6 of the best – a guide to abc software

A few folks have asked me recently for recommendations of abc software …

In the past I have been reluctant to answer this question – there are so many apps out there and I certainly haven’t tried them all.

However, nowadays it seems like some of the abc software trends have resolved somewhat so here’s a list of the abc software I use and love.

  1. For day-to-day usage, my favourite bit of abc software is EasyABC, a really well designed and mature abc editor. You can
    • type a tune in – it can automatically guess which octave you want (i.e. capitals or lower) and put in barlines
    • see the tune in staff notation and play it – the player follows the score, with the current note highlighted in red
    • export your entire abc file or individual tunes to pdf, midi and/or MusicXML.
  2. For transpositions (which I have to do quite often) you can currently use %%transpose for the score and %%MIDI transpose for the playback  (although see the new transposition features in abc 2.2). However, if you want the actual abc code transposed then look no further than the online AbcConverter hosted at mandolintab.net. Just tick the “show transposed output” checkbox and you’re good to go.
  3. If you have a website and you want to process abc tunes, for example to show the score or play the sound as well as the abc code, I can highly recommend abcjs. It’s smart enough to find and process abc code embedded in a web page and there is even a variant which allows you to easily create an online abc editor. The TuneGraph feature on the abcnotation website makes heavy use of abcjs and it also featured in the (now defunct) forums.
  4. If you use other formats and you want to import/export abc tunes, probably the most useful format is MusicXML – the lingua franca of the notation world. It’s very verbose and designed only for computers to read but most music notation software can read/write it. If you’re just using the aforementioned EasyABC then you don’t need anything else … it can already import/export to MusicXML. However, if you want a dedicated conversion utility (the same one as used by EasyABC) then grab a copy of Willem Vree’s abc2xml / xml2abc.
  5. Two other utilities that are definitely worth considering are abcm2ps and abcMIDI. You may not even need to install them as several abc apps, including  EasyABC, use them in the background. However, they are arguably the most important bits of abc software out there and for years have set the de facto standard of what is possible using abc notation.
  6. Last but not least, TunePal is one of the most interesting abc apps around – a “search-by-playing search engine for traditional Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Breton, American marching band and Canadian tunes”. Available as a mobile app and a web service, it is the Shazam of traditional music.



3 Responses to “6 of the best – a guide to abc software”

  1. Bob Tracey says:

    This is really useful Chris. Thanks for the guidance

  2. Peter Kite says:

    Thank you for this. Do you know if there is any software which uses version 2.2 (I’d like to use courtesy accidentals)?

  3. Chris says:

    I don’t know of any software that uses 2.2. I would have suggested abcm2ps which is working towards 2.2, but I notice that they are not implemented yet (see http://moinejf.free.fr/abcm2ps-doc/features.xhtml). However, if you drop an email to Jef Moine (who wrote abcm2ps) he will give you an update on when he expects to implement them. He is regularly to be found contributing to the abcusers mailing list.