# Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

### Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Hi folks, was wondering if someone could help me please? I have been playing tin whistle/flute for over 30 years and in all that time I never learned one tune from sheet music! However, I have taken a fancy to a couple of tunes on this website and my simple mind cannot work out what to many of you would be a very simple matter! When I look at how the ABC notation is written on this site, for example, G2A Bc/2d/2G | Bc/2d/2e g3 | as the first two bars. My questions are (please don’t laugh at my stupidity) - are the upper lower cases referring to high and low octaves and are the numbers referring to the number of beats for the note or does it mean repeat the note that many times? I would be greateful if someone could give my an ‘idiot’s guide’ to how I am meant to be reading this! Many thanks.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Capital letters are low octave, non-capital letters are up an octave from the capital letters. The numbers refer to the number of beats for the note. I only really know the very basics of abc notation, so that basically constitutes my entire knowledge of abc notation 🙂. There are some helpful tutorials on this site:
http://abcnotation.com/learn

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I suggest you learn to read normal musical notation. ABC seems needlessly clunky and complicated. Those who already know it may not think so, but if you don’t read either, why not learn standard notation rather than a system that I have never seen before getting involved with ITM?

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Thanks for the replies - that was quick! I only looked at the abc notation thinking it was a shortcut but I think you are right Ailin, probably better to go with standard sheet music. Thank you Robert too!

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

TheSession.org usually also provides a Midi recording of each tune. If that is available, you can hear the basics of the tune, keeping in mind that this is a very mechanical reproduction of the dots.

Another option is to review the comments for the tune to see if anyone has posted a YouTube link -- or you could search YouTube for the tune name and hope to find a good performance of it.

If TheSession does not have a midi available, and you cannot find the tune on YouTube, another way to hear the abc is to download an abc software such as EasyABC (http://www.nilsliberg.se/ksp/easyabc/) -- this one is very easy -- even I can use it!! Paste the abc notation from TheSession.org into the bottom half and click the player above. You can also change the tempo easily with a slider at the top, or transpose to another key.

Hope something here is helpful to you - and good on you for learning by ear - the old way 🙂 Some of us are so dependent on notes ( moi ) that it is hard to pick up by ear…

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Thanks Piprgrl for your nice comment about learning by ear. Sometimes I think people (especially the young ones!) think it odd that it would take me all my time to learn a tune from sheet music but by the time I hear the second part of a tune I can play the tune.. ..comes from years of playing I guess! I will certainly have a look at the EasyABC software. Many thanks to ye all!

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I would also advise learning to read standard music notation. It’s not nearly as complicated as you my first imagine and in the long run is going to be much more flexible. And it’s very intuitive once you get going, which won’t take long at all.

I am like yourself and like Ailin said above, I had never seen this ABC nonsense until I came to this website.
It does seem unnecessarily awkward to me and awfully limiting.

If it was a case of trying to re-invent the wheel I think it would be something akin to replacing a perfectly good round wheel which a horrible square one.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

wondertwo: A common exchange with my crew, after I have learned something by ear, but while writing it down in staff notation for memory’s sake:
“Wow, you can write that down?”
“Wow, you don’t have to?”

Does anyone have a suggestion on this: I have only used the converter once; I rely on staff notation, which is my bread and butter in my other musical life. Therefore I have not posted any settings. Do I have to learn to type everything into ABC so it can get converted back?? I don’t suppose there is a reverse converter?? I suppose I could do what people do with youtube and post a link to my staff notation, when I have ones that seem to be of use. I have been meaning to query about this . . . and have not seen any info . . .

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

ABC is like any other music notation, and is really very simple. It takes a couple of hours to learn all you really need to know about it for trad. OTOH standard music notation is of course useful to know and I use it, as well as ABC, every single day. Combine the both and get something like ABC Navigator2 or any of the other free versions on the net. You can copy and paste into them and they’ll play you the tune, show you the dots, transpose (if you pick a transposing software) and you can slow down the tune to your own speed. Still midi, but OK to pick up the tune from.

The midi on this site is OK for just picking up the notes as well.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Rosmarie - your question is also answered by picking something like ABC Navigator. You do need to learn to type the ABCs, but the software converts it as you type so it becomes very easy to learn. You’ll do it in no time. And a facility with ABCs is a useful skill to have.

Note for Irish trad players - standard ABC as used on this site is not the same as the ABC notation used almost universally by trad players in Ireland. The principle’s the same, in that it uses note letters, but there’s a lot of difference between the two systems.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

ABC is not ‘nonsense’ Harold in Italy -- it is an extremely useful method of recording and/or transmitting tunes. The few lines at the top are for the benefit of the computer programs that play it in audible form, the rest is simply the names of the notes written down. Unlike staff notation, you don’t even have to work out the name of the note. If it says E, you play E.
@ rosemariemcsweeney -- what form do your scores take? Are they sheet music, or PDF files, or scans, or what? There are programs that convert notation to midi, though they usually need a lot of correcting, and the midi can easily be converted to ABC, though that can go awry too if it is at all complicated. Maybe you can post images of the scores in, say, Flickr, which the rest of us can then access.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

?? “work out the names of the notes” gam?

If standard notation says E I play E too.

I’m not with you, what’s to work out?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@wondertwo: I mean to apologize for detouring a bit—sorry about that!—Maybe this will be useful in one place, though I hope.

Thanks @gam, yes, that is what I was thinking, they can be any format. Because I come from a distant and oft-debated musical land (I know I am not alone in that), I was just wondering if the sort of stuff I do would be of interest to anybody else. Maybe, maybe not. See, it’s more like transcription and pretty detailed,—descriptive, not prescriptive—so seems silly/infeasible to put into ABC since there’s already plenty of that that is great. I would not be adding anything to ABC, most likely, but on the off chance someone found my stuff useful, I’m happy to share.

I’ll post this on on My Lagan Love (that wonderful polka! 🙂 ), but since we’re here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ghtg0ol956evxsb/My%20Lagan%20Love%20B%20Minor%20copy.pdf?dl=0

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@Harold in Italy At the moment at least, I’m with you. People who have been playing for so many years as many people claim on here, and love music as much as they do, really ought to have taken the time to learn to read music. Maybe, as you say, they don’t realise it’s not only quite easy to learn but in the end , of course, it’s much better. After all, that’s why it was developed.
I had music lessons at school and learnt to read music there. It seemed natural.
I’ve just looked at this ABC stuff again . It looks horribly long-winded to learn and laborious to type out. I’d like do my bit and contribute tunes to the site but, honestly, I don’t know if I can, using that system. I’ll have a go again, when I have time, but there are other problems I noticed with it. I was thinking of putting up a tune which I have, it’s referred to as an air. It’s in 6/8. but there is no ‘air’ category. I chose ‘waltz’ which is silly but never mind, I thought until I noticed that a 3/4 time had been automatically chosen.
Anyway, for anyone interested there’s a very interesting video on youtube about the invention of music notation by Howard Goodall, well worth watching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u2T4boK2FE

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Oh yes Howard Goodall makes excellent programmes about the history of music. I think it was him that did a little series on Radio 3 about a year ago, The History of Music in 50 Important Pieces or something like I think it was called.

Highly recommended listening.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

You don’t have to learn to read ABC if you don’t want to, but on the other hand, it’s so easy you don’t really have to learn it. An E is an E. It’s not like learning to read and write regular staff notation. As long as you can read the Latin alphabet and know the numbers, it shouldn’t be that difficult to deduce that G2 is twice as long as G, and that G2 lasts just as long as GG.

I learned how to read ABC long before I knew there was software that could convert it to regular notation or MIDI. How did I do that? I looked up a tune I knew, and compared the notes I played with the letters I saw. Problem solved.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@ Harold in Italy I’ll have to see if I can get hold of those broadcasts somehow.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Just figured I’d chime in here:
ABC notation is an amazing help to those of us who can’t read staff notation. it’s litterally the only reason I have mannaged to learn 15 tunes and be able to play them decently.
Learning by ear is difficult. I’ve found myself being able to pick up the next few notes of a tune from listening, but the notation helps me get the structure of the tune down.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Legitimate question: Can someone here sight-read ABC? I realize that initially, it’s easier to recognize the letter E than the note E, but can one actually look at an ABC chart and play a tune at or near tempo? It’s hard for me to imagine, so I ask the question.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@TheBlindBard Hi, how do you read the ABC notation being blind? Do you have software that reads out the notes for you? I’d recommend you keep on working music out by ear too. You will improve. Have you come across a program called Transcribe ? It is useful. It’s a simple program which can slow down music without changing pitch. You can also easily loop a section. It’s not very expensive. You might find it useful. I’ll put the URL here. Check it out. As usual they have a 30 day free period for people to evaluate it. (I’m not selling it by the way, I don’t work for them 🙂 )

Also, have you done any ear training? There are lots of online sites where you can practice.
Here’s one https://www.teoria.com/exercises/

