ABC vs Staff notation …

ABC vs Staff notation …

Several years ago I took a long look at ABC notation, my having used traditional staff notation for many years, and I could not help but wonder what made ABC notation so popular. Sure, it conveys information, but it so lacks the expressiveness of staff notation. Staff notation is so much easier to write and to read. Notes are marked by dots and circles. The G staff has five evenly spaced lines with E centered on the bottom line and F centered on the top line and extending the range of the staff simply requires adding similarly spaced ledger lines above and below the staff. Then there are numerous other ways to connect the dots which bring out the flavor of the music, in ways that ABC notation simply cannot do. I can read staff notation and can literally hear what a composer has in mind, but ABC lacks that quality. The staff is like good writing but ABC is not.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Maybe because people don’t want to learn to read the language of staff notation? Unlike western art music, you can go an entire lifetime playing Irish trad without seeing a piece of sheet music or having any need to.

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How do you feel about Morse code or ASCII character encoding ?

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ABC is a data format and can be easily transferred over the internet, translated into midi’s staff notation, and is easier to store.

For everything else you mentioned, it’s a matter of taste and what you’re used to. If music gets too complex ABC gets cluttered. For a melody without too much ornamentation/odd stuff it reads just fine for me.

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I much prefer reading and playing from sheet music. I’ve never liked tablature either.

However, "ABC" is very useful as a shorthand for transcribing music and was also ideal way of distributing or "passing on" same in the early days of The Internet before pdfs and the like.

As Boyen says, it can easily be converted into staff notation too either by hand(if you are familiar enough with both formats) or by one of the many computer programmes or apps which are now available. It’s also a good way to compose actual sheet music very cheaply too if you just compile it in "ABC" format and convert it with a suitable program. So, you don’t need to have manuscript paper or fork out on expensive software such as Sibelius and so on.

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In answer to the question "I could not help but wonder what made ABC notation so popular.", I think a lot of the popularity of ABC notation is down to the time period in which it first appeared online.

In the earlier nineties, dial-up speeds were very slow. Sending sheet music over the internet would require sending an image, which was prohibitively expensive (in terms of file size and literal cost)—sending an audio file was certainly out of the question. ABC notation offered a means of transferring all the information contained within sheet music, but just using plain text to do it. This way tunes were shared on mailing lists, bulletin boards, and Usenet groups.

It’s worth pointing out though, that most people wouldn’t directly "read" the ABC notation. Instead, they’d use some software to convert the ABC notation into sheet music (much like happens with the "sheet music" button on every tune setting here on The Session).

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Also, if you have an ABC player you can listen to the simplified tune, change the speed, transpose the key, easily send in an email or text message, and even print the score to a PDF. I’ve found these capabilities of ABC helpful in learning tunes, though I do often look at the dots as well, which are also shown in my ABC player.

ABC notation is also faster in a classroom setting because it’s easier to write the notes on the white board without having to draw all the lines for staff notation. Though I don’t read music very well, ABC is helping me learn to read the dots. A person doesn’t have to give up one type of musical representation to benefit from another…

Then there’s TunePal, a very useful app, which is based on ABC.

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Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Thanks Jeremy.

That’s more or less what I was hinting at in my last post but you detailed things much better than me. I still don’t read "ABC" unless I really have to although I can compose it OK.

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"I can read staff notation and can literally hear what a composer has in mind, but ABC lacks that quality…" (OP).

ABC comes to have that quality if one becomes familiar enough with it, has been my experience. My own use of it, though, is as a way of jotting down tunes (or ideas towards own compositions) that by-passes the need to draw staves at speed on scraps of paper in the middle of sessions, or wherever. I’d sooner make original jottings this way, in ABC, and subsequently make a ‘fair copy’ onto sheet music. But that’s just me :-).

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I may use ABC to write but it’s the score I’m watching when I do (EasyABC). It’s amazing that the open-source concept that is ABC notation has evolved like it has. While it’s not Sibelius or Finale or any of the "professional" software scoring products, ABC is free, not terribly difficult to learn and accomplishes quite a lot despite the limitations it has. I prefer it but I certainly would never attempt to play by reading "a/2a/2b b g" etc. EasyABC takes the data and makes the visual score that I expect most of us would prefer to use. If you’re really down on ABC notation and only prefer the "real" thing, remember, the "real" thing has to come from somewhere and in the era before computers, all of the scores were laboriously put together by typesetters. Before that, scores were copied by hand. There weren’t any copiers back then either. It would be a pretty dreary musical world with not much hand-copied paper to work from without the various technologies that have allowed the visual representation of notes on a page. ABC is just another one of them.

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Alright, I can see how ABC could have been useful in the early days (years) of the internet. ABC does convey information and that gives a player something to work with, all well and good. But staff notation can be like listening to a good speaker or reading the work of a good writer. Yes, it is somewhat of a language including all sorts of inflections and nuances, but it is well worth learning.

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What is good about it for trad music though? It’s the same as reading ABC for that purpose.

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I’m not sure I understand o’muirgheasain. When I open an abc file in EasyABC, I’m getting the staff notation. I don’t look at the textual representation of the notes as they’re coded. Are you saying that you’re looking at a text file and find the code abhorrent to read? Don’t read that stuff. Use an ABC editor on a computer to provide the display from that text file. Ignore the code.

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That depends on what could be regarded as trad music. Sure, dance tunes have about one speed; LOUD. But then there are the airs where subtlety and nuance come into play, and that is where staff notation comes in handy. ABC notation cannot convey such information.

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Airs as performed in the Irish tradition are highly ornamented, and those ornaments are largely improvised. They are also typically in free time, which sheet music doesn’t handle well. Not to say that ABC does any better. Sheet music is more of a hindrance to someone trying to play traditional airs than anything else.

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I thought it had been explained previously ? Abc is not an alternative to staff , its a simple code to transmit the same information as staff for a computer to express as standard notation ( and midi etc) . If people read it directly then fair play to them.

I use it in software and compose with it so i can transpose and create a neat pdf of the dots much neater than my handwriting . Its not an alternative , in a way it IS staff notation and more .

After all everything you see on this screen is code expressed visually through the computer , anyone saying that the visual screen display is better or easier to understand than the code that creates it would be missing the point and is clearly not a computer :-)

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Subtlety and nuance are always the task of the conductor (if applicable) and the performer(s). What’s on the page are merely indicators of how the composer feels it should be performed.

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For reels, jigs, and other dance-music tunes like those found on sites like this one, ABC is just as efficient and accurate as sheet music. You wouldn’t want to put more than the bare bones ABC offers in sheet music because that would intrude on the freedom necessary to this style. I personally can read sheet music much better than ABC because I’ve done it since I was five but that doesn’t make it inherently better.

For slow airs, as Wesley commented above, sheet music and ABC both shake their heads and shrug. You could, if you wanted to, notate slow airs in either form, but the result would be prohibitively dense.

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@ o’muirgheasain Can you give an example of a score - relevant to traditional music - that conveys subtlety and nuance that cannot be coded using ABC notation and displayed by something like EasyABC?

I am sure there will be some, so it would help to have an example of what you have in mind.

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"you can go an entire lifetime playing Irish trad without seeing a piece of sheet music or having any need to"

I know this is a discussion on two different visual aides but as this is an Irish music website, I feel that Wesley’s point needs to repeated many times.

Great if you can read sheetmusic, even better if you rely on your ears and your grip of your instrument.


"you can go an entire lifetime playing Irish trad without seeing a piece of sheet music or having any need to"

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"I can read staff notation and can literally hear what a composer has in mind, but ABC lacks that quality."

ABC doesn’t lack that quality, you just haven’t learned how to do it.

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I use other programs for other purposes, for example Musescore (also free), for composing and arranging, but where abc really has the edge is when I want to give someone a set of tunes. Inputting them quickly in abc Explorer, grouping them as a set and exporting them as a pdf, I get a nice neat set, typically 3 tunes on a sheet of paper.

