org.uk|url=http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/software.html|title=abc music notation :: software|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008] For more details see Chris' [http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/history.html short history of abc] , and John Chambers' [http://trillian.mit.edu/~jc/music/abc/doc/ABCtut_History.html chronology of ABC notation and software] .

The abc standard

The official standard is known as [http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/abc2mtex/abc.txt abc standard v1.6] . [cite web|last=Walshaw|first=Chris|publisher=abcnotation.org.uk|url=http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/learn.html|title=abc music notation :: learning|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008] It is a textual description of abc syntax and was taken from the 1996 user guide of version 1.6 of Chris Walshaw's original [http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/abc2mtex/ abc2mtex] program. In 1997, Henrik Norbeck published a BNF [http://www.norbeck.nu/abc/abcbnf.htm description of the abc v1.6 standard] . [cite web|last=Norbeck |first=Henrik|url=http://www.norbeck.nu/abc/abcbnf.htm|title=ABC 1.6 in BNF Format|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008]

In 1997, Steve Allen registered the text/vnd.abc MIME media type with the IANA. [cite web|url=http://www.iana.org/assignments/media-types/text/vnd.abc|title=Registration of MIME media type text/vnd.abc|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008] But registration as a top level MIME type would require a full-blown RFC. [cite web|last=Allen|first=Steve|url=http://www.ucolick.org/~sla/abcmusic/abcmime.html|title=ABC as a MIME type|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008] In 2006 Phil Taylor reported that quite a few websites still serve abc files as text/plain. [cite web|last=Taylor|first=Phil|url=http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/abcusers/message/477|title=abcusers: Re: ABC on the web|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008]

In 1999, Chris Walshaw started work on a new version of the abc specification to standardize the extensions that had been developed in various 3rd-party tools. After much discussion on the [http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/abcusers/ abcusers mailing list] , a [http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/abc-draft.txt draft standard - version 1.7.6] was eventually produced in August 2000, but was never officially released. [cite web|last=Walshaw|first=Chris|publisher=abcnotation.org.uk|url=http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/learn.html|title=abc music notation :: learning|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008] At that point Chris stepped away from actively developing abc. [cite web|last=Walshaw|first=Chris|publisher=abcnotation.org.uk|url=http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/finally.html|title=abc music notation :: further information|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008]

Guido Gonzato later compiled a new version of the specification and published a draft of version 2.0. This specification is now maintained by Irwin Oppenheim and [http://abc.sourceforge.net/standard/abc2-draft.html draft IV is dated 14 August 2003] . Henrik Norbeck has also published a [http://www.norbeck.nu/abc/bnf/abc20bnf.htm corresponding BNF specification] . [cite web|last=Oppenheim|first=Irwin|url=http://abc.sourceforge.net/standard/|title=The ABC Music Standard|accessmonthday=March 1|accessyear=2008]

Example

The following is an example of the use of abc notation

X:1 T:The Legacy Jig M:6/8 L:1/8 R:jig K:G GFG BAB | gfg gab | GFG BAB | d2A AFD
GFG BAB | gfg gab | age edB |1 dBA AFD :|2 dBA ABd |: efe edB | dBA ABd | efe edB | gdB ABd
efe edB | d2d def | gfe edB |1 dBA ABd :|2 dBA AFD |]

Lines in the first part of the tune notation, beginning with a letter followed by a colon, indicate various aspects of the tune such as the index, when there are more than one tune in a file (X:), the title (T:), the type of tune (R:), the time signature (M:), the default note length (L:) and the key (K:). Lines following the key designation represent the tune. This example can be translated into traditional music notation using one of the abc conversion tools. For example, abcm2ps software produces output that looks like the following

More examples can be found on [http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/examples/ Chris Walshaw's abc examples page] .

Collaborative abc

Recently abc has been implemented as a means of composing and editing music collections in collaborative environments. Several examples of Wiki environments that have been adapted to use abc are:

* [http://www.soe.ucsc.edu/cgi-bin/cgiwrap/nwhitehe/moin.cgi/MusicWiki MusicWiki] , a Python plugin implementation for MoinMoin
* [http://www.pmwiki.org/wiki/Cookbook/AbcMusic AbcMusic] for displaying abc notation in PmWiki
* [http://music.gordfisch.net/tradmusic/ Traditional Music Wiki] A collaborative source for traditional music using a tailored version of the [http://www.pmwiki.org/wiki/Cookbook/AbcMusic AbcMusic] plugin
* [http://wiki.splitbrain.org/plugin:abc abc plugin] for displaying abc notation in DokuWiki

External links

* Chris Walshaw's definitive [http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/ abc music notation page]
* Steve Mansfield's [http://www.lesession.co.uk/abc/abc_notation.htm tutorial on abc notation]
* John Chambers' [http://trillian.mit.edu/~jc/music/abc/ABC-FAQ.html Frequently Asked Questions about ABC Music Notation]
* Concertina.net [http://www.concertina.net/tunes_convert.html Convert-O-Matic] form to produce sheet music and midi files from abc
* Folkinfo [http://www.folkinfo.org/songs/abcconvert.php Abc Converter] form to produce sheet music, midi conversion, and transposition
* Online [http://music.gordfisch.net/oregans/miscellaneous/editor.php abc editor] that can process multiple tunes
* Guido Gonzato's [http://abcplus.sourceforge.net ABCplus] page with a lot of software and documentation
* [http://www.bryanduggan.com/TunePal.html TunePal] An ABC retrieval and playback tool for the PocketPC
* [http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Extension:AbcMusic AbcMusic] MediaWiki extension for rendering ABC notation
* [http://abc.stalikez.info/abcex.php/ ABCexplorer] Freeware all-in-one ABC editing software (edit, play, organize & print)

ABC Tune Collections

* John Chamber's ABC Tune Search Engine [http://ecf-guest.mit.edu/~jc/cgi/abc/tunefind JC's Tune finder] searches the net for ABC tunes
* Chris Walshaw's [http://www.walshaw.plus.com/abc/tunes.html page of links to abc collections]
* [http://www.thesession.org TheSession.org] is a community and database of Irish tunes and list of sessions, reliant on abc notation
* [http://music.gordfisch.net/tradmusic/ Traditional Music and Dance Wiki]
* [http://www.norbeck.nu/abc/ Henrik Norbeck's Abc Tunes] , mostly Irish and Swedish traditional music
* [http://www.folkwiki.se FolkWiki] , Scandinavian folkmusic (in swedish)

Footnotes


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