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I think folks who dislike abc are very much missing the point. It’s a convenient way of coding standard notation. And just as useful for learning this music, which isn’t saying much.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@ joe fidkid Can’t agree with you there . The way to write standard notation is to have a program that you write directly to, either on site or on your computer at home, which you can just upload. No one would write normal music notation by going through the ABC thing, there’s no point. It’s like composing your email by going through morse code.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I’m with jeff_lindqvist and the TheBlindBard on the ABC thing. I took music lessons as a kid and could never make sense out of the time signature thing and didn’t do well on the notes themselves either. ABC notation isn’t useful without the pictorial score of course which is really what you should use to play from - but - there are instances where my feeble and slowly devolving brain finds it necessary to determine what a note is and rather than counting staff lines from C above middle C say, to a note somewhere above, it’s just easier to look down and read the ABC notation of g’ as G two octaves above middle C. So, I’m not a good sight reader and ABC makes sense on that score. That isn’t the main reason to use ABC software though, ABC, like many professional level software programs, enables a person to write and read music and since the notation is text, it’s tremendously space saving on your computer. ABC isn’t perfect and it doesn’t have every bell and whistle that a professional musician would use but I, like a lot of people, am not a professional musician. I don’t personally see the need for the extensive capabilities of some of the really good software because I simply don’t have the musical knowledge to use them. ABC is simplistic and at the risk of sounding like a simpleton, I can fully appreciate what I can do with ABC without having to jump through the hoops and obstacles of professional software that assumes that the user knows all about musical theory. Plus, there are a number of ABC packages that are free and that appeals to my wallet. ABC notation itself is like programming in basic and I can understand that too from the rather pallid version of a programmer that I am (does anyone else here stick their ABC notation in unix vi to execute bulk changes because the ABC editor is limited?). I would not encourage reading ABC notation directly as it isn’t really meant for that but I do know that two years ago, that’s what I was doing rather using tablature (which is just as bad really) or the actual visible score and at present, I am actually sight reading the score rather than reading the text implementation in the edit section. I’m not sight reading wonderfully well but without the ABC notation to “bootstrap” me, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@callison TheBlindBard is a different case as he is actually blind.
It’s very easy to learn to read music. Ok you didn’t “do well on the notes themselves” when you were a kid. That can only be because you were badly taught as a kid and gave up on reading music notation when your classes ended. And maybe at the time you weren’t interested, which is fair enough.
It is literally not possible for a person with normal capacity to be unable to learn to read music. It’s not complicated. It’s a simple matter of practice. The more you practice , like anything else, the quicker and better you get and it doesn’t take long at all. You don’t have to keep counting up and down notes, you soon learn where they are. You must have found that. A reliance on ABC, I would suggest, would hold someone back from reading music rather than help them. Leave the ABC to one side and find out which note your looking at.
Didn’t you learn the mnenomic for the notes on the treble clef as a kid? It starts on the bottom line with E.
Every Good Boy Deserves Favours. EGBDF and the word FACE ( for the notes between the lines) 🙂

“ without having to jump through the hoops and obstacles of professional software that assumes that the user knows all about musical theory” . You don’t have to do anything like that. there are lots of programs out there for writing music. They aren’t huge, complicated or ‘professional’ programs nor do they take up any appreciable space on today’s computers. You don’t need the “extensive capabilities of some of the really good software”. All you need is a simple program to write down music. These are simple, some of them are free or cheap and they don’t assume that you know all about music theory, why should they? All you are doing is writing down a tune not using them to to pass a high level music theory exam. Also it’s not only the writing but the benefit of reading music. There are lots of programs out there. All You need to know are the name of the notes ( you already do) and where they go on a group of 5 lines . That cannot be beyond anyone, surely.

I would dearly like to dispel this constantly repeated notion that there is something difficult about learning to read music. In the course of our lives we learn hundreds of skills far more difficult. Learning to read and write for a start, or computer programming. I would say maybe it’s as hard as , I don’t know, learning to ride a bike? maybe easier. Obviously, if someone makes their first wobbly ride then never gets back on the bike they’ll still be wobbly years later when they do get on again. But a small amount of daily practice will see them proficient in no time!
I honestly believe people who profess to love music, who are musicians, and want to live with music and play music owe it to themselves to become familiar with normal musical notation. Why would they not? It really is so easy; they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from it.
Let me just finish with a bit of practical advice to anyone trying to learn. Don’t wait until you want to play a certain tune to get the music out; pull out any old piece of sheet music every day or as often as you can, pick up your instrument, and do a bit of sight reading, even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes. I’ll eat the score of la Traviata if you don’t become perfectly proficient at it in a short time!

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@ khasab There have been several discussions in the past here regarding ABC v staff. I have argued that staff notation is easier to read than ABC, others claim the opposite.
I learned to read staff notation when I was a child being taught highland bagpipes. When I learned to play uilleann pipes I had to re-learn staff notation -- although the names of the notes are the same, the fingering is different. Or to put it another way, if the fingering were the same, a different note would sound. It was no small matter to make the transition; but now I have no problem, and have a ‘mental switch’ depending on what instrument I am playing. I suppose the same applies for any transposing instrument, or indeed reading from a bass or other clef.
I read both staff and ABC, and see advantages in both. Neither, in my opinion, is superior to the other, as they serve slightly different purposes. It is not the case that a “ reliance on ABC … would hold someone back from reading music…”. Certainly a reliance on either ABC or staff might hold someone back from *playing* music. Like snail tongs, they are useful tools when trying to get at the meat.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@ gam I’m of a different opinion. I think standard music notation is far, far superior to ABC.
I don’t get the thing about the uilleann pipes. I don’t play them but as far as I can see that’s not a problem with music notation, is it? it’s a problem with switching between two different instruments which have different fingering for the same notes. Same as switching between mandolin and guitar.

I think that someone who was trying to improve their sight reading (as the person I was talking to was) would be held back if, whenever they couldn’t remember the name of a note they were looking at, they resorted to looking up the name in ABC. Better to find out what note it is yourself, as then you’re reinforcing your memory.

I don’t think knowing how to read music would ever hold anyone back from playing music.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@khasab: I think you should get over your notion that “standard music notation is far, far superior to ABC.” They are both standard systems, by the way, and just different ways of notating music. For many purposes ABC notation is superior. It’s great for cataloguing and especially useful for trad tunes. This is why the great online collections of trad tunes are in ABC format. It’s a format that makes the music accessible to all, and all technical platforms as well as all people. If it wasn’t “far, far superior” for cataloguing trad tunes, it wouldn’t have become the default format for trad tunes. And, for those who enjoy the use of the fantastic Tunepal tunes recognition programme on their smartphones, this would not be possible without reference collections of tunes in ABC format. If you need to convert it (I don’t need to, but sometimes I like to) then use an online resource like concertina.net or ABC Navigator or any of the other free ACB programmes.

The ABC notation system simple, convenient and accessible. By everybody. Including by people like TheBlindBard who finds it easier to access letters than staff notation. Is that because it shows up in a braille reader, TBB?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I sight read ABC notation up to speed.

It isn’t really any different than normal notation to be honest, all the cons mentioned in this thread seem rather theoretical… Compare it with reading a book, multiple notes are like words that produce a sound.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I also sight read ABC, more or less up to speed. If the note lengths, rhythm and sharps/flats are reasonably straightforward, I can play an unknown tune back from ABC and make it sound OK. Same thing with staff notation. I wouldn’t use either in a performance situation, though. If I want to write down a tune, I can do it on the computer, on a piece of paper, hey, even in an sms - and it takes me less than a minute.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

… not only that, jeff, but if you do it in an SMS, you can store it in any form - ABC, staff notation, midi, whatever - on your computer direct from the SMS.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I think the usefulness of ABC might depend on the complexity of the music and how accurately you need it transcribed.Certainly ABC has big advantages in terms of storing and distributing tunes - I can’t imagine anyone building a database of tunes like the one on this site using .pdfs of sheet music, and you certainly wouldn’t have tools like tunepal and tunefinder.

But for reading and playing anything but the most basic melody line sheet music has big advantages: the first is that it is a visual representation of the music - even without reading the actual notes you can instantly see the shape of the music: where it goes up or down, fast or slow, whether it is straight or dotted rhythm. And repeated patterns within the music become instantly obvious. With ABC none of those things become apparent until you actually read the row of characters.

Secondly, as music gets more complex or more accurately transcribed ABC gets more cluttered. With sheet music the notes, the accompanying chords, accents and bowing marks are all on different lines, so you can easily follow the melody and still take in the other information as required. With ABC everything is in one line, and you have to work out which bits you are supposed to play and which bits you skip over. Whilst it might be possible to sight read a simple jig or reel from ABC, I would defy anyone here to sight read a classical score from ABC.

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“Same as switching between mandolin and guitar” no, not really. Learning on the highland pipes then switching to uilleann pipes was like learning on an A whistle, then after twenty years being handed a D whistle.

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I’m not quite sure how that is anything to do with reading the music though gam. You’re simply playing a different instrument.

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No, Harold, you’re playing the same instrument but different notes are coming out.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I agree with what Mark says above. I know this subject has come up several times before, and usually the same pros and cons are mentioned too.