It’s also convenient when putting together a long list of tunes or a set list to have the first couple of bars in abc just to remind myself how each one starts.

What I’ve never understood is the weird variation of abc that teachers in Ireland use. This seems unnecessarily clumsy and can’t feed into any program I’ve ever come across. Yet it seems to have stood the test of time. Came across it again this year at the flutemeet in Ballyvourney.

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That ‘weird ABC ’ predates and was maybe inspirational for the computer code system. It’s simple and straightforwards enough but very rudimentary compared to the developed system we use here. , but it does the job; acts as a reminder of tunes learnt in the kids lessons . No more than that. It’s a back up for ear learning without needing to read and write music or have access to recording devices….

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ABC can work well with some things, Irish dance music in particular. Just pick up the melody, pick up the beat and then off you go with it. But it is the airs which could be demanding, oh, yes, and ABC completely fails to convey the musical message. The airs are where staff notation can really come in handy. As I was saying, it is like listening to a good speaker or reading a good writer and that is what staff notation can do. ABC fails!

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I have not seen any staff notation of an air which cannot also be written using abc code.

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But…when and why would you be learning airs off of sheet music?

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Wesley, I’m merely saying I’ve seen airs written out…. therefore & so on, etc.

Cheers!

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"The airs are where staff notation can really come in handy."

No.

I attended a workshop given by piper Brian McNamara on slow airs at the weekend. He had audio of a sean nos singer which he said he listened to over and over again to prepare for learning… after that he worked out the melody on his chanter using his ears and his instrument only. The next step was then look for the small ornamental details in the singer’s voice and then transferring them onto the pipes.

Nowhere did he use any visual guides whatsoever.

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Yes, but here the discussion comes down to the differences between ABC and staff notation. ABC can do a lot but staff notation can get right into the details, the finest of details. As I was saying, ABC can transmit information, but staff notation is quite like hearing a good speaker or reading a good writer. Staff notation is an art in and of itself, a language of its own, so to speak.

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Doug, you’re out of your depth bringing up notation for airs (out of nowhere) and then dismissing responses which point out that any system of notating airs is intrinically limited.

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Here’s a slow air from both a scan and the pdf created by abc notation in EasyABC. Are the examples of what you’re expounding about far more complex than these?

http://www.thisoldtractor.com/guzzi007/Scottish_Tome/st_scan/Page_508.pdf
http://www.thisoldtractor.com/guzzi007/Scottish_Tome/st_pdf/508.0_Tha_Mitinn_Leis_A_Ghaol.pdf

I’m not the least bit certain whether its "titord", "tiford" or something entirely different that’s so difficult to discern on the original scan. Since you seem to be an expert on slow airs, perhaps you can shed some light on the subject.

BTW, abc notation supports multiple voices and systems, polyphony etc. It’s all there in in Guido Gonzato’s "Making Music with ABC2" https://sourceforge.net/projects/abcplus/files/Abcplus_en/abcplus_en-2016-06-08.zip

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AB my comment wasn’t directed at you.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

>>Yes, but here the discussion comes down to the differences between ABC and staff notation. ABC can do a lot but staff notation can get right into the details, the finest of details. As I was saying, ABC can transmit information, but staff notation is quite like hearing a good speaker or reading a good writer. Staff notation is an art in and of itself, a language of its own, so to speak.<<

I think your misunderstanding as displayed here is the crux of the matter, because staff notation and ABC contain exactly the same information , so how can one be better than the other? ABC is a code that transmits information for a computer to read . The computer then converts that information into staff notation or midi or music directly.
ABC is for the computer to read! Not for people !!!! .granted some people can read it , just as some people can read programming codes but that’s not the primary useage .
Have I explained clearly enough for you ?
What you see on your computer screen is Code that’s been converted to pixels and images of staff notation via a computer program. So take the ABC code and put it in a relevant computer program and convert it to pdf staff notation……. Or midi etc

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callison: it’s actually "ritard".

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I’m sure there’s lots of detail you can add to ABC.

I’ve not looked into it that thoroughly but there’s lots of stuff I’ve encountered with staff notation which I feel would be just too cumbersome to do in ABC. I don’t see the point. IMO, ABC is fine for the basic tune and in most cases I prefer sheet music to be that way too especially when I just want to learn the melody. I can pick up "the extras" from recordings, other musicians, or add my own stamp later if I wish.

However, there are times when it’s important to play or learn certain arrangements. Sometimes for fiddle concerts, the sheet music contains various detail including ornaments, slurs, bow strokes etc, soft and loud passages, and sometimes even which instrument should play or "sit out" a particular part. Complicated enough on paper but even more so with ABC I’d guess.

Also, with harp music and accordion music etc, etc(And other instruments too), there are often suggested fingerings, positions etc included. I’m also not sure how easily "left hand" (Bass clef) parts can be incorporated into ABC either. It is possible I’m sure but, again, makes the whole process rather complicated and cumbersome. As I’ve already said, I think ABC is a great tool as long as it’s reserved for simple matters.

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Up to a certain time in Scotland and Ireland tonic sol fa was widely taught in schools (for some reason it wasn’t as widespread in England). As a primary schoolchild in Glasgow in the 1960s, I was in possibly one of the last generations to experience this. There is a fascinating video on YouTube of Paddy Moloney and John Sheahan - who were in the same class at school - singing sol fa in unison, and I think to this day Paddy uses sol fa to write arrangements etc.

I think of ABC notation as the modern equivalent of sol fa; add staff notation and we have three visual systems which can transmit the skeleton of the tune. We all need the skeleton of the tune, and we all have different ways of accessing it, visual, aural, osmosis, whatever. None of them are enough in themselves, which is where listening, experience, interaction and alcohol come in. Well, maybe only the first three…

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Regardless of the merits or otherwise of staff or ABC, if sites such as this could interpret ABC to staff and vice versa then each could use their own preferred method.

I find it frustrating that I can’t upload tunes to this site as they must be ABC to do so… primitive or what?
I know there is separate software to do this but it’s another step in the upload process that causes me not to bother.

Bogtrumpet
https://soundcloud.com/holmesflute/sets/holmes-flute

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

"I find it frustrating that I can’t upload tunes to this site as they must be ABC to do so… primitive or what?
I know there is separate software to do this but it’s another step in the upload process that causes me not to bother."

Maybe ABC entry is a useful barrier so? A wee hurdle that discourages the casual visitor from posting their ditties? Those with a little more interest in the music can work it out with a little effort.

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yes it would be great bogtrumpet, but I’m not able of writing it! There is a program that will play from a PDFs of the dots I think!
It’s not a difficult system to learn. It takes a couple of hours to get the first transcription done at most and quicker once the standards are learnt. Pretty simple really.
I found it most useful for transposing stuff. Rather than write out a piece my mentally transposing each out on a new score, then trying it in a few keys by repeating the process !!
ABC means that it’s done at the click of a mouse and an elegant typeset PDF is produced . For composing I use it too because I can write a few lines, get the dots, play it , modify etc then go back to the ABC for composition.
It’s still simpler with a pencil and paper and the dots but then how do I get a neat printed pro looking version?
So for me ABC comes into play sooner or later. Or of course another program but dragging and dropping notes into a stave and all that was too much fecking around .
A program that would take a scan of the dots and turn it into ABC would be great! Via midi?

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I’ve used conventional notation all my musical life. A web-based solution is not beyond the wit of man is it?

I don’t want to spend two hours of my life learning something that I wouldn’t use otherwise - Yes, it’s a useful gateway of keeping out people that have better things to do in their life!

Bogtrumpet
https://soundcloud.com/holmesflute/sets/holmes-flute

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ABC does have its uses and so I am not here to say that it should be tossed out. ABC has quick, easy and effective digital and Internet applications. But staff notation can convey a much more complete musical picture, in ways that ABC simply can not do. ABC transmits information, all well and good, but staff notation is like a language, not only transmitting information but with a wealth of detail and nuance, too.

Irish dance music can get along nicely with ABC, but it is the airs where staff notation really comes into play.

