ABC notation is a way to write out music using just the characters available on a standard computer keyboard. The End…
Just kidding. There’s a bit more to it than that. Basically the above statement is true, and one could learn to read and write abc notation kind of like standard staff notation, but abc files are very useful in more ways than that. So first of all, what does abc notation look like? Like this:
T: Garrett Barry’s
A|: DEF ~G3|AGE c2A|dcA d2e|fed cAG|
~F3 GFG|AGE (3Bcd e|dcA GEA|DED D2 A:|
|:dcA d2e|fed (3efg e|dcA c2d|efd ecA|
dAA d2e|fed (3efg e|dcA GEA|DED D2 A:|
Garrett Barry’s jig is the first tune I learned both on whistle and concertina.
So as you can see, it’s got a number of lines, each beginning with a letter followed by a colon. That’s part of the syntax of the notation. All of the information with these tags is collectively called the “header”. It tells various programs important information about the tune so that it can be transformed into sheet music and sound files. To explain–
For many people into Irish traditional music, abc notation is the main way they share and learn new tunes. It’s simple, not hard to write and read, and can be translated by a variety of programs into sound and standard musical notation image files. Some programs also allow you to transpose the key, and organize your collection of abc files for easier reference, among other things
In posts following this one I plan to explain how abc files and notation work and the basics of what to do with them, with a slight emphasis on a free program called “abcexplorer”, which is available for Windows HERE.
Stay tuned, it’s as easy as a, b, c. (had to say it.)