I think of abc notation primarily as a portability tool, and it does work pretty well as that. It’s a necessity for some things too = eg describing a tune musically on here, you need to use abc format (you can’t paste a notation image). Portability and ease of storage, yes, I think it’s great for that.

As for reading it, yes it’s pretty easy, but I don’t ever feel the need or want. It’s fine for single note, regular time stuff, but it gets messy and cluttered for anything more complex, as Mark has noted.

A while back, I shared nine of my own comps on here, some diddly, some not, not in abc format, but in standard notation. I expected something like, “great!”, or “not bad”, or “bag of shite”, but guess what the first action was? Not to try to learn or play them, but to convert them to abc. I found that really funny 🙂

Another thought - imagine O’Neill’s 1850 Tunes, hand-crafted and leather bound, collector’s limited edition, in ABC format.

Then scanning each page with OCR software, mincing it through another abc-to-notation convertor, and finally printing it all out, page by page, hole-punching it, and storing in a big ring binder that keeps falling off the music stand 🙂

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Well, there’s already a huge discussion here. To add my two cents - the Mandolin Tab website has a cracking ABC converter on it. It’s at

www.mandolintab.net

If you google for ‘primer on ABC’, there’s a great page on it.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@Ben Hall here we go again. I’ve been through one of these shit storms once already. I’m getting a little tired of people telling me what they ‘think’ I should think. So I won’t be replying after this. ABC notation is NOT superior, it is rubbish and it certainly isn’t a standard notation.
What anyone else wants to believe about it is up to them. I seriously don’t care. I’ve explained why it’s better to use standard music notation, which was developed for the purpose over a long time. I wonder why people think we have it at all! There is NO advantage to ABC which is why, although I’d never even heard of it until I came on this site, I never for one moment felt the lack of it.
It’s no more great for cataloguing than any other system which uses notation nor is it especially useful for trad tunes.
As for the comments that ABC is in some way a better format to ‘keep’ your music in; They are made out of sheer ignorance of the type of programmes out there. And yes, you have all the necessary tools you need.

@gam “No, Harold, you’re playing the same instrument but different notes are coming out.” That’s not true though is it? you are playing two different, though related, instruments and you found you had to change the fingering from one to the other to produce the same note. Like a guitar / mandolin.
It’s irrelevant what two instruments you want to compare it to switching between. The problem you had was one that comes from switching between instruments where the fingering is different for the same note, isn’t that right? But here’s the thing; even if you think I’m NOT right , in defining your problem ( and I’m pretty sure you WILL manage to come to that conclusion) It doesn’t matter! It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with musical notation. It isn’t a problem of notation. Musical notation ( of the kind needed for trad tunes) has no logical connection to any specific instrument. It’s simply a melody written on the treble clef ( or whatever clef you want). You can use any instrument to play it. If you think the problem is in the notation you’re sadly, but very definitely, mistaken.

Now, I won’t be replying to any other comments here. I have expressed my opinion on the matter and that opinion is not going to change.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

By the way, the format allows you to search for phrases like EB~B2 dB~B2 in the tune finder here. http://abctunesearch.com/ is like an ABC version of tunepal. It shows the most likely matches (88% correct, 75% etc.)

Of course I agree that staff notation is a better visual representation of what happens with the music. I don’t think anybody has a different opinion.

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“There is NO advantage to ABC…”

There are several advantages to ABC notation, in my opinion, but possibly the most important is the ability to search. From a fragment of a tune you have the opportunity to search for the whole tune, its name, its composer, etc. That is not possible with staff notation.

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@Harold “It does seem unnecessarily awkward to me and awfully limiting. ” could you elaborate on what you find limiting (in relation to the equivalent sheet music), and then ask yourself the question are the limitations with the ABC or with Harold ?

@ailin “Legitimate question: Can someone here sight-read ABC? I realize that initially, it’s easier to recognize the letter E than the note E, but can one actually look at an ABC chart and play a tune at or near tempo? It’s hard for me to imagine, so I ask the question.”
Short Answer is yes: personally though, I wouldn’t want to:

Here’s the thing for both of you to think about, with ABC you can generate the sheet music, now if you can’t read ABC like you read sheet music, it’s just a problem with your brain, because both have exactly the same information.

@gam “If it says E, you play E.”, not a valid argument. (with sheet music there is no such translation)

I would agree with Harold if he said that ABC and sheet music are awfully limiting, that’s where the real murder is being committed.

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“Musical notation ( of the kind needed for trad tunes) has no logical connection to any specific instrument. says khasab”
Since he thinks it’s OK to misrepresent my comments then back out of any discussion, I will direct this response to anyone else who is interested -- the musical notation I learned to read was for the highland pipes, which has no key signatures, as none are necessary, and the tails of the melody notes only ever point downwards, while the tails of the gracenotes always point upwards. So much for ‘no logical connection to any specific instrument’. After years of knowing that a dot below the middle line means ‘all fingers down’, it was something of a learning curve to adjust that to the D scale.
khasab says himself that he had no knowledge of ABC until he came to this site, yet declares that it has no advantages. He is mistaken.
@ Theirlandais “If it says E, you play E.”, not a valid argument. (with sheet music there is no such translation)" My comment was in response to the perceived difficulty of reading ABC. However (we have had this discussion before as I recall….) sheet music needs to be translated just as much as ABC. You have a symbol or combination of symbols representing pitch and duration on a particular instrument. You have to know how to produce that pitch, regardless of what the symbol is. I have said before that I think musical notation has more information than ABC, as there is an additional dimension. Others disagree. Unless you have (meaning ‘one has’) used both, there seems little point in saying one is better than the other.

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@gam “I have said before that I think musical notation has more information than ABC”

What additional information, could you be more specific, an example will do.

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Thanks Randy, in your role as Manager of Archived discussions, did you spot an answer to the above question.

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I think there are advantages to both ABC and conventional staff notation and am glad I’ve achieved a decent level of competence with both. One thing ABC is useful for is jotting down compositions and harmony lines when you have nothing but a scrap of paper. I have even written tunes in ABC as a note on my phone.

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@Theirlandais -- musical notation has, as I said before, the added advantage of another dimension, in that you can physically see the relationship of the notes to each other, eg ascending or descending, close together or far apart.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

For anyone who would like a free extremely useful, simple and did I mention free, music writing/ editing program in standard notation I highly recommend http://musescore.org/.
It’s got everything you need and a lot more. A huge range of plugins for all kinds of functions.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@gam As you said before “I think musical notation has more information than ABC, as there is an additional dimension”

I understand, but don’t agree with the dimension argument (eg brain problem), but where’s the additional information ?

an example will be fine..

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I’m talking about a physical dimension, ie up and down. Nothing to do with ‘brain problems’. ABC is written in only one dimension, ie left/right.
Compare these two ways of representing the notes of a scale for a clear example of what I mean.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

1 3 5 9 is written in one dimension, it’s quite clear where it’s heading, I don’t need a graph to understand what’s happening, it’s similar for ABC.

so in conclusion what you’re saying is as follows: there is no additional information (in the sheet music over ABC), but you find that sheet music makes it’s easier for you to assimilate the same information.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“1 3 5 9 is written in one dimension, it’s quite clear where it’s heading, I don’t need a graph to understand what’s happening, it’s similar for ABC.”

I’ll admit I don’t read ABC and I do read notation, but that said I have to agree with gam.

I can look at notation and get an immediate idea of the feeling of the tune, without having to do any translation between the notes and my head or fingers. I doubt -- don’t know, but doubt -- I’d get the same feeling from ABC. One reason, of course, is that I don’t know ABC and I’m not used to using it. But another is that I use alphanumerics all day long, for reading and writing, and it doesn’t feel comfortable to me to associate these same letters and numbers with a completely different activity.

For wondertwo, realize that notation in trad music is about as simple and easy as it gets; nothing like classical…

And I agree with Theirlandais that, at the end of the day, both ABC and notation are limiting, and that “that’s where the real murder is being committed.”

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Overall I agree with MarkM says about the relative merits of each system. I myself can read ABC, but not as fluently as staff notation-I wouldn’t want to walk into a recording session and be handed a part in ABC. But how lilely is that ? However there is a point that has not been brought up. Virtually none of the score generating programs available are mutually compatible. So if Mr Kebob wants to post a tune using musescore, and Jim Dorans wants to read it using Audacity, he can’t. So anyone who wants to use the tune library here would have to spend a small fortune on various softwares or be sh*t out of luck. On the other hand, ABc is available through any computer that uses the Roman alphabet, which most do.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Theirlandais: “…what you’re saying is as follows: there is no additional information…”

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I think the people that believe written music has no more information than the ABC business should do themselves a great many favours and learn to read. You will soon start to feel the tangible benefits and realise how lacking a text based system like ABC is.

Having done a bit of reading it seems that ABC was invented relatively recently, with the intention of sharing folk tunes vie email and newsfeeds, in the days when the internet was quite limited compared to what we are used to these days.
That’s all it was. Nothing more than a way to quickly write out a few notes in such a way that the file size would be very very small but still easily understood by other machines or software.