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@o’muirgheasain, I’d say its the airs where your ears really come in to play ;-)

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Well Mr trumpet, work away , write a program to solve your problem. But I think it would take more than a couple of hours. :-)

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"Well Mr trumpet, work away , write a program to solve your problem. But I think it would take more than a couple of hours. :-)"

That would take someone intelligent (or someone from Termonbarry) I suppose but websites (owners) that think they are infallible then eventually start to fail because they don’t keep up with the needs of their users…. (Myspace - Flip & Chipple and the like)

I’ll probably need to make a donation to keep this post - Touche

https://soundcloud.com/holmesflute/sets/holmes-flute

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Bogtrumpet said, "…websites (owners) that think they are infallible then eventually start to fail because they don’t keep up with the needs of their users…"

I disagree. It’s the simplicity of web sites such as this one which do not fail, and they do not have to keep up with the latest technology. They rely on that most ancient of communication: conversation. The session.org and other similar sites are for discussion of tunes, music and musicians.

Want to join in? Spend the 15 minutes it would take for you to figure out ABC notation (yes, 15 minutes: you already read staff notation, you’ll get it quickly; it’s not rocket science).

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But if you have code to convert ABC to staff why not the reverse? It’s not really my intransigence it just appears odd to an innocent bystander.

I think I’d rather poke myself in the eye with a (blackwood) stick than learn something that I might only use for this one website.

BT

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Your loss.

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No answer to my pertinent question though…

I’ll learn to bear the loss.

BT

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Presumably for the purposes of this website, ABC makes tasks like searching for phrases/ groups of notes or searching for tune types or tunes in particular keys much more straightforward, in that all of that meta-data is captured in the original tune submission rather than having to be added manually after entering an image file?

I’m sure Jeremy would be delighted if others wanted to develop a Session-like website that avoided ABC and took submissions in pdf or whatever - fire in, chaps…

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Bogtrumpet, if you look around the web, you’ll find that "ABC" is still used and to be found on many a website.

If you tend to look for tunes rather than send them, then there’s no real need to know anything about it at all as far as its coding etc is concerned as there are plenty of programs and apps which will convert it to sheet music for you.
However, it is still a handy tool to have if you want to "jot down" a tune short hand at a session or to send by e-mail or whatever to your friends. As Jeremy mentioned earlier, in the early days of The Internet, it wasn’t as easy or quick to send and post actual copies of sheet music and this is partly why the system really took off.

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JJ this is what I said originally, you missed it;

"I find it frustrating that I can’t upload tunes to this site as they must be ABC to do so… primitive or what?
I know there is separate software to do this but it’s another step in the upload process that causes me not to bother."

BT
https://soundcloud.com/holmesflute/sets/holmes-flute

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Then there’s storage of image files & you can store a huge number of tunes as text in the space one image needs :/
For my stuff I like to import the abc into Notion then it opens as a score. It doesn’t do too well with the repeats and chopping into sections if people don’t define that in their original, but that’s a fairly straightforward fix.

It does export as abc but I wouldn’t know if that is any good or a decent representation. I may have a go with something in a bit.

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BT,
I was aware of that but I was responding to your more recent exchange with Nigel. We’re all going to agree to differ on the usefulness of ABC vs Staff. However, I still find both useful for different purposes.

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Nope it has to go via xml then into something else.
Ah well the session wouldn’t be missing much not having my efforts.
:)

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"A program that would take a scan of the dots and turn it into ABC would be great!"

SmartScan and SmartScan Lite (part of PrintMusic) can scan a tiff file (I believe the upgraded versions handle pdf files as well) and produce their own internal music format and export to xml. xml can be dropped directly into EasyABC and converted to abc notation, exported as pdf, png and what have you. For clear scores like those scanned from a typeset piece of paper, the accuracy is very good. For hand-written scores that have been written clearly, it does pretty well for that as well. As someone that’s just spent 10 months reducing 1052 (of 1102) hand-written tunes from oft-copied sheets of paper, I can tell you that SmartScan Lite was the enabling tool. Without it and going entirely by hand, I would still be at it a year or more from now and my hands would be ruined even more than they are at present. The low resolution (150dpi) pdf files of the original paper scores occupies 1.3Gb of server space. The abc file describing ALL of those pdf’s eats up a whopping 643Kb. Given that there are over 29,000 abc files that could be ostensibly represented in pdf format, you’re looking at perhaps 3.7Tb of server space to store the images. There is a huge efficiency in representing note information as text. It is unfortunate that abc doesn’t cover all of the bases but it does very well considering it’s very humble beginnings.

Will someone please point me at an example of this "staff notation" that’s so esoteric and contains so much information that no other kind of notation has any value so I can at least try to comprehend WIH o’muirgheasain is talking about?

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On flute, my background is in the Baroque. Here in USA is a Catholic-based radio station, WSHU (Sacred Heart University) which also has a radio branch in Ireland. Try this; http://sundaybaroque.org/listen/ This four hour program gets updated every week and it is sooo much worth listening to. This is a true gem of the Internet.

But this is the sort of music which ABC can not define and which staff notation can only at best approximate.

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Doug, that’s great and all but how is any of that traditional Irish music? It’s western art music from the baroque period, which is not the same thing at all. Why do you continue to try to shove this square peg through a round hole? No one here is saying that baroque music should be notated using ABC. That would make no sense, given that there is a perfectly functional system in use for it already that, as you said, can only approximate it. There are elements that are similar between Irish traditional and western baroque music but they are not the same thing. Interestingly enough the prime similarity I see is that they both require a fairly developed knowledge of their respective traditions in order to perform correctly regardless 0f the notation used.

I’m just going to come out and ask this. What drives you to be so insistent that western classical music and its accoutrements are superior to their traditional equivalents for the purposes of performing Irish traditional music?

I have to be missing something here.

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I don’t think anyone here can, callison.

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I’ll add for Wesley that I think ABC, from what I’ve read of it, actually *could* handle the sheet music that Baroque musicians use.

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"from what I’ve read of it, actually *could* handle the sheet music that Baroque musicians use."

What, lute tablature?

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Absolutely Nico. I spend a lot of time playing baroque trio music from facsimiles and often have to go back to them as the published versions have been over wrought by subsequent publishers. Most of the ornamentation in early and middle baroque music was left to the musicians and they were expected to know what was appropriate for them to add depending on where the music originated. It was included for unusual or highlighted effects but otherwise was for the players to add the garnish, much as happens still in traditional music. A good read for anyone interested https://www.amazon.com/Baroque-String-Playing-Ingenious-Learners/dp/0952822016.

Anyway from what I’ve seen it do abc is well up to anything needed for single line melody scoring of trad tunes.

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I still want an example of staff notation for an air that has all of the bells and whistles in it.

As far as "These guys probabaly managed fine without either, certainly without "abc" …………….."

That’s quite true. They’re playing something they know and there’s not a sheet of paper in evidence anywhere. It’s simply not necessary. If it’s a local variant of a melody however, how do you preserve it aside from a film or recording should you want to?

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Moi Wesley,

Well, I kicked off this thread about ABC vs Staff notation and not about Irish traditional music in particular. I am not here to say bad things about ABC notation because I recognize that ABC can transmit valuable information here on the Internet quickly and efficiently. However, there are situations where staff notation can transmit far more information than ABC can, not so much for Irish dance music but for Irish airs. Irish airs very much are close to Baroque music and staff notation then becomes a living language. Staff notation allows a composer to more freely express themselves. Music could then be heard printed right on a page.

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This is a website about Irish traditional music. It’s called the Session.org for god sake, as in session music.

Staff notation is not a living language. It is by its nature inert and dead. Placing notes on a page arranged by lines does nothing to make them more expressive than using the names of the notes. If you had learned to read ABC notation first, then it would be more natural for you to transmit information through that medium than through another. Saying otherwise is like to saying that it is easier for a native Mandarin Chinese speaker to communicate in English because somehow the language is easier to communicate in.

