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
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
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 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
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.
- In Explorer, locate the icon for the abc file, and locate the
icon for the ABC2Midi (or Yaps) program or shortcut.
There are suitable shortcut icons in this Music directory. (The icon
says 'ab' instead of 'abc'; best I could do.)
- Drag the abc icon and let go on top of the ABC2Midi (or Yaps) icon.
- Go look for an icon in the same directory as the abc file that has
a .MID or .PS extension and a funny-looking name.
(The name comes out in ALL CAPS
with funny tilde signs; you have Windows to thank for that.)
- Try double-clicking the .MID or .PS file and see what happens.
- If it doesn't work, right-click on the ABC2Midi icon and
select the icon's Properties; then under the Program tab remove
the check from "Close on exit". Try again. You'll get diagnostic
messages that won't automatically disappear.
2. Command-line interface.
3. On your own.
- Open a DOS window, using Start, Run, "command.com" or its equivalent.
- Find your way to the install directory. (See previous step.)
- Type "binaries/yaps MorpethLasses.abc" and the Enter key.
Type "binaries/abc2MIDI MorpethLasses.abc" and the Enter key.
- Play the MIDI file
using your favorite MIDI player.
(I use the
Beatnik plug-in for Netscape.)
You can click on it in Netscape; or click on the icon in Explorer; or
if nothing else works, try Start, Programs, Accessories,
Multimedia, Media Player.
- Look at the PostScript file MorpethLasses.
(I use Aladdin Ghostscript, included on this disk.)
Again clicking on the icon in Explorer will probably do something interesting.
- Now find a text editor, mark up some other abc file
the way you want it, and repeat these steps for your own abc file.
- If this process doesn't work, for any reason,
send me e-mail and I'll try to help.
References to the software packages are here:
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.
Here are some text editors, taken from