Here is my attempt to provide help for newcomers. Believe me, it is quite easy to learn, and a lot of fun as well. Any feedback is welcomed. firstname.lastname@example.org
MUDCAT USER GUIDE FOR abc NOTATION
This document is meant as a user guide for beginners, not as a full reference specification.
For a complete reference please see the Official abc Notation Site http://www.gre.ac.uk/~c.walshaw/abc/
What Do I Need To Know About Music Before I Start?
Not a whole heap!
· What a treble clef looks like
· How to read the basic names of notes on the treble clef. Remember for notes on the lines - Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit. And in the spaces between the lines - F A C E
· How to read the length (duration) of a note. There is a Section below covering Note Length, but you may need a quick refresher from a basic music text on this subject. This is probably the more tricky issue, but like the rest of music notation - fairly logical.
This document will give you some clues, but there are lots of Web sites that give a good grounding. I like http://www.jazclass.aust.com/bt1.htm (Lesson 1) and http://www.jazclass.aust.com/bt2.htm (Lesson 2). Don't be put off by the reference to Jazz Classes.
About abc Notation
It was designed primarily for folk and traditional tunes which can be written on one stave in standard classical notation. It is ideally suited for songs included in the Digital Tradition. You don't need any fancy hardware, just a word processor - and a small(ish) number of rules.
The abc Notation System - Basic Construction
Each tune consists of a header and a body. There should be no line spaces between any lines of the entire block of notation. A line space is the convention used to indicate that a different tune has started.
The information fields are used to notate things about the music, but not the music itself.
Mandatory Header Fields
X:tune no. X:1
T:title T:John Brown's Body, T:Dick's Mazurka
M:meter M:3/4, M:4/4
K:key K:A, K:F#
Optional Header Field
L:default note length L:1/4, L:1/8
Some additional notes on header fields:-
X:1 This should always appear as the top line
T:tune title. (I am not aware of any real restrictions here).
M:meter. Apart from the normal meters, eg. M:6/8 or M:4/4, the symbols M:C and M:C| give common time and cut time respectively. If there is no specific indication as to the correct meter just use 4/4.
K:key. The key signature should be specified with a capital letter which may be followed by a # or b for sharp or flat respectively. To help you figure out which key the tune is in please refer to the Section below What Key Is It In?
L:length - Default note length; i.e. L:1/4 - quarter note, L:1/8 - eighth note, L:1/16 - sixteenth, L:1/32 - thirty-second. The default note length is also set automatically by the meter field. Do not bother with this field if you are very new to abc Notation.
What Key Is It In?
Key Number of
No dramas here, just look beside the treble clef sign - and count them up, Then look up the table above.
Reading The Notes
The following letters are used to represent notes:
In fact the full range includes the notes C, D, E, F, plus e',f',g',a' and b'. These notes are quite legitimate to use as abc Notation, but are typically outside the range of normal song tunes. The notes in bold below represent the range of notes you are likely to come across in folk tunes:
Bass Range and Large Quadrupeds C, D. E, F, G, A, B, Middle Range C D E F G A B Higher Range c d e f g a b High Sopranos & Small Animals c' d' e' f' g' a' b'
Normal Sharps And Flats
You have already given instructions in the Header Field as what key the tune is in. There's no need to be too clever beyond this! If you read from the sheet music that the note is on the line associated with f just type in f in your abc Notation. If there's no special symbol before the note to indicate that it is different in any way, then press on.
The symbols ^ = and _ are used (immediately before a note) in abc Notation to generate respectively an accidental sharp, natural or flat. Please note that _ is an under-score symbol rather than a hyphen.
Rests are generated with a z and can be modified in length in exactly the same way as notes can. (See below). ABC software appears to only like the lower case version of z, so please don't use capital letters for this symbol. (Sorry, but it is not possible to display here what these symbols actually look like). http://www.jazclass.aust.com/bt1.htm (Lesson 1) gives a good pictorial of the various types of Rests and their note value.
Note Lengths (The Slightly Tricky Part)
Throughout this document note lengths (as well as rest lengths) are referred to as sixteenth, eighth, etc. You may know them by another term:
In This Document Alternative Name What It Looks Like Whole note Semi-breve An open circle Half note Minim An open circle with a plain, vertical stick attached Quarter note Crotchet A filled-in circle with a plain, vertical stick attached Eighth Note Quaver A filled-in circle with a vertical stick and one wiggle attached (or one hat) Sixteenth note Semi-quaver As above with two wiggles attached (or two hats) Thirty-second note Semi-demi-quaver As above with 3 wiggles (or three hats)
Each meter (M: in the Header Fields) automatically sets a default note length. And a single letter in the range A-G, a-g will generate a note of this length. For example, in 3/4 meter the default note length is an eighth note and so the input DEF represents 3 eighth notes.