I would like a response as to why you feel that methods used successfully by other musicians are inferior to the method you prefer. Several others have asked for an example of an air notated in the way you describe. Where is it? None of us have never seen it.

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C’mon, you guys. I began this thread as a discussion between ABC and Staff notation. I am not here to knock ABC notation because ABC notation can transmit valuable information quickly and efficiently. But staff notation does have additional capabilities. As I was saying, staff notation is a bit like a language to learn, including a wide range of details. Imagine having music just leap off of a page right in front of you, just as its composer intended. That is what staff notation can do. ABC is efficient but primitive, not to be compared with staff notation.

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Still need you to point to a web image or pdf or whatever of staff notation for an air. A picture is truly worth a thousand words at this point.

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Again this is not about other styles of playing it’s about tradidional music and abc as a medium for storing & transmitting trad tunes.
We’re not trying to score John Stump’s Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz or his String Quartet 556(b) In A Minor Motoring Accident.
http://socks-studio.com/2012/05/19/the-unplayable-score-faeries-aire-and-death-waltz-john-stump/

The reason abc still works for storing & transmitting trad tunes is because it does everything needed and does it more efficiently than the alternatives.

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I think of ABC as a portability tool, more than anything else.

I learned to read standard notation, and only ever used ABC when tunes collections started getting popular on the web. There are plenty of tools to read and convert it, and I personally wouldn’t invest any time in trying to read it fluently.

As mentioned before, it’s fairly straightforward if the tune is simple, but add a few slurs, bow markings and fingerings and it soon gets pretty clunky. I think of staff notation as being like a picture - you get a whole load of information at a glance. Not so with ABC - not for me anyway.

As for airs - have a look here - both formats, next to each other, for the same air :

https://thesession.org/tunes/1815 , 1st setting. I’d go for the sheet music option.

@Beanzy - just saw your post as I previewed mine - that Stump thing is doing the rounds again - it’s hilarious :)

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I can see the advantages of ABC notation if you’re nowhere near a computer, or if you want to compose your own tune or jot down how another tune works if you’re out and about.

The trouble is, knowing how ABC works, which I don’t. I found Joe Fidkid’s explanation 9 years ago on another thread to be very helpful:

‘abc notation for a G major scale on the fiddle, low to high, looks something like this:

G string: G, A, B, C,

D string: D E F G

A string: A B c d

E string: e f g

sharps and flats (like f#) aren’t usually put in there because they’ll be understood, as determined by the " K: " (for "Key") in the header you’ll see at the top of each tune .’

Thankyou, @Joe Fidkid. Here’s the thread I took it from:
https://thesession.org/discussions/12695

What happens if you want to go on to the notes a, b, or c on the E string, though? How do you differentiate them from the previous ABC & abc on the G and A strings?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

a b c ?
Surely just as with standard notation the decision on which string you play the note remains the players, this just identifies the note value by using the string as a reference.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I taught myself from Steve Mansfield’s tutorial

http://www.lesession.co.uk/abc/abc_notation.htm

You don’t actually need to learn everything here. You can get by with a limited grasp of the basics and use the tutorial as a reference thereafter.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Thanks for the link, I’ve been meaning to get to grips with it since a fiddle lesson in Clare where the teacher jotted tunes down using abc. Although my preference is for scores it seemed so efficient as you don’t need prepared paper and can just jot it down anywhere for later. Very compact.

The previous post had the apostrophes eaten & should have read
a’ b’ c’ etc

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Thanks, Beanzy, for a’ b’ c’ - that sorts it out for me!
(The string thing was just put in to indicate what I meant.)

Thanks, Johnny Jay, for the link also. I use staff notation most of the time but I’m not good at writing sheet music of my own tunes or tunes I’m trying to get the hang of, so I think ABC notation should be very useful.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Doug, you keep saying that staff notation can encode more information than ABC. That simply isn’t true. There’s a one-to-one mapping between the two.

The difference between staff notation and ABC is that you know staff notation but you don’t know ABC. That’s absolutely fine, but that also means you aren’t in a position to compare the two.

That’s like somebody declaring that English is a far more expressive language than French, because they speak English but they don’t speak French.

In the case of traditional Irish music, of course, neither staff notation or ABC come close to learning by ear: they’re both crude approximations …equally crude.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

> I can read staff notation and can literally hear what a composer has in mind, but ABC lacks that quality.

How many scores do you have that you know have been adjusted by hand from the computer generated default?

How often do you typeset music? How often do you hand adjust generated scores?

Can you give us an example of a score that is more expressive than its equivalent textual representation?

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Nigel, thanks for the "ritard" correction. I have that fixed on the tome project.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Not an air example but I see nothing on this staff notation that I couldn’t get done in about an hour or less - with one exception.
https://archive.org/stream/klersviolinrepos03rugg#page/225/mode/1up
It’s interesting that what I first thought were tenutos with a staccato dot and joined at the hip so to speak, are nomenclature for "Two Up or Down Bows." according to the legend at the bottom of the sheet. ABC notation doesn’t support that symbol and substituting a tenuto would probably be incorrect. ABC does support text annotations and the symbol could be faked - manually, for each occurrence - with text annotation using underscores to hook two staccato tenutos together. Not a great approach, but it could be done. The pdf output could be made to look correct, the abc2midi playback would probably not sound correct. BTW, this page is from Köhlers’ Violin Repository of Dance Music https://archive.org/details/klersviolinrepos03rugg.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Modification to the previous post. The symbol would have to be entirely text notation, the tenuto symbol can’t be forced to be above the note in all cases.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Alright, I admit, my background with staff notation goes back some 54+ years. Then several years ago when I was at Chiff & Fipple I picked up on ABC notation and so I took a long look at it. Yes, it can efficiently transmit information which works very well with the ever-so-popular Irish dance music. But then there are the airs. Oh, yes, let us not ignore them. The airs could occupy long winter nights while sitting around a peat-burning fire for warmth and these are not necessarily dance tunes. Yep, the airs can call for much more musical expression. And it is staff notation, a language in and of itself, which can very completely fulfill the promise of musical expression. It is a language which over hundreds of years of time has been refined by musicians to do what needs to be done, to say just what a composer intended.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

@Jim - yes, I completely agree that reading ABC for anything other than the simplest of unadorned single voiced diatonic melody lines is going to get painful real quickly. Unless I’m missing something that’s not what OP is trying to say.

@OP I’d love to know the answers to my questions above.

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

The beauty of music score, or staff notation, is the picture it presents at a glance. It is colourful, textured, and you can see ahead. ABC and other forms of tabulation are more like messages in Morse Code or a set of coordinates. The complete musician plays by ear and reads. There is a line used by some very talented people when asked if they read. The reply is,"Not enough to hurt my playing." It was mildly amusing the first time, but has passed into cliche.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Good grief! o’muirgheasain, you sound like you wouldn’t use a car to go work because you don’t like the color it is. Look, I don’t know anyone that actually uses the text of abc notation to play from. Some of the technologically advanced individuals run the abc code through software to make their output - which is usually an image of staff notation or actual paper with the score on it. They’re not reading the damned abc text code to play from. I stick my abc code into an editor like EasyABC and it gives me staff notation. I defy you to tell me that this:
http://www.thisoldtractor.com/guzzi007/Scottish_Tome/st_scan/Page_142.pdf
is superior to this:
http://www.thisoldtractor.com/guzzi007/Scottish_Tome/st_pdf/142.1_Hopeful_Lover_%231%2C_The.pdf
yet the last pdf is created with abc notation in an abc editor.

