about abc notation

about abc notation

What: abc notation is a system designed to notate music in plain text format. It was designed primarily for folk and traditional tunes of Western European origin (such as English, Irish and Scottish) which can be written on one stave in standard classical notation. However, it has been used for many other types of music and, for example, Steve Allen has coded Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, Movement 2 in abc!

When: Since its introduction at the end of 1991 it has become very popular: there now exist tens of thousands of tunes in abc, from a variety of online collections and many abc software tools (for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone and other platforms) which can read abc notation and either process it into staff notation or play it through the speakers of a computer.

Why: One of the most important aims of abc notation, and one that distinguishes it from most computer-based musical languages is that it can also be read easily by humans. In other words, with a little practice, it is possible to play a tune directly from the abc notation without having to process and print it out. The resulting compactness - each tune is about the same as a paragraph of text - and clarity makes it very easy to notate tunes. As a result, it can be easily emailed or discussed online or, if you prefer, just scribbled down on the back of an envelope.

Where: Just about everywhere - according to music-notation.info abc is "perhaps the most common music notation format on the internet" and is registered as an internet media (MIME) type. You can find more information about abc notation in a wide variety of places on the web - just google it. Here is a small selection of articles:

And here are a few academic conference papers I have written in recent years (full details on my academic research pages):

How: Visit the learn abc page to discover how to use it.

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about abcnotation.com

The abc website has existed in various forms and at various locations since 1995. It moved to its new home at abcnotation.com in June 2009.

Although the statistics vary, as of April 2017 it lists around 120 abc-based programs (from sophisticated transcription software to smart iPhone apps) plus a massive resource of around 560,000 tunes from 170 websites, and has about 300,000 visitors a year from all over the world.

Donations: The abc website has taken many, many hours of work. If you have found it useful and would like to support its development, please click one of the buttons below (you can either donate via PayPal or with any of the major credit / debit cards).

US dollars / $ (USD)
Pounds sterling / £ (GBP)
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All donations are very gratefully received and the more that is donated, the more time I can spend on improving the site and extending the tune search.

Acknowledgements: Finally, a number of technologies have been used to put this site together. Grateful thanks to: abcjs, abcMIDI, abcm2ps, Apache Tomcat, Batik, D3.js, DokuWiki, Glyphicons, Java, LAME, MobileESP, NetBeans, phpBB, TiMidity++, and, last but certainly not least, WordPress.

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about Chris Walshaw

Chris at Towersey
On stage at Towersey Village Festival
photo: Daisy Mercedes Jones

Chris Walshaw, the inventor of abc and the developer of this website, is a Principal Lecturer and Reader in Informatics in the Department of Computing & Information Systems at the University of Greenwich*, London.

He is also a musician playing English & French bagpipes, flutes, whistles and saxophone.

abc notation bring together his love of music and his profound appreciation of computing, and the web in particular, as a communication tool of great power.

If you want to find out more about Chris' musical ventures, come to a gig, or even buy a CD, then take a look at Moltenamba (instrumental pyrotechnics ... folk, blues and all that jazz), Angles (folk-trance groove for bals and eurobops), the Climax Ceilidh Band (English ceilidh), The Duellists (now defunct, but with a hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe cult CD), or Zephyrus (for exquisite, mind-blowing bagpipe music).

Thank you for reading this far,

Chris Walshaw

* Disclaimer: the opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the author and do not represent the University's views.

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