Notes of differing lengths can be obtained by simply putting a multiplier after the letter. Thus in 2/4, A or A1 is a sixteenth note, A2 an eighth note, A3 a dotted eighth note, A4 a quarter note, A6 a dotted quarter note, A8 a half note, A12 a dotted half note, and so on,.
To get shorter notes, either divide them - eg. in 3/4, A/2 is a sixteenth note, A/4 is a thirty-second note. Note that A/ is shorthand for A/2.
Default Length Eighth Note Sixteenth Note ThirtySecond Note
Dotted Quarter Note
Dotted Half Note
A/2 (or A/)
A or A1(Default)
A/2 (or A/)
A or A1 (Default)
Dotted Notes (Useful)
Remember in classical music notation that a dotted note, (a note with a dot immediately to the right of the head of the note), has a note length that is 50% greater than the normal note with no dot. Hence, a quarter Middle C note in 3/4 meter would be written as C2. The same dotted quarter note would be notated as C3.
(One little tip - occasionally it MAY be necessary to use a note length of 1.5. Apparently abc doesn't like decimals, but is quite happy to accept a note such as C3/2).
Repeat/bar symbols (Useful)
Bar line symbols are generated as follows:
| bar line
|] thin-thick double bar line
|| thin-thin double bar line
[| thick-thin double bar line
:| left repeat
|: right repeat
:: left-right repeat
Tied Notes (Useful)
Conventional printed music often ties two notes of identical pitch together. In these cases individual notes are printed on the page - but the note is only struck once when it is played, and the durations are added together.
You can tie two notes together either across or within a bar with a - symbol, eg. abc-|cba or abc-cba. (Notice that in both cases that the two c notes would have appeared on the original sheet music with a horizontal looped line joining the heads of the notes).
Guitar chords (Useful)
Guitar chords can be inserted in the melody line by enclosing the chord in inverted commas, eg. "Am7"A2D2 .
Comments Symbol (Useful)
A % symbol will cause the remainder of any input line to be ignored. And don't forget that blank lines in abc Notation are meant to symbolise a gap between tunes.
MORE ADVANCED STUFF
First and second repeats (Nice To Know)
First and second repeats can be generated with the symbols [1 and[2,
eg. faf gfe|[1 dfe dBA:|[2 d2e dcB|]. When adjacent to bar
lines, these can be shortened to |1 and :|2, but with regard to
spaces | [1 is legal, | 1 is not.
Broken rhythms (Nice To Know)
A common occurrence in traditional music is the use of a dotted or broken rhythm. For example, hornpipes, strathspeys and certain morris jigs all have dotted eighth notes followed by sixteenth notes as well as vice-versa in the case of strathspeys. To support this abc notation uses a > to mean `the previous note is dotted, the next note halved' and < to mean `the previous note is halved, the next dotted'. Thus the following lines all mean the same thing (the third version is recommended):
a3b cd3 a2b2c2d2
a3/2b/2 c/2d3/2 abcd
a>b c<d abcd
As a logical extension, >> means that the first note is double dotted and the second quartered and >>> means that the first note is triple dotted and the length of the second divided by eight.
Similarly for << and <<<.
Changing key, meter, and default note length mid-tune (Nice To Know)
To change key, meter, or default note length, simply put in a new
line with a K: M: or L: field, eg.
ed|cecA B2ed|cAcA E2ed|cecA B2ed|c2A2 A2:|
AB|cdec BcdB|ABAF GFE2|cdec BcdB|c2A2 A2:|
Slurs (Nice To Know)
Slurs can be put in with () symbols. Thus (DEFG) puts a slur over the four notes. Spaces within a slur are OK, eg. (D E F G), but the open bracket should come immediately before a note (and its accents/accidentals, etc.) and the close bracket should come immediately after a note (and its octave marker or length). Thus (=b c'2) is OK but ( =b c'2 ) is not.
MUCH MORE ADVANCED STUFF
See the ABC Homepage mentioned at the start of this paper. http://www.gre.ac.uk/~c.walshaw/abc/ There isn't too much that abc Notation can't do.