How Does One read the ABC charts here?

How Does One read the ABC charts here?

Hi Everyone-
I am at a loss in figuring out how to make sense of the ABC charts that are posted here on the Session’s Tunes website; I followed the link that explains how to understand the ABC method, but found it not to be helpful. I have limited conventional note reading skills, and I am relatively new to the Traditional Irish Music scene, having taken up Irish bouzouki one year ago. (I play guitar fairly well)
Is there a site somewhere that explains how to use ABC information that is easy to understand ?
Or is there another way I can figure out how to make this information more accessible?
Thanks for your help.
Big Dog

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

I read abcs with my ears….

(sorry - inside joke)

Big Dog, try reading a tune that you already know how to play. The letters are the names of the notes. The vertical lines ( | ) separate the notes into measures just to keep things organized.

If your zouk is tuned GDAE, then uppercase "C" is the note you get on your G string with the ring finger at the 5th fret. Notes below that C are uppercase and have a comma added to them, like B, or G, to show that they’re below C. From the C going up, all the uppercase letters go up the scale until you get to lowercase "c," which is the note you get on the A string with your middle finger. Then they stay lowercase (d e f g a b) until they get to the next "c" and then we add an apostrophe to them to show that these are really high notes: c’

Most jigs, reels, and hornpipes use the 1/8th note as as the default. So a jig will have six of these 1/8th notes in each measure: |FAA GBB|Add fed|

When a note is held twice as long as an 1/8th note (called a quarter note), it gets a "2" next to it: |F2 A G2 B|Add fed|

If a note is held three times as long as an 1/8th note, it has a "3" added to it: |F3 G3|Add fed|

That’s the barest bones, but enough to get you started. Of course, to make sense of all this, you have to know the names of the notes on your fingerboard for each note. It also helps to know which notes are sharped or flattened depending on which key and mode the tune is in.

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Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

I also "read with my ears". There are numerous pieces of software out there for pretty much every platform (windows, mac, linux…) that work as ABC editors, as well as convert the ABC to MIDI, and then play it.

None of these will make it sound particularly like a real player playing Irish, but it’s enough to give you the idea of the tune. Several of the players out there will also highlight the note in ABC as it’s being played, which helps train you as to what the notations mean, because you can combine the visual with the aural.

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

read will’s explanation. it is complete, and helpful. however, if you are still confused, do you have a webcam? i could explain it to you very easily over the webcam, play examples, writing on a pad of paper, etc. please PM me.

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Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

I found this website to be of great help to me.
after reading through the lessons, try taking a piece of sheet music and transpose it to ABC. You’ll really lean a lot.
Funny thing is, after getting into ABC I ended up learning how to follow the dots!

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

Steve Mansfield’s site

But I take it you’ve already been there. Will’s explanation is good. Taking it from there, here are just some basics, starting with that open G or G, ~ the comma after a note lowers it an octave, while and apostrophe raises it an octave, and from middle C up to the next c, is all caps, then the small letters, but here it is starting with your open G, ~

G, A, B, C D E F G A B c d e f g a b c’ d’ e’ f’ g’ ~

To show what key signature you check the headers, the first few things after the X: # & T: title ~

M: = meter ~ for example 6/8 for a jig
L: = the length ~ such as the usual 1/8
R: = tune type ~ for example ‘jig’
K: = key signature ~ for example Dmaj = D Major / Edor = E Dorian / Bmin = B mionr

If you need to show accidentals, then
^ raises the following note a half step, makes it #/sharp
_ lowers the following note a half step, flattens it
= natural, returns it to itself, for example ~ | d^cB =cdc |

Length ~ using middle C as the example
L: 1/8

C = 1/8 = a quaver = an eight note
C2 = 1/4 = a crotchet = a quarter note
C3 = a dotted 1/4th/crotchet = 3/8
C4 = 1/2 = a minim = a half note
C8 = 1 = a semi-breve = a whole note
C/ = 1/16 = a semi-quaver = a sixteenth note
C/4 = 1/32 = a demi-semi-quaver = a thirty-second note

If you had ~ L: 1/4 ~ then C would = 1/4 = crotchet = a quarter note, etc…

Bar lines are bar lines ~ | ~ check some of the ABCs on site here for examples, for example ~

X: 1
T: Kesh, The
M: 6/8
L: 1/8
R: jig
K: Gmaj
|: D |\
GFG GAB | A3 AB/c/d | edd gdd | edB dBA |
GFG G2 B | ABA ABd | edd gdB | AGF G2 :|
|: A |\
B2 B dB/c/d | ege dBA | BcB BAG | A2 A FF/G/A |
B^AB d^cd | e/f/ge dBd | gfg a^ga | bgf g2 :|

That’s a take on the most popular jig on site by tunebooks…

Click on the tunebook tab at the top here ~

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

Ears are always of first importance, and some will boo-hoo all forms of transcription, but I’ve found, as long as you don’t let it rule you and become addicted to the dots and sheetmusic, one of the more difficult faults to undo when teaching ~ learning and coming to grips with notation, ABC or otherwise, only increases your understanding, and ~ it can improve your aural awareness too ~ in other words ~ it’s good exercise for the ears and the mind… But it’s only a skeleton at best. Always go to a live source first, if possible, and a recorded source second. Only use the notes as the crutch they are, then throw them away and dance this music the way you hear it…

Good luck with learning an new skill and tool. Have a drawer just to collect scraps of ABCs on beer coasters and wherever else you find yourself scribbling down a few bars for memories sake…

Most of the old musicians I’ve come across, and that’s many, could read and write some form of notation, didn’t depend on it, but valued it just the same. That includes tablature and solfeggio as two other possible examples of making shorthand out of music.