So if that WAS the benefit of ABC then it hardly seems relevant anymore. Nigel Gatherer made an excellent point above about the search functions. Perhaps that IS a benefit of ABC that is still relevant.

However, to say that ABC is somehow comparable to the rich language of standard notation is quite ridiculous.
Useful for writing out little ditties maybe, not really suitable for scoring any serious music.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I don’t understand why people get so worked up about this. It’s not as if it’s important. It really isn’t. As I said before, I use my ears, staff notation and (another standard notation) ABCs every day. They’re all invaluable to me.

Out of interest, I’ve tried musescore. Didn’t like it. What I really want is Sibelius, but I can’t afford it. 😏

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“Useful for writing out little ditties maybe, not really suitable for scoring any serious music.”

Fortunately, trad tunes are little ditties and are not serious at all. Which is perhaps why ABC notation is so much better for writing out, cataloguing and storing them. 🙂

(Out of interest chaps, I have a music degree as well as various practical classical qualifications on different instruments, so don’t think I’m not well used to staff notation.)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Harold, don’t you see that this whole site is devoted to ’little ditties"?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Yes of course. And a great website it is too.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

What does it matter if some people prefer staff notation and some prefer abc notation. They’re both just codes for producing music. They’re not actual music.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

God, you’re no fun at all, Donald, are you? 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Well, you know, there are more important questions. YES or NO?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“Out of interest, I’ve tried musescore. Didn’t like it. What I really want is Sibelius, but I can’t afford it.”

…Melody Assistant isn’t bad, but you’ve got to go to “print view” to see an entire page.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Ben, you can get Sibelius First for about 90 quid. I’m sure that would cope with all your diddley needs.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I don’t really need it, Ergo. If I’m storing a tune for memory’s sake or for my own personal catalogue, I use ABC Navigator, and if I’m writing something classical I’d generally write it out by hand (although I have used ABC Navigator for that too - not easy though.)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Thanks Donald. ABC Navigator, for nothing, copes with all my diddly needs. Other than that I am possessed of several pencils.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“They’re both just codes for producing music. They’re not actual music.”

Written music isn’t a code. It’s a language. In some ways it’s the purest form of musical ideas.

To say written music is not actual music is similar saying a book is not actually sentences or paragraphs.
Of course it is. But you need to read it before you hear the words in your head.

Same with written music. It’s all there waiting to be heard.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I think the staff stuff in MuseScore etc. is actually represented in MusicXML (or something like that). While probably not as versatile, I think ABC way easier to read. Both can be converted to dots, obviously.

PS: Hurray, yet another ABC vs dots debate! 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Harold, when you put sheet music in front of a blind man he hears no music.
There isn’t a machine yet made that can reproduce the sound a human can when interpreting music code or written musical language, if you want to call it that.
But I still say, chill.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Anyway, off to shut up the hens.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@5stringfool “So if Mr Kebob wants to post a tune using musescore, and Jim Dorans wants to read it using Audacity, he can’t.”
You’re wrong. Musescore can save in various formats such as Wav. Flac, ogg all of which audacity CAN read and play. Furthermore, having opened a file created with musescore in audacity, it can then be saved as an mp3 file if you want and uploaded in that format. So we have at least 4 formats a tune created with musescore can be saved in and ALL of them can be read using Audacity.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

…. I missed all the fun!
Why didn’t one of you guys lead me over here, I got lost in homework!
I use my screen-reader to read the notation, Ben, usually going phrase by phrase and then trying to figure out how it all fits together with my instrument.
Mandolin and guitar are not the same, just saying. Tunings are entirely different and playing is entirely different.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Ah. The screen-reader. Yes. Same as for any other text I guess.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Written music, in staff or any other notation, is just a code, a set of symbols. It’s not remotely like a book and I find the analogy absurd. Music is nothing - really, nothing - until it’s heard. Even when I hear music in my head when reading notation (staff or ABC) it’s not really music. I need my instrument and/or other musicians for that.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“Written music, in staff or any other notation, is just a code, a set of symbols. It’s not remotely like a book and I find the analogy absurd.”
Don’t know about that, Ben. I like nothing better on a cold winter’s evening than lying on the sofa in front of the log burner reading my score to Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto. I get totally gripped by the drama. And even though I’ve read the score forty or more times the ending always gets me.
Hens away, by the way.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@TheBlindBard Did you see the two links I sent you? You may already know them of course but if not, I thought they might be useful.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@Ben Hall well we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

No, can you re-post those two links and explain what they are again?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@ TheBlindBard ok well the comment is still there. I’ll copy and paste them here.
The first link is to a program called Transcribe! It could be useful. It’s a simple program, you load in a music file and you can play it back at a slower speed, for learning, without changing pitch. You can also easily loop a section.

Also, have you done any ear training? There are lots of online sites where you can practice.
Here’s one https://www.teoria.com/exercises/

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

khasab, I don’t think gam would have intended to deliberately deceive you. He probably assumed that you would have seen Highland piping staff notation. That was his error.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I would agree that Transcribe is a very useful bit of software.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

It wasn’t at all clear what gam was talking about with his ‘standard notation’ idea. He did say he had to relearn to read and then later he says what he was actually reading was a type of score written specifically for his instrument. ‘No key signature’? That’s not standard notation then is it.

Why such animosity anyway? Why such an argument between which is better? As long as we all enjoy playing the tunes no problem right? There are a very great many fantastic musicians who cannot read a note of Abc or standard or otherwise.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

But if you are a reader of standard notation I would guess it would take you about 3.5 seconds to understand Highland pipe notation. The “key signature” is always two sharps (it can’t really be anything else), so they don’t bother putting it in.
I agree, Harold. Can’t see why folks are getting hot and bothered.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

He didn’t say “standard notation”; he said “staff notation”, presumably to distinguish it from ABC notation. Anyone who understands about highland bagpipe music would have understood that he didn’t mean the stuff that Beethoven used. It is a standard notation, but that’s not the phrase that gam used. Originally anyway. (I haven’t re-read the whole thread … ) That’s why I was a bit perplexed when khasab took exception. I had read it the way I assume that gam meant it. As I say, it was clear to me.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Actually, Donald, although I have sight-read Highland Pipes notation, and had to transpose it for fiddle as well, mentally putting in the original sharps and then adjusting them for the notes that I actually had to play, which was made more difficult, of course, by the fact that the piper was playing a traditional set that wasn’t at concert pitch …

… anyway, I did it. I had to do it live for a gig. I didn’t find it easy. 😲

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“I think the people that believe written music has no more information than the ABC business should do themselves a great many favours and learn to read. You will soon start to feel the tangible benefits and realise how lacking a text based system like ABC is.”

@harold, please enlighten us, can you highlight just a few of the many sources of additional information ?.

We’re operating within the domain of Irish music, there are 13,000 tunes in the database here, just pick one and show us how the sheet music could add to tune that ABC is not able to do.

Please try and remain focused on the question, we can diverge later.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Ben, did you not put on your half position capo?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Seriously though, some fiddlers up here will have a fiddle tuned to HP “A”.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

No. I just transposed. Told you it wasn’t easy. 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Poor you. I hope they paid you well.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

[*So if Mr Kebob wants to post a tune using musescore, and Jim Dorans wants to read it using Audacity, he can’t. *]

@5-string - I know I am all things to all men, and the chicks dig me too, but I can’t read a waveform. Sorry to disappoint you 🙂

[“…Melody Assistant isn’t bad, but you’ve got to go to ”print view“ to see an entire page.”]
@Ergo - if you get Harmony Assistant (also from Myriad) you don’t have this limitation. It’s much more powerful too. I’d recommend it unconditionally.

As I said before, I don’t pay much attention to the content of abc notation itself. If I need to email a tune, I export from Harmony Assistant in real notation to abc, and email the text file. The recipient puts the abc file through any one of a number of available mincers, and gets the tune in standard notation, to print off. Of course you could do the same transfer using only graphics, but things get bulky and bulbous when there are 10 or more tunes to transfer …

Just going back to the abc, and it’s uses - fine for simple one-line melodies on monophonic instruments, but what happens when you play a dyad or three-note chord, on a fiddle?

In standard notation, it only takes 2 big dots to show a dyad, but *6* alpha characters in abc.

Bugger that!

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Theirlandais, look at anything written by Bach as a starting point. It’s instructive because of it’s absolute gorgeous clarity. In the same way that a great writer has what people might call ‘a way with words’.

Anyway it’s probably a different discussion. I would certainly agree that reading music doesn’t initially seem easy, and it’s probably a number of years before people start to see the inherent beauty in it. In much the same way we don’t expect young children to be able to appreciate great prose.

That doesn’t mean though that I’m going to be entirely happy with people who don’t read telling me that something like ABC is comparable or just as good or just the same or that music is ‘just a code’.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I don’t think they did particularly. It was a really nice gig overall, where I had been booked, along with the rest of the band I was playing with, for a wedding dance. Both families were Scottish, but the do was in Gloucestershire. The bit with the piper was something we hadn’t been told about. He was the best man (I think). A bloody good piper too, but they really wanted a fiddler to play with him, so I had to turn a hand, as it were. The piper’s bit was about half and hour of tunes, so it was quite something to do. A lot of concentration involved. And, as you can imagine, the reason why I needed the notation was that, being tunes that this fella had had in his family piping tradition for generations, I knew none of them. It was grand. Worked a treat. Quite proud of myself I was. 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Gosh, two posts in between. Hopefully, folks’ll get the gist …

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

"We’re operating within the domain of Irish music, there are 13,000 tunes in the database here, just pick one and show us how the sheet music could add to tune that ABC is not able to do.