I’m guessing that when you read a score, you have enough visual information to accurately interpret the intent of the composer and that when you write out a score, your notation conveys everything you want. I’m also guessing that if you’re writing your staff notation, you use either staff paper or a ruler for straight lines. I somehow doubt that your purity of approach includes drawing all of the lines by hand. In the same sense that staff paper gives you a place to put the note heads, stems and symbols, abc notation describes the note heads, stems and symbols so the output will look like that which you scored by hand - but as a finished product more akin to what you’ll find in every music book published since the invention of the printing press. I need to emphasize "output". I’ve used abc notation as a short hand approach for playing a tune and I think it sucks. Tabs are hardly any better. Staff notation is everything you say but you seem to have text code on a page confused with the application use of text code to produce staff notation. The computer application that allows the forum members to access files, complain in a thread and let you steer around a website are completely hidden from your view yet it’s still underneath every aspect of this website and a half-trillion others. It all starts out as text too. Just like abc notation - the OUTPUT is what we want to see, not the code underneath it unless we have an interest in it. I do. You don’t - but don’t denigrate it because you never looked at the output from one of the abc editors and chose only to look at the code and remark how ugly and useless it is. In other words, don’t dismiss a lovely lass just because you looked up her skirts and saw bloomers.

I’m still waiting for you to point to a web image of an air with the staff notation you’re so fond of or scan one you find challenging and PM me so I can get you to email it to me. When you do, I’ll be very happy to acknowledge the symbols that aren’t supported by abc notation and then I’ll just send a message to the guys supporting EasyABC and they’ll forward it to the guy that supports abc2ps or whatever and that symbol or symbols may or may not get added into the capabilities of abc notation at some point in the future. ABC notation is hardly cast in concrete, it’s a growing environment with an age of less than a half-century. Staff notation has had centuries to become what it is. If abc notation is not currently capable of creating the staff notation on a page that you desire, there is a distinct possibility that at some point it will. The code will still be ugly, but you’ll get the staff notated page you want. Your car engine is grimy but it still gets you to work. Same thing.

This is getting ridiculous. Rant mode off.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

"…the damned abc text code…"

:-)

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Hi Callison,

I’ve not been following your project, but basically I understand you’ve taken a huge amount of hand-scored music, transcribed it to abc, then used a mincer to produce that music as standard notation. I think that’s excellent :)

Just looking at the two links of the tune there, I notice there’s an error in bar #8 (5 notes instead of 4).

I know it’s not your error, but I’m sure there must be quite a few like that over all the tunes.

Apologies if this aspect has been discussed before.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

As a musician I am not inflexible. If correctly written, staff notation can convey just what a composer intended. And then I am at liberty to interpret what the composer intended. But staff notation really is like a language, able to convey the finest of details.

Winter around a peat-burning fire? In New England, USA, I live in a house built in the later 18th century which has virtually no insulation, in winter is cold and drafty and my only source of heat is a wood-burning stove. Wake up first thing in the morning, stuff some wood into the stove and then spend the next two or three hours playing flute. It becomes a ritual of love which approximates an Irish peat-burning fire. There have been times when I have had to play with my hands directly over the stove just to keep my fingers flexible enough to play.

ABC has its uses, no doubt, but it can not hold a candle next to the expressiveness of staff notation.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Prepare to be waiting a long time Calum. The purpose of this thread is to command the unwashed masses of traditional musicians to supplicate themselves to the conventions of western art music, not to spur meaningful discussion. Go take a look at "flute embochure part 2" or whatever that thread was called if you don’t believe it.

As Jeremy said, the thesis here is simply not true. However, there has been no response except to say that "sheet music is much more expressive, oh yes, it brings to mind the peat fires, and the airs, composers intent, etc etc" (paraphrasing of course).

This thread has awoken a burning curiosity in me to hear Doug’s playing, which will likely never happen. However I’m not too far from New England, so maybe someday I’ll get the pleasure.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

What "finest of details"? Glissando’s, fortissimo’s, crescendo’s, fingering, compass points, cross-staff stems, yield signs, roundabouts, train schedules? What? Please point us to an example.

Jim: I caught that 5-count in a 4-count measure too when I listened to the abc2midi output (arghh, midi - the digital short-cut to scraping your nails across the blackboard). Perhaps this is one of Doug’s instances where the staff notation so eloquently describes the composer/transcribers intent for the music. Or not. For me, it was a choice of leaving as written or modifying yet another tune to correct something. This one was early on in the process and I was really, really trying to achieve fidelity with the original. Later on, I would have changed the a note from a quarter to an eighth. I still may, it’s just a backspace away from being correct.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I don’t disagree that ABC can capture all but the most esoteric musical notations but there is something lovely about an old piece of sheet music. I also don’t think it hurts that, as we all agree that ITM is music, it’s recorded using accepted musical notation. ABC has a very functional place in the digital world and for shorthand, but staff notation has a powerful place outside of it as well.
Many of the arguments are akin to that of physical books being dead; overtaken by digital reproductions. Or that those of us who have a classical musical education have no place in this world of ITM. There are times and places for all tools and it’s spectacular that we have this tool that makes it easy to capture and share tunes online.

Re: Hopeful Lover …

callison, also in bar 15 the scan appears to be | f/g/a/f/ e>c |
Hopefully that helps.

Ben

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

For the record, I don’t think there is any prejudice against sheet music here, at least for the most part. I play flute in a military band for a living, and I can read sheet music perfectly well. I actually prefer it to ABC if I am in the marlet to learn a tune from the dots, which is rare. My problem with the OP is that this is not a discussion of the relative merits of each. It’s musical imperialism, pushing aside accepted traditional methods in favor of the western art music equivalent.

This discrimination against players with a classical backgroubd needs to be addressed too. I can confidently say that I have never seen someone turned away from a session or discussion because they have a classical music education. I HAVE seen players turned away because they refuse to learn to play within the Irish traditional music idiom. There have been plenty who come round to a session and expect to be welcomed with open arms because they play violin or flute in an orchestra somewhere, despite not knowing a thing about trad music.

That’s a discussion for another day, but this thread is a perfect example of the sort of attitude that irks trad musicians so much. The idea that their means and methods are patently worse because they are not the western classical version.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Thanks Ben. It’s fixed.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Hi, Wesley,

I am Irish by a freak accident of nature, but my musical background on flute is in years of Baroque music complete with harmonically pure, Just Intonation tuning, not orchestral tuning. And in that there is a considerable correlation between Baroque and Irish traditional music especially that which is played against a drone background. That is what attracted me to traditional Irish music, especially the airs.

ABC indeed does have its practical uses especially here on the Interthingy and so I am not here to knock it. But staff notation simply can transmit much more detailed information. Suppose you and I were having a conversation about something and you selected just the right words to convey your thoughts. In that same way, staff notation can do the same thing. There is cherished staff notation literally hundreds of years old which players still adhere to today, an ancient message still here with us today.

But today there are those who disparage reading "the dots". Oh, it is non-traditional to read the dots, etc. But occasionally I could find an interesting tune written in the dots and then I could spend some time studying it. But that does not mean that I must rigidly adhere to it. I then have the freedom to modify it as I see fit to do.

Best, - Doug

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I can certainly understand the desire for a full up score to work from but I fail to see what’s special at this point about airs and so forth because there hasn’t been an attempt to illustrate the point using an image. A picture is worth a thousand words and we’re well above 10,000 on this thread at the moment. Still no evidence from the OP demonstrating what he’s talking about. Until that occurs, it will never be known what he’s waxing so eloquently about. Like Calum, I just want to see an example. I suspect there is much to be learned - once we can see what is only scantily described at the moment.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

That’s great Doug. Where is this sheet music of an air that has so much more information than an ABC notated one? It doesn’t exist, because you are inventing it to support your arguement.

It sems as though you have not listened to any airs played by Irish musicians. For the most part, they are played solo and in free time. How can sheet music help with that?

Many of these airs have no known composer. They have existed for over a hundred years and have been transmitted by aural tradition. It is folly to say that anyone knows the "composers intent."

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

There are a slew of airs in "The Popular Songs and Melodies of Scotland" https://archive.org/stream/popularsongsofsc00grah#page/n3/mode/2up. I’ve "thumbed" through a good dozen or so of them and not one of them did I see that could not be rendered fairly faithfully as a pdf file using abc notation. A good example is "An Thou Were my Ain Thing." which dates from 1627. The only things of note that I can see that abc notation doesn’t support are the repeat symbols flanking the segno and the horizontal braces for some of the text above a staff. https://archive.org/stream/popularsongsofsc00grah#page/20/mode/2up.

