This Web hierarchy contains programs, examples, discussion, and links relating to the production of printed and audio versions of fiddle tunes using "abc" notation.

If you're looking at this page from the Web, and not from a CD-ROM, chances are that some links are broken, especially to big files. Either ask me for a CD-ROM, or follow the Web-based links provided below to the original sources.

Send me mail if you have any questions at all about installing or using these materials.

A short intro to abc

Take a look at one of my favorite-ever simple fiddle tunes: Morpeth Lasses is a traditional tune from the first FootLoose album. (I'm assured by one of the players that the tune really is traditional. The transcription is my own.)

The text is pretty self-explanatory. Comments are set off by those percent signs. When you write your own, you can leave out all those comments and just put in the notes. (It would look like this.) The outcome -- printed sheet music or MIDI -- is the same either way.

The heading section contains introductory material such as a title, a key (for the key signature), and an author. The notes themselves are referred to by upper and lower case letters. The length of the notes is given as a multiple of some fundamental time length, here an eighth note (the "L:1/8" line in the heading). Guitar chords are referred to by quotations, such as "Am".

Now what? The whole point of the .abc format is that the tune can be easily and automatically translated into

This is great for us. The format can be displayed or printed, and the MIDI file can be played through computer speakers. And as a bonus, the MIDI file adds in a "boom-chuck" accompaniment based on the chords listed in the file.

So why isn't this perfect? Every software product presents tradeoffs. Here we see a common tradeoff, between simplicity and flexibility of the file format. The format has a few more wrinkles to it (for details see the documentation), but there are many things that in the name of simplicity it simply doesn't do. For example, the output file arrives in a single specific size. (You can however edit the PostScript file directly. Here's an example of a sideways orientation, marked up from the original via a text editor. The changes are in two places, both commented as "...added by eric".) And you may have to do trial-and-error for example to figure out exactly how to get a key change to take effect when you want it to.

Oh, and you'll also have to figure out how to edit text files. Notepad or Wordpad on Windows will do if you have no alternative. Here are some alternatives, taken from ZDNet. Just be sure to save the result in plain text format.

The bottom line: The abc format opens up a whole world of tune-sharing. One place to start is

Other sources include: The way to think about this is that any .abc file you find, anywhere, can with a few clicks become either a piece of printed sheet music or a MIDI file.

The software

The point of the file format is the automatic translation into sheet music and MIDI. This requires software. The most useful translation software I've found is due to J.L.Allwright. The 'binaries' directory (folder) has the two basic translation utilities, with shortcuts in the main 'Music' directory:


Copy the entire contents of the CD-ROM to your disk somewhere. Install the PostScript viewer, following the directions below. Get a text editor, using Notepad if nothing else is handy.


So how do you use this package? There are two ways:

1. Drag and drop.

The main drawback with the "drag-and-drop" method is the mungy file names.

2. Command-line interface.

3. On your own.


References to the software packages are here:

ABC2Midi, Yaps

PostScript viewer

You'll also want a PostScript viewer, for which Aladdin's Ghostscript is the right answer for non-commercial users:
The easy way to install these files is to find them from within Explorer (they're on the CD-ROM, under Music, in the 'src' folder), and click. They launch a typical Windows install script.

More details are available here:

In particular, Aladdin Ghostscript is licensed for noncommercial use only.

Text editors

Here are some
text editors, taken from ZDNet.
22 November 2000