Please try and remain focused on the question, we can diverge later."

# Posted by Theirlandais

“Theirlandais, look at anything written by Bach as a starting point.”

# Posted by Harold in Italy

😛

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

That’s Tommy Bach, the famous Irish fiddler.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“That doesn’t mean though that I’m going to be entirely happy with people who don’t read telling me that something like ABC is comparable or just as good or just the same or that music is ‘just a code’.”

Who were these people, Harold? Some people - eg me - stated the blindingly obvious fact that written music notation, of whatever form, is just a coded representation of something that has to be made into music. I mean, it hasn’t even got all the information in it, whatever system you use. The written stuff, of whatever variety, isn’t music.

Anyway, back to the point: who were these people who don’t read who told you that music is just a code? (I don’t think anybody has said that in the entire thread.)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@Harold, come on, lets focus on the exam question, I just need facts, pick one of the 13000+ tunes and explain how the the sheet music has more information than the ABC. (even Gam ended up agreeing, he just hasn’t realised it yet)

We’re on the thesession.org, principally an Irish music site (so try and stay within that context)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Goodness, look what happens when I go out to clip back the hops and vinca and leave you, um, “chaps” to yerselves.

I’m not sure there has been discussion about how to go about reading staff notation. This is a book that I have found to be pretty good:
How to Read Music: Fundamentals of Music http://www.amazon.com/dp/0517884380/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_6Zmdub14DJZ4K

But only if you want to.

Staff notation is my bread and butter, and I use it for all sorts of demonic purposes that would be verboten here on the session. But I really am not attracted to ABC. Nevertheless, I think ABC is ***awesome***. Why? Because those who read ABC tunes can post them here and I can get them in staff notation. So, it’s all a copacetic yin-yang as far as I am concerned. Thank you, ABCers for accommodating my skill set.

If you are interested in staff notation, there is also the possibility of writing by hand.

Incidentally, my software **can** search text within the file. Composers name etc., if it is in there.

And @gam: Did you ever find it useful to input into software and then do auto-transpose—or, for that matter, to write out by hand in the other key? Maybe you have adapted so readily you don;t care to do that? I often recopy the tunes here from staff notation into my own software, also in staff notation, so I can transpose them. I can transpose at sight, but it is convenient to have them in my actual key, especially because I will change the concert key when I change instruments. (Also verboten.)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Thank you Ben, for your interjection. Some people just argue about what they think you are saying, and ignore what you are actually saying. --

Me: "When I learned to play uilleann pipes I had to re-learn staff notation … if the fingering were
the same, a different note would sound."
khasab “I don’t get the thing about the uilleann pipes. I don’t play them but…”
Me: “I have argued that staff notation is easier to read than ABC, others claim the opposite.”
khasab: “ I’m of a different opinion. I think standard music notation is far, far superior to ABC.”
Me: “Learning on the highland pipes then switching to uilleann pipes was like learning on an A whistle, then after twenty years being handed a D whistle.”
khasab “You’re simply playing a different instrument.”
Me: “you’re playing the same instrument but different notes are coming out.”
khasab: “That’s not true though is it? you are playing two different, though related, instruments…”
“Musical notation ( of the kind needed for trad tunes) has no logical connection to any specific instrument.”
Me: “the musical notation I learned to read was for the highland pipes”
khasab: “you’ve been LYING to me because you led me to believe we were talking about standard notation.”

@Rosie -- it was no great hardship to re-learn the note positions. Given that whistle music assumes that your whistle is in D regardless of the actual key, I thought it expedient to spend a few hours in making the transition. Although I still have lapses -- you may recall that I posted a clip of a piper playing ‘in G over an A drone’ when in fact it was in the key of D. It’s the old A/D conflict sneaking in.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

PS another advantage of ABC, of course, is that you can paste a tune into a program and transpose it at the click of a mouse to any key you like. And when I learned uilleann pipes, there wasn’t any software to speak of 🙂

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Thanks for the reply, @gam. And, yes, I wondered about that major-second drone! Damn, it’s not? I am reminded that I need to go back to hear those still‚—I have some overdue exploring from a few diff. people’s posts.

Indeed, Ben, about the code; there are whole volumes written on this, but they are indecipherable. 😉 (First part true.)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@ rosemariemcsweeney Yes, you will often find major second drones, either up or down but more often down. It was just that one example where I got the two keys mixed up. The tunes in the database here (I should imagine) in, for example, E dorian -- at least the ones that don’t go below D -- would be played on the pipes with D drones.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@gam look, I though this was dropped. I’d like to drop it but I’m not going to be misrepresented by someone choosing to quote the part of what I said that supports them.
I said “ I don’t get the thing about the uilleann pipes. I don’t play them but as far as I can see that’s not a problem with music notation, is it?”
It’s clear, I was talking about standard musical notation especially as I had been in all the other comments. You had a opportunity there to clear up any misunderstanding.

The phrase “ You’re simply playing a different instrument.” was not even written by me . It was by Harold in Italy ( some people need to read more carefully)
Gam: “ There have been several discussions in the past here regarding ABC v staff”
as my discussion was about reading standard musical notation and you start with this phrase is it obvious that you are taking ‘staff’ to mean the standard music notation ( which is written on a staff) V ABC.
Gam, you wrote: “ the musical notation I learned to read was for the highland pipes, which has no key signatures” this is the first time you brought this up. AFTER we had been talking about musical notation and AFTER I had said I wasn’t continuing with the discussion.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Not that a couple of accidentals would make a huge difference in the ability to read staff notation anyway.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Jim-sorry if I overestimated your abilites; I won’t let it happen again🙂. Actually, since I don’t use Audacity, i just assumed it had score generating capacity. I guess not. Funny, even my crappy ten year old Cubase can generate a (printable) score,although it can’t read scores from other music programs.
Ben- I kind of know the feeling; I’ve had gigs where people sprung piano scores on me to sight read on guitar- I’ll bet the first 25 minutes were the toughest, after that it was clear sailing.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Theirlandais :
“I just need facts, pick one of the 13000+ tunes and explain how the the sheet music has more information than the ABC. (even Gam ended up agreeing, he just hasn’t realised it yet)”

I think you’ve missed the point. Yes, ABC CAN carry as much information as a score, but when it does it becomes uninteligible to humans, and you have to us a computer to convert it to stave notation before you can play it.

Take a simple example: |cdef| Now add guitar chords and bowing marks to tell the player to slur the first two notes and play the second two staccato and it becomes |“C”v(cd).ue.vf| If you can sight read that at 120BPM you’re a better man than me.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Harold, I bow to you and respectfully submit that emptiness is necessary to form. How would our whistles and mandos play if they were made solid? And how would we get all the chicks then?

We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move. We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want. We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable. We work with being, but non-being is what we use.
Mitchell, Stephen; Lao Tzu (2004-07-27). Tao Te Ching (Perennial Classics) (Kindle Locations 261-266). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

_/|\_ (bows)

.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Rosiemarymcsweenie knows a thing or two about zen buddhism.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

khasab-It seems that once again an apology is in order- I was out of line when I referred to you as Mr Kebob and I am sorry.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

# Posted by Alexander Gurgan 2 hours ago.

Typically, HP “A” is either Bbb or A## - a sound and a frequency unique to the Highland Pipes.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Count me among those who can’t sight read ABC.
Come to think of it, count me among those who can’t sight read standard notation.
And count me among those who can’t pick up tunes by ear when played at session speeds.
So it takes me some concerted effort, drawing from multiple sources, to learn new tunes.
But that’s OK with me, as the paths to enlightenment are as numerous as those who seek it.
And as far as the rest of this discussion:
“You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to, let’s call the whole thing off…”

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Rose, that was amazingly xen of you, quite pretty 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Hmmm, that has been a strange discussion. Arguing that the .abc format has no use seems to fail the reality test. If it had no use, it wouldn’t exist, nor would all the ancillary software. The better question surely is how do people use the .abc format?

I’m learning concertina (in my 66th year!) and I’m finding .abc really important to me. I don’t attempt to read the native code, nor do I attempt to follow the standard notation it generates, excepting perhaps to work out passages I can’t work out easily by ear. I’ve found in the past that the fairly direct path between eye and fingers doesn’t seem to pass through the tune-memorising part of the brain, whereas the ear-to-finger path seems to. People might differ here.

When I start on a new tune, I play it very, very slowly on abc, with the player set to piano, so it sounds nice and so that it’s really clear who’s playing what. (I have found it very unpleasant following another concertina player).