I’m almost tempted to score it up to hear what it sounds like but it’s a song and I sound like a frog being carried off in the claws of a crow when I sing this kind of stuff.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Ok, looking at that last example in Callison’s links: in the staff music you don’t just have notes - you have crescendos, accents, dynamics, pauses, staccato notes, phrase marks. Are you really telling me you can put these all into ABC? While they need not be absolutely prescriptive, they do give some indication of the composer’s idea of how the tunes should go: still open to interpretation by the player, of course, and need not necessarily be slavishly followed. Just listen to 4 or 5 versions of Bruch’s Violin Concerto for example, and you’ll find they are all different in interpretation if not in actual notes played. (Or even 4 or 5 versions of the same ITM tune.)
I was taught to read music at an early age, so have never found a great need to learn ABC, tho’ I do have my own shorthand for jotting down a tune heard in a workshop. (If I should have manuscript paper handy, I can usually get it down as fast in notation anyway.) However, it is indeed a rarity for any trad tunes in standard notation to show any hint of phrase marks, dynamics, rallentandos, or indeed any general speed indicators.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Gad, I had to look up "rallentando" on wikipedia. The sad lack of a traditional music education I guess. The "An Thou Were my Ain Thing." isn’t the easiest example to play with but I am at the moment giving it a shot. There are voices over-layed with voices which is a painful thing to accomplish in abc. Still, we’ll find out just how close I can make the abc world meet the real world on this one. One thing I cannot get to work - despite the latest manual that says that it can be done - is to put the crescendos and other ornaments over the staff. Despite the software call available, it doesn’t seem to work. Perhaps in another editor or with different software packages in support. That gets to be something that would irritate a casual user no end. Bear with on this one though, it’s not a 1-hour edit job.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I thank you, Trish.

ABC indeed does have its uses and so I am not here to knock it. Yet I am here to promote the extensive abilities of staff notation. Yes, it is somewhat of a language to learn, so there necessarily will be some effort involved in learning it. But imagine having music simply leap off of a page. That is what staff notation can do. A composer could then express their musical thoughts, for you to then do with such as you could interpret. Of course, the composer must be given full credit for what they have done, but then as a musician you do have your liberties.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Let’s see how close I got.

From abc notation:
http://www.thisoldtractor.com/guzzi007/Celtic/An_Thou_Were_My_Ain_Thing.pdf

And the original:
https://archive.org/stream/popularsongsofsc00grah#page/20/mode/2up

No abc notation for the horizontal braces above the text. I also could not force the dynamic ornaments to be above the staff although the manual clearly states how to do it. It just doesn’t seem to work. This is some old stuff. A mirror-image 1/8th rest is actually a 1/4 rest. That had me flummoxed for a while.

Waiting to see if it "leaps off the page" for anyone…

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Wow, callison - you’ve done an incredible job there; well done. The horizontal brackets are a first and second ending, which you’d have to do plainly in ABC, I guess. But as an exercise that’s a brilliant piece of work!

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

The discussion has now become a debate about whether or not ABC can incorporate every single detail which a composer can produce on staff notation..
I don’t believe it can for reasons which many posters have mentioned. However, let’s assume we’re all wrong here and it can actually do all this and "sing and dance" as well…. But what would be the point?

I certainly wouldn’t advise anyone to try and sight read a really complicated ABC rather than a sheet of music. I woudn’t want to tackle it. My first thought would be to transcribe it either by a computer app or even by hand. Yes, it’s possible to play off a simple ABC but there’s usually no real need in the long term. Maybe in the pub or whatever if you’ve not had time to transcribe it but that’s about all.

Of course, ABC is still a very useful tool. It’s a great shorthand and ideal for transporting and sharing simple melodies which form the bulk of most traditional repertoires. However for more complicated arrangements, sheet music is surely more useful? After all, if you are interested enough in all the intracacies eg. Rallentandos, crescendos, da capos whatever then I’d say it was a safe bet that you are already more than "au fait" with staff notation. I’m not sure why you would wish to encourage anyone to learn all of this from scratch in ABC or any other similar format? Unless for the specific purpose of "coding or translation" etc but not for the specific purpose of playing from or sightreading ABC surely?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I haven’t found anyone saying that on this thread. Are you introducing it as a new line of thought?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Beansy, I’m quite sure that most of us here wouldn’t suggest that a complicated ABC should be "read" in the same way as staff notation and would agree that this isn’t really its purpose.

However, I believe(Only my opinion) that this is all the more reason why it needn’t become too detailed and cumbersome. As I say, it’s fine for simple melodies and a little bit more, perhaps… and for the bulk of traditional tunes.
However, in our kind of music, the "detail" and subtleties are usually a matter of style and taste and vary from player to player. The best way to learn and transmit these is to listen to and play the music.
If you are adding any special instructions for a performance, concert etc, it is probably easier(Again my opinion) and quicker to scribble them on a sheet of music than recoding ABC each time.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

BTW Callison, I agree with Nigel that was indeed an impressive piece of work.

I just don’t understand the need to go to such lengths except for "translation" and "transporting" purposes. However, these days, it’s surely just as simple to share a piece of music like this via a "pdf" or whatever.

As for composing something like this from scratch or an entirely new piece with ABC, I’m not sure of the point. As I said earlier, if you have as much musical knowledge as this, you will be familiar enough with staff notation already I’d have thought.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Yep.
The simple form is a great short hand method from what I can see. Quick with no set-up needed to get scribbling. There’s an elegance to something that can be stuck up on a web page as text, sent as an sms message or included in an email without being dependent on a machine to decode. It seems to have a feel of a modern folk craft to it which has its own appeal.

On the IT side it seems very light on processing and lean for storage, while being programme independent. My preference is music XML there because of its use in established scoring programmes rendering to very high level.
Like anything using the right tool for the job gives best results.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Well Johhny Jay, there is this. You can use abc notation as a short hand if you’re familiar with it and for a very simple tune, I suppose you could read it directly. Personally, I wouldn’t try. I use EasyABC to throw the score up on the screen where I can read it in it’s proper form. If you can read xml code directly and play from it, you’re up more than one on the rest of us. Using text to represent music is an approximation at best. xml is extensive code so it definitely is better suited for the better definition of scoring but both abc and xml profit from having applications that can put the score up on the computer screen. There is no requirement and there would be little benefit in learning xml directly unless you’re writing an application like Final or Sibelius or something along those lines. ABC is text though, and if I want to find a chord to fit a particular four-note phrase I can simply use the unix tool grep to search for the text string:

callison: grep -i ‘"DFAd’ *.abc
162.2_Hamilton_Rant,_The.abc:FE | "D"DFAd BdAF | "D"DFAd B2 Ad | "A7"cdef gfed | "A7"edcB AGFE |
162.2_Hamilton_Rant,_The.abc:"D"DFAd BdAF | "D"DFAd B2 Ad | "A7"cAce gece | "D"d2 f2 d2 :|

Yup, there it is. A "D" chord. That’s virtually impossible to do with a pdf scan and I would guess that it isn’t easy with xml either - but go ahead and try if you like.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Carl, it is possible to enclose the repeat annotation under a square repeat bracket. You can also set a repeat font and size.

X:1
T:An Thou Were My Ain Thing
M:C
K:G
|[" First time only." (G3A) B2 z c||
w:love_thee 1.Then

http://moinejf.free.fr/abcm2ps-doc/repeatfont.xhtml

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Is anyone here saying that ABC is a superior notation for western classical music? I definitely am not. This is a website devoted to traditional Irish music, so it only follows that the discussion is about traditional Irish music. And for the purpose of that, ABC works just as well as staff notation.

The most ridiculous thing about this discussion is that there is very little point to using any notation to learn tunes. They have to be learned by ear. All you really need notation for is to help remember how tunes start if that’s a thing you do.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Staff notation is analog, abc is digital.

