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 Using ABC Programs and Conversion Websites

Just as you don't have to write music in order to read it, you don't have to understand ABCs in order to use them. If you can 'cut and paste' and surf the web, you are already equipped for basic conversions

To translate an exiting ABC file into standard notation and midi playback, bookmark this great site - Paul Swartz's Convert-o-Matic. Simply paste or import all of the abc text (one tune or many tunes ... starting with an X:1 header etc) into the online form. This will process one tune at a time, the first tune in the file. Output can be a screen image, high res PDF or MIDI -- all free services.

To write and edit most programs support many tunes per file. You don't need a powerful computer to import 100 tunes with the click of a mouse. I've been using Barfly on older Macs for years so I haven't kept up to date with updates and functionality - however one of my customers, Bruce Maxwell of San Francisco recent sent me the following up-to-date information:

Newly updated programs EasyABC and abcExplorer both use basically the same rendering engine as the one at They both allow choice of playback MIDI 'instrument' and a choice of chordal accompaniment or not (if chords are included in the ABC code). ABCexplorer even has an option to add drones!

EasyABC - EasyABC version 1.3.3 an open source ABC editor for Windows, OSX including Lion) and Linux.
  • Import MusicXML and MIDI files
  • Export to MIDI, SVG, PDF (single tune or whole tune book).
  • Select notes by clicking on them and add music symbols by using drop-down menus in the toolbar.
  • Record songs from midi directly in the program.
  • The musical score is automatically updated as you type in ABC codes.
  • Transpose and halve/double note length functionality (using abc2abc)
  • Automatic alignment of bars on different lines
  • Available in French, Danish, Swedish and English
  • Functions to sort tunes and renumber

    abcExplorer allows the user to create, edit, play, print, convert and organize musical files in ABC format (text format) under Windows.

    Barfly for playback, interactive editing, robust feature set. The documentation gives you everything required to understand reading writing and trouble shooting ABCs. Definitely the platform for anyone writing ABCs. Now available for all Mac systems excluding Lion.

    Abc Navigator is a freeware program for Windows 95, 98, NT 4.0, 2000 & XP. It handles music notation files in ABC format.

    Abc2win shines in its ability to format output (you can adjust spacing, visible headers. size of notation etc. Unfortunately it hasn't been updated in a long time. Playback is clunky (though it doesn't require a sound card.). Editing is awkward but functional. Windows only. - not updated since 2005

    AbcMus - complements ABC2Win, adding better playback and file management utilites

Other ABC resources
For more information, tutorials, links to a variety of different abc programs, and for links to numerous tune collections, go to Chris Walshaw's abc home page.

In addition; for tunes, tutorials, ideas and utilities check out sites from the following individuals:

John Chambers | Steve Mansfield | Richard Moon | Heinrich Norbeck | Paul Swartz
last update 3/23/12

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