Sometimes I’ll work out the tune on the flute or whistle first, if its completely foreign to me. I think that’s so I get a grasp of the structure. If I need reminding to place an ornament here or there, I’ll write it in. If there are notes I want to leave myself for subsequent practice sessions, I write it in as a comment in the metadata, (e.g. % L3, play LH D but RH E).

Only when I can play along without problem do I start speeding up. The abc player permits infinitely fine adjustment of speed, so I’m never struggling to keep up, but I can always challenge myself to go faster.

And just to make it a bit more fun to put in all those hours needed on a completely new instrument, I add chords to the .abc notation.

So, for me, the .abc system offers so much. There’s a choice of free or cheap software with differing features. There’s a simply enormous range of tunes pre-coded in any style of music I’m interested in, and more! I can find a new tune by name on the web within seconds and download it. It takes no space to store, and loads instantly. Files are readily searchable. Files can be sorted into tune types, keys and modes. I can set up files of tunes under headings like Concertina - can play, Concertina - half speed, Concertina - work out, Band - current, etc. I can output the tune in notation to screen, printer or other formats, and as .mp3 if needed to give to others. I can even (using easyABC) print out incipit lists, to give me a takeaway list of the tunes and how they start.

There’s probably heaps more reasons, but that’s enough to show that it’s a brilliant tool for someone like me. If we didn’t have .abc, I’d use a slowdowner. Plain notation would be my last choice. I have plenty in old tunebooks, but I never touch them.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“Hmmm, that has been a strange discussion. Arguing that the .abc format has no use seems to fail the reality test. If it had no use, it wouldn’t exist.”

Well, not quite, Terry. ABC exists the same reason shape notes exist - They purport to be easier than standard notation. Whether or not either system works or has its uses, I don’t think a case can be made for these systems being easier. Standard notation only gets complicated when the variety of note durations increase from quarter notes and eighth notes, which is the base of Irish music, to halves, sixteenths and all the rest. Add to that all the dynamic markings, and you have the makings of a complicated-looking chart. Most Irish tunes contain between two and four lines of music with nothing but the bare notes. The notes don’t wander far above or below the staff, either.

My advice early on in this thread was that if you don’t know any system of notation, standard written notes is the way to go. You may not always be playing Irish and what we lovingly call the dots is what 99.9% of musicians who read music use. I can see no good reason to avoid it except fear.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Hmmm, I certainly don’t fear it, but I don’t use it either, except as I mentioned for working out tricky passages when I’m learning a new tune. I don’t know much about shape note singing, but I guess guitar tabs are a similar alternative, and I’ve never bothered trying to crack that system. But if I understand tabs correctly, they actually tell a different story to the notation - they tell you actually where to put your fingers (e.g. use the E on the B string this time, not the E on the E string). So they are “value added” for those who can read them.

I wouldn’t argue that .abc code is value added - it tells you exactly the same information as standard notation, just less clearly. Consequently, I’ve never attempted to learn to read .abc code at speed, although I have learned to write it to the extent necessary for adding chords and grace notes, correcting errors, adding reminder comments, notating my own tunes, etc.

But I would argue that the .abc SYSTEM is value added. It’s not just a passive page of notation, it’s a whole ecosphere, with all the benefits I mentioned in my previous post. My message is don’t fear either, explore and use both as they suit you.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I agree, Terry. But would you also agree that in the scheme of things, one should learn the dots first? Let me put it this way, I have been playing for over 40 years and have never needed any other system of notation, but as a person who plays many types of music, would knowing abc be sufficient? That’s the only point I wish to make, so if you disagree, then we still have a dispute.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I guess an important issue would be can you find all the music you are likely to want to play in the .abc system. For example, I doubt that anyone has transcribed Handel’s Water Music Suite in .abc.

(Hmmm, but it might only be a matter of time, I did find his Air and Variation from Suite No 5 on a most extraordinary site: http://www.lotro-abc.com/ I think the .abc system has escaped into the wild!)

So, if you want to be able to play anything, learning the dots is probably a good insurance policy. And if you want to be able to work out tunes visually, then I’d agree the dots are easier to comprehend than the .abc code. If your ear is good, you might though prefer to learn tunes that way, and then of course the dots are silent.

(Am I right there? Or has someone come up with a dots2MIDI converter?)

Perhaps the nicest thing is with the .abc system you can have your cake and eat it too - .abc code, dots, and sound. What’s not to like?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I’ll accept that as a “yes.” 🙂

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I sent it as a “depends”!

(Heh heh!)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

For players of ITM I don’t really see any great advantage of dots over abc. Actually, I tend to think abc is somewhat better than dots. The best way to learn and keep the tunes is by ear, but there certainly are some benefits to having an ability to read and write. Abc is somewhat more convenient, and for the relatively limited purposes needed for ITM is more than sufficient. Either can be read at speed, if that is a skill you want to develop.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I know that experienced readers of standard notation can develop pattern and cluster recognition,
recognise notes and grous them just as they do with written words and phrases.

I wonder if anyone has achieved that in reading abc?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

ABC developed (and is still evolving) in the 80’s. It allows the use of ASCII characters to describe a note and give it a value. To someone who reads music, it seems overcomplicated and clunky. The biggest drawback I can see is that it becomes very difficult to notate ornamentation. The more difficult the ornamentation or grace notes, the more characters required to notate it. The advantage is that you can show the basics of a tune without the need of software to show a staff, the same as if you would write it down on a bar coaster and pass it to the next player. Other than that it has its limitations which can be a disadvantage, especially for someone used to traditional notation. It remains, basically, a shorthand representation of notation.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“it becomes very difficult to notate ornamentation” If one wants neat, easy to read, easy to share staff notation is using ABC more or less difficult than other ways ?

How long does it take to learn to do it neatly in manuscript ?
How long does it take to learn to use the other software suggested above for generating printed copies ?
How many hours (at, say, UK minumum wage) does one have to work to be able to buy it ?

My ‘idiots guide’ to reading ABC is don’t - get the computer to do that.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

As a kid, I learned to read dots. I remember when I wanted to write something down at a session or a workshop, I would draw some lines on a pad and draw dots to capture what I wanted to remember. It was inefficient. I soon realized it was much more appropriate to simply write the names of the notes. It was only later that I discovered the abc system, and it had all the features I wanted. I doubt there is much you can do in standard staff notation that cannot be done in abc -- although that is hardly the point.

For ITM, I strongly urge people who want to know how to play something, to listen to how it is played. For me it is simply not necessary (or interesting or useful) to see all the notes in ornamentation written out. But, if that is what you need (more than a simple “~”), then you could surely do it in abc. Maybe you find it easier to do in dots.

Personally, I don’t need either, although I can use them both well enough, and they do have some uses. If I had to pick one, I would certainly pick abc over dots.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“Or has someone come up with a dots2MIDI converter?”
Not directly so far as I know. As a process what I do is:

1. Scan the dots to a .tiff file (grayscale 2000 pixels width for a typical single page width score). (Although you can use the “Scan and Import” mode in Finale PrintMusic, I prefer to scan with the scanner application of choice.) If there are words to the song, you have to edit the tiff file to remove the lyric lines and move the bars up to normal non-text positions. It’s a total PITA.

2. Use Finale PrintMusic 2o11 -> File -> Scanning: Smartscore Lite -> Import an Existing TIFF File… (hit OK and skip the upgrade dialog then deselect the “Select Instrument Names” -> Add Files to List…) and then “Begin Recognition”.

3. Finale PrintMusic 2o11 -> File -> MusicXML -> Export… then save the file to “filename”.xml as PrintMusic doesn’t recognise the title at the top of a scan and occasionally insists on adding weird stuff as well. It can be just really irritating.

4. Using EasyABC or your preferred musical weapon of destruction, import the .xml file and start making corrections to the ABC text and when you’re finished, you can export that to midi.

PrintMusic/Smartscore does some weird things at times and doesn’t cover certain ornamentation at all. Bars will usually be wrong and so forth. As a process, it works, but the effort can be non-trivial. Fortunately, ITM isn’t terribly complex note-wise.

If you’re doing a lot of files, it can be automated somewhat. On my Macintrash I use a combination of Quickeys and unix terminal shell scripts. I’ve scanned the entire King Street songbook into ABC this way but it’s missing the chords and certain types of ornamentation and there are inevitable errors. I’m unlikely to ever complete that experiment.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@David50: Rhetorical questions? Or not?

Learning to notate in staff notation shouldn’t be all that time consuming. I was one advocating for writing by hand above, but the truth is a lot of people’s manuscript is messy for a long time. With software it is so easy, and given the nature of trad music, one does not need pyrotechnics in terms of meters, keys, spacing. I often notate something even if it is here on the session, in order to put a set in one place, or to work out some variations. It’s not hard to use, say, one reel as a template for another and make adjustments (with careful proofreading, of course). The meter and rhythms are likely to be similar, and the key easily changed, and even the form/length means that there is not much to change in layout, usually. *And* with so many repeated materials within that can save time. Honestly, I can notate a tune into software in 5-10 mins.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

You can use ABC to check your notating if you’re unsure of the note lengths. I’ve taken the first line of ABC notation for “Pretty Little Cat” and changed the “ee/2d/2” to “ee/2/d3” to introduce an error. Then, using the “V:1” and “V2” to add a second stave of rests it becomes obvious in the music score display (in EasyABC) that the bars don’t line up and that there is an error in the timing for that bar. ABC notation can be a useful tool, you just have to be willing to learn some of the techniques to do so.