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

For further comparisons ~ "The Kesh Jig"

"The Kesh Jig"
Key signature: G Major
Submitted on May 25th 2001 by Jeremy.

The Fiddler’s Companion ~ Andrew Kuntz
"The Kesh Jig"[1]

John Chamber’s Music Directory
ABC tunes beginning with KE

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

Grouping notes, just for comparison, jigs (2x3s) and slip jigs (3x3s) reels (2x4s) and polkas (2x2s) ~ using a couple of bars ~

M: 6/8
L: 1/8
R: jig
K: Gmaj
~ | edd gdd | edB dBA | GFG G2 B | ~

M: 4/4
L: 1/8
R: reels
K: Gmaj
~ | eddg d/d/d ed | BdBA ~G3 F | ~

M: 9/8
L: 1/8
R: slip jig
K: Gmaj
~ | edd gdd edc | B/c/dB AGF G2 d | ~

M: 2/4
L: 1/8
R: polka
K: Gmaj
~ | ed gd | ed c/B/A/G/ | Bd AF | GG/F/ Gd | ~

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

3/4 tunes, waltzes, mazurkas, etc. (3x2s)

M: 3/4
L: 1/8
R: waltz
K: Gmaj
|: ed | dg gd ed | B/c/d B^A B=A | G2 GF GB | A3 d ~

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

Changing keys in the middle of a tune & a smattering of accidentals ~ 😉

M: 3/4
L: 1/8
R: mazurka
K: Gmaj
|: d ed |\
dg gd ed | (3Bcd B^A B=A | G2 GD GB | A3 d ed |
dg gd ed | (3Bcd B^A B=A | G2 GD Ad | G3 :|
K: Gmin
B AG |\
A2 AD cA | BA GB AB | A2 Ac BA | B3 A GD |
Ad ^cd =cA | Bc de dG | ^FA dc (3BAF | G3 B AG |
A2 AD c>A | BA GB AB | c2 cF fe | e2 d^c dG |
d^f ae dc | Bc de dG | ^FA dc (3BAF | G2 G |]

However, I also swing > it, with one snap < ~

K: Gmaj
|: d e>d |\
d>g g>d e>d | (3Bcd B>^A B>=A | G2 G>D G>B | A3 d e>d |
d>g g>d e>d | (3Bcd B>^A B>=A | G2 G>D A<d | G3 :| ~

Read the ABC charts?

How did I know ceolachan would be here?
Hello Big Dog!
Have fun with the bouzouki.

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Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

Like flies to ~ … 😀

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

If you want to check your reading of ABC charts against sheetmusic you can copy the whole chart including the title etc, and paste to this website which will then print the music out for you - I tried doing this to help me to read ABC (never occurred to me to post it here as a question).
It amazes me that something which takes up lots of space as sheetmusic, can take up such a small amount as ABC and still have all the information.

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

Thanks to all of you for your kind and helpful tips. I do attend a weekly session in Ambler, PA, with arguably some of the finest players in the Delaware Valley, so each week my ears, fingers and zouk all get a good workout. I am looking forward to adding another trick to my learning bag, however, and from what you’ve all said here, the ABC method may be just what Dr. Traditional Irish Music prescribed!
I’ll keep you informed of my progress.
Thanks again, and be well, everyone.
The Big Dog

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?


I hate algebra, always did, always will.

And Will talking about "uppercase". I thought that was anthropology related.

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

Bliss, that’s a fine piece of ABC notation you’ve given us there, but you neglected to include bar lines….


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Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

That’s hardly the real problem, there’s a bar missing… 😏

X: ~
T: Expletive Deleted
M: 9/8
L: 1/8
R: air of frustration
K: Csic

C: bodhran bliss

R is the 18th letter of the alphabet, so is that equivalent to a very high d” ? ~ or ~ is it some peculiar micro-tone?, not quite an Ab or a G#, but somewhere between the two?

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

I knew I had something.

Re: How Does One read the ABC charts here?

Ceolachan, "R" is the so-called Pirate Key, not uncommonly a favourite of goat thumpers. In conventional music terms, it replaces G, in accordance with the Pirate Alphabet (sung to the tune of the alphabet song: "A B C D E F ARRRRRRR!" (Swashbucklers are not known for being long on patience.)

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