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Cranford Publications
Introduction to ABCs

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ABC tunes and archives

When searching the web for a tune it often shows up in ABC notation. This is because ABCs are text based thus allowing search engines like Google to find tunes. ABCs can be easily converted to standard notation. The following introduction is intended to help beginners learn to utilize this resource. Our site posts hundreds of tunes in the abc format. More importantly, many classic tune books such as The Athole Collection (check out Andrew Kuntz's Fiddler's Companion site) have been posted on other sites. In the Irish world there are hundreds of ABC sites that post tunes. Knowledge of the format is necessary in order to access this music.

Although an ABC program give more functionality, properly formatted ABC tunes can be converted directly in your browser. All you have to do is copy & paste the ABCs for a single tune into an on-line form. Submit the form and moments later you have formatted music (standard notation) with the option for midi playback. It's that simple.

For this simple functionality you don't need to download a program. Just web acess and the ability to use a browser.

  • Copy sample tune ( Select All >> Copy >>choose back button)
    ---- make sure you copy everything. Note the 'headers' including X all have meaning.
  • Now the tune is in your "clipboard". Go to a conversion site. One that still seems to work well with a variey of output options is the one at>> Paste the abcs from your clipboard to either of these Free online forms. >> Click submit. (note - due to a spam issue the convertor at is no longer functional)
    ---- You can now view the sample tune as an onscreen image. For better resolution or printing select the PDF option (for playback with a properly configured computer you can choose a midi file).

    TECH -NOTE - some abc tunes you'll find elsewhere on the net are posted on html pages instead of text only pages (The Fiddler's Companion). If you copy ABCs from an html page, when pasting into an abc program or conversion utility there are extra line breaks which must be stripped before translation will be successful. If you use ABC navigator or ABC2win etc. those problems are eliminated.

If you only plan to use the ABCs other people post or email you, then you now have all the tools & experience you need. However if you want to write and edit tunes then read on...

With the aid of your computer, ABCs can act as a bridge between 'ear' and 'eye' methods of learning. Tunes can be typed as text and read without the aid of a program. ABC files are both cross platform compatible and memory efficient. For e-mailing tunes, ABCs are ideal. When interpreted using a shareware program, ABCs provide all the information required for both playback and on-screen standard music notation. For music educators, abcs can be a stepping stone used to guide students towards standard notation. Learning to write abcs helps anyone better understand the rudiments of music.

ABCs were invented by Chris Walshaw as an easy way of transcribing folk music. While evolving in countries as far apart as the UK, Germany, Sweden, Canada and the United States, Mr. Walshaw and the ABC community are working towards standardizing the language. Presently it is primarily used for notating and playing back traditional tunes such as jigs and reels but has been already been used to transcribe music from Japanese Koto to Scarlatti. If things proceed as they should, given 50 years or so, this language will allow all of western society's music to be accessible using everyday search engines. In the meantime, every significant piece of notation has to be carefully translated to ABCs and posted on-line.

I use a program called Barfly, a shareware program written by geneticist, Scotsman, Phil Taylor. It has dozens of excellent features not found on other programs. A functional freeware version is also available. There is lots of instruction provided with the download. The MacIntosh release is complete for all versions of the operating system excluding Lion. If you use Lion try EasyABC

Barfly Features:

Playback with quick-time musical instruments-
- allows text editing during playback
- Musical sounding playback - Definable 'playable feels' for various tune types
- user definable macros allow playback of ornaments
- transposing (to different keys or modes)
- user definable altered intonations
- chordal playback (polyphonic option)

Split Screen Mode
- See the tune in stardard notation
In the same window you can:
1 - edit the abcs
2 - navigate all the tunes in the file

Error Checking
- if there's a problem with your abcs, click the 'Red Sad Face Icon' and a new window opens with an explanation
- great for learning to write abcs

Flexible Searches
- within a file -- or all of a folder/ nested folders
. . . . . . in an instant you can search 1000s of tunes for whatever you can remember
. . . . . . search abcs for any text string - title, melodic fragment , composer etc
- Resultant list provides Navigation services
. . . . . . Command click search result and the tune opens instantly

- registered version allows multiple tunes to be printed on a page
(simply command-click selections from the split screen list)

Exports in many Formats
- graphics -- Pict, jpg, png, Tiff, Photoshop etc.
- sound (Midi, AIFF) etc.
- tab delineated text (choice of fields)
- plain text

Imports many Formats
- cut and paste properly formatted ABC text files
- tab delineated text
- music XML

Well Organized Documentation
- command clicik navigation from the table of contents
- includes everthing you need to know about abcs
- 'bad tunes' file should be required reading for all abc users.

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last update 3/23/12

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