X:1
T:Pretty Little Cat
S:Nigel Gatherer - Tune Of The Week #13.
S:http://www.nigelgatherer.com/forum/s…d=2612#pid2612
L:1/8
Q:1/4=75
M:2/4
R:Old Time
K:Em
V:1
B/2d/2 | ee/2d/2 B/2A/2G | E2-EB/2d/2 | ee/2d/3 B/2A/2G/2A/2 | B>d BB/2d/2 |
V:2
z|z4|z4|z4|z4|

Perhaps one of the more intriguing things about EasyABC is that you can click on a note in the score and just re-type the note to change it. I’ve run across the occasional ABC tune where a note just doesn’t look right and definitely hasn’t sounded right and found that it was nothing more than clicking on that “G” above middle C note and typing “g” to shift the note up an octave to where it aligns pitch-wise with portion of the tune being played.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Everyone is different, I guess. To write out a simple tune (on paper), eg, in a pub, I’d use scrap manuscript. It’s quick and easy to do. Done properly, the bar lines go in first, (best for spacing and readability).

More or less every note is done in one pencil-stroke, without lifting pencil off paper. Slurs, ties and ornamentation marks go in last. That’s about it, really. Actually a lot quicker than writing in abc on paper.

Composing / transcribing - on the computer, I use Harmony Assistant software, and a small Prodikeys keyboard for the input. Once a template is chosen, each hit of the piano key pops up a note on the staff, and plays its pitch too. Barlines and spacing are done automatically. Slurs and ornaments are added at the end using point-and-click tools.

Everything is done really quickly and very easily, with a quick playback check to make sure there are no bummers. Dead simple.

Why would I ever need abc, apart from as a portability / storage tool, which is what it actually is? If people decide they need to learn to read and write it, that’s not my problem 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Crossed with callison 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I’m dyin’ to see that Beethoven’s 5th abc, but I have not been able to figure out how to open the file, as opp. to online. I specifically wonder what happens after bar 5. 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@rosemarie:
“Honestly, I can notate a tune into software in 5-10 mins.”

Is that a tune you know or a tune you’re transcribing (from a recording)? I don’t have perfect touch-typing skills, but a simple two-part tune (which I know inside-out) doesn’t take more than a minute or two to notate in ABC. For a multi-part tune with different endings, I might need twice the time. There’s usually a lot of repeated phrases so copy/paste saves time. Maybe it’s possible to do that in your software as well. However, if this was a competition, we’d all be beaten by ScoreCloud.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I wouldn’t bother carrying around scrap manuscript just in case I wanted to write a tune down. But, if I did want to write something down, it is readily done in abcs -- on any scrap of paper, or on my hand, or typed into my phone.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@fiddler3: Whoa! Thanks. That is something, both in its own right, and I did convert back and it is not bad for the first few pages, except formatting.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@Jeff: well, since I don’t read abc (but am, as above, very grateful to those of you who do so I can access all these tunes), the 5 min. is fine with me. I am a notator by vocation, so it comes naturally, and then I can transpose, cut and paste into other tunes, make my deformations, etc. I was just estimating—and not bragging, just replying to David—I should time myself next time to see what’s for real.

@fiddler3: I actually find myself scrawling terribly uneven staff lines when I am taken unawares . . . though I would occasionally write note names and approximate directions. Just bcs it is my home court. (There are all these stories of popular song/jazz composers writing down their tunes on cocktail napkins in the back of taxis and stuff. Better than in front of taxis, I suppose.)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Lord how I wish I could just jot down notes on a napkin with a few scrawled staff lines etc. My abilities just don’t extend that far yet and perhaps never will. I suppose I could jot down ABC as notational short-hand if necessary but I would still enter it into the edit box in EasyABC but read the score box to see what I’m doing. Three years ago, I was told about ABC and at that time I couldn’t really sight read any music and play. Now I can and that’s primarily because I can see the score, listen to it (however unrealistic the intonation is), slow it down, transpose it and hence, learn the tune and refer to the computer or printed out score only rarely. The downside to this is that, well, darn near all ITM is aimed at whistles etc and the result is that I’ve only learned to read the treble cleff and at that, only up to about G three octaves above middle C. If I’m going to learn to read the bass cleff, I’ll have to change instruments and my wife’s piano is seriously out of tune. There’s just never a perfect solution is there? I could learn Irish style piano accompaniment but hauling a keyboard to a session is a weighty proposition.

### Re: Beethoven’s 7th

How cool, thanks for that link Fiddler3! And the MIDI generated from that ABC does sound familiar. 😀

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@Callison: you can also just scrawl down *whatever* will help—if you’re going to come back to it later—I have sometimes used note names and lines for appro.x duration etc. I’m not sure I follow the thing about bass clef—are you saying you want to learn bass clef and a piano would help that? I would expect the inverse—that you’d learn bass clef for piano. Is there something especially compelling about bass clef? Anyway, it sounds like you have done a lot in a short time.

Way back when up in this thread there was some stuff about tablature and such—I actually prefer, sometimes, to write out fingerings for clarinet instead of staff notation. This is not at all standard, and I am not proposing we do that, but the thing that is interesting about it is that it is a visual image of an action, rather than a visual image that has to be translated into an action. It seems that many of us here get attached to one of those image processes because it starts to seem “natural”—even though none of it is natural.

Even something like: it makes sense to me to see the contour of the notes going up and down in staff notation. I don;t verbalize note names, maybe translate into fingering more directly—so ABC seems like a detour to me. Note names are less useful to me. But hey, whatever route gets ya to the park.

I heard on good authority once that there was some research on a culture where they heard up and down opposite: so the leftmost note on a piano was considered high. Yeah, we could argue acoustics, but this would be how they conceived of it.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@callison “If I’m going to learn to read the bass cleff, I’ll have to change instruments ” If it’s just a matter of learning to read it, you don’t have to change instruments. You can use the same instrument. Just use some music written in the bass clef to practice. Middle C is on the invisible line that separates the bass and treble clefs. If that line was drawn in, we’d have what is called the Grand Staff.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I guess I need to clarify that bass clef thing. #1, the bass cleff is the mirror image of the treble cleff and I just haven’t learned to read “down” yet - just up. It’ll happen, but not on the mandolin. On the piano though, it would be nice to get that left hand and brain synapses wired into that mode where you see the notes and the hand goes where it needs to. Stylistically, the examples I’ve seen or heard for ITM wouldn’t necessarily require written left hand notation because ITM apparently uses patterns and arpeggiated chords with melodies relegated to the right hand. When done well, it’s a great combination. I’ll get to it eventually I suppose but for now I have three other instrument types I’m trying to get better on and at least those instruments can be carried to a session. I envy the whistle blowers. They could carry their instrument in their back pocket… ;^)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

callison -if you want you can get a Casio keyboard for around \$100 that has full sized keys, is very light, and has several very respectable piano sounds. It would be fine for sessions.
I get what you’re saying about bass clef being the “mirror image” of treble but I don’t think it’s particularly useful to think of it that way. It made more sense to me when I was learning bass clef to think of the notes being one line or space down, and an octave lower, than treble clef-so the F on treble clef is an A in bass clef. After a while you stop thinking like that and it just becomes a thing unto itself.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I bought one of those for a gift for somebody recently and I was amazed at how good they are.

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@callison: “I guess I need to clarify that bass clef thing. #1, the bass cleff is the mirror image of the treble cleff and I just haven’t learned to read ”down“ yet - just up.”

Funny you say that—I learned to read bass clef by picturing upside down from treble, but that is not at all usual. You don;t have to think of it as down. With time, I imagine you would get that. Millions of pianists do! But like, sounds like ya got plenty to do over there.

And, some of us carry our whistles in our purse. 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@@khasab: The “invisible line” doesn’t make it the grand staff: the simple combination of two staves, one treble and one bass, as used in piano music, does. Not wild about the word “grand,” but hey . . .

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

rosemarie-do you write a lot of canons in retrograde inversion?🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I’ve seen people who didn’t understand staff notation, write out a tune in a ‘sort of’ abc format - on a bit of paper - post-session, listening to someone whistle a tune slowly, then write out the note names, all in upper case, with appropriate spacing between the long notes and the short notes (and a big space for a bar line). Better than nothing, and a good use of common sense, imo.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@Rose Marie. “Rhetorical questions? Or not?” Not strictly rhetorical because although I don’t need answers people need their own answers, rather than mine, to judge the ‘cost-effectiveness’ for them.

I was thinking of the ‘mechanical’ rather than ‘musical’ aspects of the task - though I recognise that for some it might be so familiar as to ‘mechanical’. If I already have staff notation it only takes me a few minutes to write the ABC code for 16 bars of a jig or reel, maybe tweak it to match what I am used to hearing, and get a neat copy of the staff notation on screen . How long it would take if I was doing it without the staff notation is not relevant to the pros and cons of ABC as a means of storage, portability and presentation.