"The most ridiculous thing about this discussion is that there is very little point to using any notation to learn tunes." Unless, of course, you want to learn music that you haven’t heard. Finding and learning some old tune that nobody around you plays is a great joy.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

> Is anyone here saying that ABC is a superior notation for western classical music?

I don’t think so, though I’m not inclined to go back and check. ABC is a language developed originally for monophonic, diatonic melody lines, which has since been extended to be able to represent many common musical forms. No-one is going to pretend it has the ability to represent arbitrary constructs on sheetmusic, although that said I’ve never not found a solution to anything I’ve wanted to do. When used to represent something simple, it’s possible to read ABC directly. When it becomes more complex, it functions only as the input to a typesetter.

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

<< the most ridiculous thing about this discussion is that there is very little point to using any notation to learn tunes>>
…..Unless, of course, you want to learn music that you haven’t heard. Finding and learning some old tune that nobody around you plays is a great joy….

Exactly , I learn tunes exclusively from notation of tunes I find or tunes I’ve heard I like.
I can play along with most tunes and get it third time through but I grew up playing by ear and did so exclusively from 1974 to 1994 or so and it took me a while to learn to read, but wow what a revelation ! Such a huge world of music and great tunes only to be found on paper……
To limit myself to tunes other people play would be incredibly restrictive and of course a lot of these tunes , were originally learnt from dots on paper from o Neil’s and the like…. which to be frank saved many tunes from vanishing into oblivion…..
Sure picking up tunes by ear is essential for any decent trad musician but to think that it’s somehow the epitome of the art is far more ridiculous than to discuss notation as a method of communicating ideas.
It’s an attitude I’ve only heard here from a few adherents of the llig school of no practice , no scales just play in sessions and this is the only one true way. 8-)
There are many approaches and to argue for illiteracy is hardly enlightening….

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

X:1
T:An Thou Were My Ain Thing
M:C
K:G
|[" First time only." (G3A) B2 z c||
w:love_thee 1.Then

http://moinejf.free.fr/abcm2ps-doc/repeatfont.xhtml

Thanks Ben. That’s pretty neat. There’s something to be learned all of the time. Now I have to go fix a slew of the Scottish Tome where I cheated to get that effect. Dang. The square repeat bracket of course, is the convention used in our era for repeats and the horizontal curly brace dates from several centuries ago. Staff notation too, is a constantly evolving medium. I was trying to get as close as possible to the original printed sheet to see if it were possible and also demonstrate that abc does go just a bit beyond mere simple melodies. Calum covered extended abc use when he mentioned it as input to a typesetter.

The one thing that abc offers that gets overlooked is that as a text format, it is very simple to build search routines for it that become the basis of websites dedicated to locating tunes by various criteria. That just can’t done as easily with any other data format. The data from those same websites in turn, become the behind the scenes data for applications like TunePal which has proved its usefulness at determining tune names without anyone having to learn one iota of abc code. Neat stuff. Someone still has to put the tune into abc format though and a lot of that has come from members of this forum.

As an example, I changed over to a directory on my backup disk where I keep the majority of my abc files. They may be individual or collections but a simple collection of unix commands on one line will return the title of every single tune at that directory and below and give me a count:

find ./ -iname "*.abc" -print0 | xargs -0 grep "^T:" | wc -l
which got me 100423 tunes. That - is a lot of tunes. There’s a huge amount of duplication too which I won’t go into figuring out how to deal with.
or:
find ./ -iname "*.abc" -print0 | xargs -0 grep "^T:" | grep "Lass of" | wc -l
which got me 54 titles containing "Lass of". If I set it to ignore the case of the phrase, I get 96 hits with titles like "Glass of Stout".

Wanna know how long it took search for the quantity of tunes?
callison: time find ./ -iname "*.abc" -print0 | xargs -0 grep "^T:" | wc -l
100423

real 0m0.461s
user 0m0.325s
sys 0m0.171s

Looking for all of the instances with "Lass of" took 2 thousandths of a second longer. Now think of search engines on real servers using something faster than my old usb drive. Way faster than my system, that’s for sure.

EasyABC’s pdf output is text (under OSX, I don’t know about Windows or Linux), it can be searched within reason but not easily. If the pdf has been printed to pdf by Apple’s OSX operating system, it is compiled and unsearchable. xml is text and you could write a search routine for it if you’re #1 - really knowledgeable about xml and #2 - crazier than a hoot owl. Any image format, png, jpg, scanned pdf etc is unsearchable by content. Period. A typical abc file might be a few thousand bites of space on a disk, a pdf file might be megabytes. Disk space is cheap now but that hasn’t always been the case. There is always something to be said in favor of efficient file formats. Additionally, it takes more bandwidth and time to access a pdf file on the web than a simple text file like an abc file. I’m not knocking the scanned pdf’s etc but you just won’t find any search engines that will return any other than a file name for an image and then only if the image has a file name that’s useful to begin with. "IMG_000054.jpg" doesn’t tell you that the image is "Lady Hamilton Trips on Her Skirt" or whatever.

These are the kinds of things going on behind the scenes on the various tune search sites we use. Without a text format like abc, there would be a real dearth of ways to search for tunes. Granted, the vast majority of the tunes in abc format are pretty simple but if all you want to do is garner some idea of what a melody sounds like, you can download the tune, stick it in something like EasyABC and listen to it courtesy of someone’s software package underlying EasyABC, in this case, abc2midi - just as other underlying software packages develop the computer screen staff notation or translate that into a pdf file that can be printed.

I think midi sounds horrific but I can learn the melody by both ear and sight using the abc stuff and since I don’t read music well, the midi output helps me correct my misinterpretations of note lengths when I’m reading staff notation. It all comes back to learning tunes either by ear or sight using software or learning tunes by ear from audible sources. If you’re really fortunate, you may have someone that has time and incentive to let you learn from them. There is no one near where I live that I can hang over the shoulder of so to speak and learn ITM so I’m constrained to any of the other aforementioned methods. They’re all fair game in my book.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

It is kind of the epitome of the art though. I doubt that Patsy Touhey or Leo Rowsome ever sat down with a copy of O’Niells and learned tunes out of it. But I’m not interested in belabouring that point. Tune books are a fine resource and I may have misrepresented my point there. If anyone is interested pm me, I’m happy to discuss it. In the meantime I’m done with this thread.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Wesley Mann: "…there is very little point to using any notation to learn tunes. They have to be learned by ear…"

They HAVE to be?

Here is a short list of musicians who have learned tunes from notation:

Kevin Burke; Brendan Mulvihill; Paddy Cronin; Jimmy Power; Julia Clifford; Denis Murphy; Liz Carroll; Andy McGann (from notation written by Michael Coleman); Gerry Harrington; Harry Bradley; Caroline Keane; Gavin Whelan; The Kane Sisters; Connie O’Connell; members of Deanta; Dervish; Teada.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Willie Clancy.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Wesley Mann said: " I doubt that Patsy Touhey or Leo Rowsome ever sat down with a copy of O’Niells and learned tunes out of it."

Possibly not, but Seamus Ennis was reported to have done so. And Leo Rowsome wrote his own tutor, complete with five pages of instructions on how to read music, not to mention many tunes in music notation beautifully written out in his own hand.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Wesley Mann said: "The most ridiculous thing about this discussion is that there is very little point to using any notation to learn tunes. They have to be learned by ear."

How then could we learn all the beautiful old tunes preserved in the Bunting, Goodman, Gunn and etc. collections?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

At the risk of speaking for Wesley, I think the meaning is rather that you can’t learn the music from sheet music / notation. You certainly can learn tunes, but if you don’t understand the music, you won’t be able to learn how to play them in the idiom / style of traditional irish music.

The problem with prolific sight readers is that because they can get tunes quickly from notation, they run the risk of never learning how to get the music properly.

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Nico, if is very significant in your statement, "if you don’t understand the music, you won’t be able to learn how to play them in the idiom / style…"

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Dance tunes easily are the most popular and the most recognizable of all of the Irish and Scottish tunes and ABC is probably somewhere near ideal to tell a musician just what to do, just pick up the tune, drive the dance beat and then the dancers will be happy. Yep, that formula works well.