Doing it that way I don’t have to buy and learn to use something that has much more functionality than I need then worry about whether the vendor will make sure it runs on future versions of an operating system and will produce output that, say, future web browsers can display.

The various tools that give a user-friendly interface to ABC (e.g. EasyABC) may fade away in the face of more functional successors but, so far, they all support the ‘core specification’ of the readily accessible ABC ‘standard’ and make us the same standalone components (eg. abcm2ps) that rely on other widely accepted standards. We are going to be able to convert ABC to Postscript and hence the printed page for as long as people want to do that and after that will still be able to follow the tunes so long as the ABC file is readable (or has been printed out). Is that the case for, say, a Sibelius file or whatever it produces for its browser plug-in to read ?

I am not knocking specialist software, this computer has licences that add up in cost to about £6,000, but I won’t get snooty about people who’s needs are met by low cost or free alternatives as some people on this and previous threads seem to be doing.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@ rosemariemcsweeney Yes that’s what I meant, that the 2 staves together make the grand staff.
I think ‘grand’ here just means ‘big’ , like the ‘Great’ in Great Britain. 🙂

Posted .

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

David, does the £6000 refer to music transcriptions software, or to non-music software too?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“music transcription software”

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Jim. Not music transcription software at all. I was counterbalancing what I said about using specialist sofware that has a high price tag, risks data being locked into proprietry file formats and may require repeated upgrades by admitting that I do just that if it is cost-effective.

Software like Sibelius costs what it does because the mainly non-hobby market will stand it - more cost-effective to have it than not. They may have ‘cut-down’ versions to tempt people away from low-cost/free options like ABC.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@David50: “If I already have staff notation it only takes me a few minutes to write the ABC code for 16 bars of a jig or reel, maybe tweak it to match what I am used to hearing, and get a neat copy of the staff notation on screen .”

That makes perfect sense; actually, nifty, to be able to use the abc to export. I had not thought of going staff>>notate in abc>>staff.

“We are going to be able to convert ABC to Postscript and hence the printed page for as long as people want to do that and after that will still be able to follow the tunes so long as the ABC file is readable (or has been printed out). Is that the case for, say, a Sibelius file or whatever it produces for its browser plug-in to read ?”

That’s a good advert for “code.” And simplicity.

In my case, I like to be able to tinker with the staff notation, and I’ve been using Finale since 1991 anyway, so it’s not any additional labor.

In re: future machinations: versions etc. seem to become less problematic as time goes on. I have little need for it, but I gather .mus files can travel, and midi files too. I go back and forth with importing video files into notation software and vice versa, but indeed, it is more of a production.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I believe Finale Notepad is free, and I have heard of some others. I do run into people (students) who find them sufficient.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@5string: Almost! More like canons cancrizans (ok, well, most recently in 1987), and isorhythm and stuff . . . but don’t tell anyone. I might get kicked out of the thesession. 😉

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Rosemarie-cool! Have you written anything for guitar?

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@5stringfool: Ha, well the crab canon was for classical guitar, back in the days of hand writing. But more recently electric guitar—I’ll message you; thanks for asking.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Ah, this is the software that someone (from the trad world) mentioned lately.
http://www.noteworthysoftware.com/composer/order.htm
I have not used it myself but maybe it’ll be of use to somebody to check out.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“It made more sense to me when I was learning bass clef to think of the notes being one line or space down, and an octave lower, than treble clef-so the F on treble clef is an A in bass clef.”

Interesting, I’ll have to give that a go. If only my wife’s piano weren’t annoyingly out of tune.
*******
If I get another keyboard, I’m holding out for a Hammond SP1-88 or an SP2. My lamentably ancient rock and roll aspirations keep poking up at open mike nights at the local coffee shop. “Inna Gadda Da Vida” and “Light My Fire” are a different kind of ITM - Idiotic Trashy Metal!

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Oh no; do we have to have an argument about metal now? 🙂

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

The bass clef is not a mirror image of treble. The only notes that are mirror images are the C’s ( 3 spaces up in treble, 3 spaces down in bass). Both clefs go low to high, the bass clef is just lower. All clefs work the same, middle C just moves around. Actually, middle C stays the same, the clefs move around.

In the mandolin orchestra I played in, the mandolas were reading the same music in three different clefs or transpositions: Alto clef (middle C on middle line), Octave treble clef (middle C on third space), and treble clef with a fifth transposition (middle C on second line) so a mandolin player could play it. Everybody read the best clef for them, you just didn’t dare look at someone else’s music.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

@DavidL: In terms of pitch, it is not a mirror image of course. I do not think anyone suggested that? But, for someone playing a keyboard, where the hands **are** symmetrical, it can **seem** natural to imagine middle C dividing inverted series. If one uses middle C as a point of reference then the hands fan outward on the white keys. Just to make it even more fun, that is not how music tends to work either—i.e., digital symmetry is by no means reflected in keyboard music.

I learned that way but do not recommend undertaking it without a net.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

This is an old discussion but I was just reading it for the first time and I’d have to agree with whoever it was who said they thought staff notation (sheet music, dots, whatever) is easier to read than ABC notation. Maybe because I learned to read sheet music when I played trumpet in high school and I still remembered most of it when I started the fiddle about 40 years later. But it just seems to make more sense to me. Whatever. Everyone has their own way.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Hi Mike,
Yes probably the majority of people find staff notation easier to read. But that’s kind of misses the point about ABC notation. It was developed as a simple way of notating (and, hence, sharing) tunes that could be done on a beer mat or on a computer keyboard without the need for music notation software. I can produce beautiful scores in Sibelius but they can only be read and heard by other people with Sibelius software (not cheap) unless I convert them to pdfs (in which case they can’t be heard). ABC software programs are either free or very cheap. That’s why ABC notation is used here (not because it’s easy to read but because it’s easy to write).

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

The point that seems to have been missed (or I may have missed it, if it’s already been brought up), is that abc was not developed for humans to read. It is a simple code system for us to instruct a computer to either save an abc file to a computer file, or else to produce staff music for us to read. There can be no comparison between staff sheets (“the dots”) and abc - they both describe music, but for different purposes.
“Proper” Music Programmes for computers, like Sibelius, are extremely expensive, and most of their extreme cleverness is wasted on musicians like us, who tend to use a limited number of keys, and only one (“soprano”) line. abc is FREE!

Chris B.

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

“That’s why ABC notation is used here (not because it’s easy to read but because it’s easy to write).”

OK, thats alot clearer. I guess I had always missed the point of ABC notation and thought it was supposed to be easier to read.

“ hence, sharing) tunes that could be done on a beer mat or on a computer keyboard without the need for music notation software.”

Of course, staff notation can be written on a beer mat too. Many classical compositions (or any music written in staff notation) have been started on napkins or beer mats in resturants or pubs 🙂 In fact, back when I was in high school and the only people who had home computers were us geeks and nerds, I used to always carry a lined notebook around that I wrote out sheet music in if I happened to hear a tune that I wanted to remember,

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Chris Walshaw (who invented it) says it started out because he didn’t read staff notation, but then he realised the advantages for computerisation.
http://abcnotation.com/history

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

So can anyone help me with the fields the the session…
I know the usual: X for variation number; T for title; M for metre; K for key; and L for note length; fields, but what does the R stand for? Presumably some reference to the structure/type of piece, but I can’t think of anything that starts with an R!

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

R: is for rhythm.

http://abcnotation.com/wiki/abc:standard:v2.1#rrhythm

“… an indication of the type of tune (e.g. hornpipe, double jig, single jig, 48-bar polka, etc)… gives the musician some indication of how a tune should be interpreted… It has also been used experimentally by playback software (in particular, abcmus) to provide more realistic playback by altering the stress on particular notes within a bar.”

Here is a link to a table of information fields which looks like is was last updated in 2009 but it
probably is still current. If anyone sees something different please let me know.

edit: http://abcnotation.com/wiki/abc:standard:v2.1#outdated_information_field_syntax

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### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

I have a question. I have briefly used an “ABC” program to print melody lines to paper. I lost the program when a “Windows 10 update” killed the computer. After successful installation of Windows 10 by a local Microsoft store, I have not determined an optimal ABC program to put on the “new” system.

I have some abc files with chords noted from various websites (the session included).

My wife has played “church music” with treble and bass clef on her piano. She needs base clef to play the music but all I have in my Celtic, Irish, and “North America old timely” music is melody line and chords.

Can someone recommend a software which could import ABC notation And add chord notes and bass clef from the chords in the ABC notation file? (Free or reasonably priced)

### Re: Reading the ABC notation on ‘The Session’

Sorry, not going to be much help, as I can’t answer your question, but have an alternative suggestion.
As a piano player myself brought up on having music written out for both hands, in the last few years I have got used to playing from just melody and chords: I just make up the left hand as I go along, from the given chords, and fill in the right hand a bit too. It’s both a challenge and fun to do, but gets easier the more you do it. It works well for the genres of music you have listed. Perhaps your wife could try it?