But then there come the airs, which really can constitute an entirely different category of music. An air can be very personal and very private, where a musician could talk straight from their heart. Staff notation comes in handy here, to allow a musician to most fully express themselves.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

"The airs can be very personal and very private, where a musician could talk straight from their heart. Staff notation comes in handy here, to allow a musician to most fully express themselves."

Do you mean the composer or player here? I agree that slow airs are very individual pieces. However, that would suggest that each player should have his or her very own setting in "staff notation"?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

There is an interpretation of the expression ‘make the tune your own’ that is to let the tune flow based on the player’s past experience of that tune and others, their response to the meaning of any words, how it fits their instrument and style of playing, their mood of the moment maybe, and other things personal to them.

How would that be notated in advance of a particular rendition of the tune, given that ‘past musical experience’ would include what has happened immediately beforehand.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Hi, Johnny,

OK, we all know about dance music, great stuff. But many of the airs fit into a different category. At the end of a day a musician might not have a dance tune on their mind, but rather could have a matter of individual interest in their thoughts. And so they could spend days, weeks or months in trying to hammer out what those thoughts could be. Yet when they do come to a resolution, they then need a medium to most fully express those thoughts. Simply, ABC notation can not do that but staff notation indeed does have that possibility.

Best, - Doug

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Indeed, any form of notation would and should only be a guide at best.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Sorry, Doug. We cross posted.

Thanks for clarifying that. I see that you are thinking more along the lines of the use of "staff" as a means of individual musicians to express themselves either for composition or own arrangements of existing pieces as opposed to players learning and/or playing the tunes.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

That clarifies that then. @o’muirgheasain "I could not help but wonder what made ABC notation so popular" Are you still wondering?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I would still like to a sample of the staff notation for an air with all of the ornaments or whatever that Doug keeps mentioning. Call it curiosity. Doug, would you please provide a url to something on the web that fits your description or scan the staff notation that you’re basing your description on and put it somewhere we can all view it. Thank you.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

What’s the catch Nigel? Unless I am missing something the direction of the stems is the only tricky part.

Callison seems to have enough on his plate with the tome…

X: 1
T: CASUDH AN TSUGAN (Slow Air)
T: (Twisting the Hay Rope)
M:none
K: C
L: 1/8
"FREELY"
GA//B// .|c E/.|G2 A/A//G//E/.|D>E.|G3 A/<B/.| c>A c/A/.|B>A G!fermata!E/D/.|
E D//E//G/.|A3/2 G//A//B/.|d2 e/d/.| G/AG/|G GE/.|D2 E/.| G3/2G G2.|
G//B//d/.|e3/2 d/>e/.|(g/g//)d//e/.|de/d/.|(BB//)A// G2 G//A//c/.|(cc//)A// c/A/.|
B>A GE//D//.|!fermata!E2 D//>E//G/.|A3/2 G//A//B/.|!fermata!d2 e/d/.|B/AB/ .|G3/2 E//(G//G/)E/.|
D3/2 E.| G2 G.|!fermata!G2||

I guess there will be some ‘typos’ but I am not going to proof read it again. Or find if there is a way of left justifying the title.

What have I missed? :-/

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

And what does that fermata at the end of the first line mean?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I pasted it into the MandolinTab ABC converter - a perfect score. No edits, and it was identical to the original PDF (unless there was a typo somewhere).

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Thanks. I realised part way through that L: 1/4 would have been easier so that the number of "/" characters matched the tails on the notes.

Can people play from that stuff?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Looks perfect to me as is. If you really want to match the score you can force the stem directions but it’s really, really ugly. Definitely not worth the effort. Here’s just the first line with the stems forced to match the original score:

X: 1
%%titleleft
T: CASUDH AN TSUGAN (Slow Air)
T: (Twisting the Hay Rope)
M:none
L: 1/8
K: C
"FREELY"
V:1[stem=] down
GA//B// .|c \
V:1[stem=] up
E/.|G2 A/A//G//E/.|D>E.|\
V:1[stem=] up
G3 A/<B/.| \
V:1[stem=] down
c>A c/A/.|B>A \
V:1[stem=] up
G!fermata!E/D/.|

As I said, really, really ugly. If abc notation had a !stemup!, !stemdown! and !stemauto! provision it might conceivably be worth the effort for specific purposes. Might. But probably not.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Hi, callison,

There really is not one example of staff notation which I could say is definitive. On the one hand, by education my background is in mechanical engineering and that is where I could present definitive explanations. But on the other hand, music can be totally creative, each such composition being unique, and that is where the beauty of staff notation lies. Staff notation includes a flexibility which allows an artist to most fully express themselves.

Best, - Doug

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I don’t need a definitive example Doug, just something showing some of the ornamentation you’re reading. Crescendos, fortissimos and the like or just provide the title of one of your favorite airs. Somewhere, there’s likely to be a scan of it on the web. FWIW (not much), I didn’t start reading notes until I was 61 and still don’t do it well even now. Note lengths and such still defy my very weird brain. I mean, if a note had a count of 4, it should be 4 widths wide and not some stem or head variation- right? I still can’t reconcile that, I guess I have a "player piano" kind of interpretation of things. I can however, recognize some of the ornamentations. Some. Not a lot. Still learning.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Thanks Nico, you’ve articulated my point more clearly than I could.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

> There really is not one example of staff notation which I could say is definitive.

I think we’re done here.

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

"What’s the catch Nigel?"

The dashed bar lines was the main catch, but it was just a bit of amusement, and to fill the gap left by o’muirgheasain.

I’ve been amazed at what people have done with ABC . I have used it for a long time, first in libraries while researching old manuscripts and tune collections, and then to create the music I used in my teaching, but it was always simple stuff - rigs and jeels. Now, the only time I use it is here on the session.org (I use Sibelius a lot).

The fermata at the end of line one is a relic of a type of ornament used in Co Monaghly which involved lifting one’s left leg up while executing backward treble rolls. I’m surprised you’ve never heard of it.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I had to look up the M: none and how to do dashed bar lines. So it was a useful exercise - if I ever need them. Thanks.

There is a typo. I left finding out about dashed bar lines until I was done and missed one of them. There is always a typo…

(callison may be thinking I should have used a ‘replace all’ but it was below my limit for cutting and pasting into something that would do it.)

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I don’t know, guys, 147 replies to this. Maybe just forget this s@%t, and just play the tunes. Not helpful to the original post, I know,…………………. but think about it.

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Maybe.

I forgot to add that my inability to ‘hear’ the notes from a score meant that whilst transcribing Nigel’s into ABC I could listen - several times - to a recording of different slow air that I am learning.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Hi, callison,

I began reading staff notation when I was seven years old. I am 61 now and am looking at 62 soon. ABC indeed does have practical uses, in particular to transmit a vast quantity of useful information and so I am not here to knock it. But staff notation has abilities which ABC simply can not offer or reproduce. Yes, it is somewhat of a language to learn but it is a language which musicians have learned in order to speak with each other.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I’m not here to knock staff notation either Doug, I’m just curious as all get out for a good example so I can better understand what you’re encouraging us to look at. I just realized that I don’t know any airs and can’t specifically recall hearing any either. Perhaps there’s a movie theme that’s an air that I would recognize when hearing it but I wouldn’t know it for an air unless someone told me.

David50, I barely recall seeing the dotted bar in Guido Gonzato’s manual but I’ve never run across one until Nigel posted that pdf. I didn’t even realize there is an M:none and didn’t even notice it in the abc file. So now I have to ask the knowledgeable members - what is a "meter of none" and where or why would one be used and - is it important? I’ll give you credit though, you found some interesting options that I failed to catch on to to. I did find the left-hand title justification though! ;^) I never realized there would be a need for that either.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

callison,

OK, you asked for an example of staff notation. Try putting this into ABC notation. Nope! That is not going to happen.
https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=in+derry+vale+youtube+hegarty&view=detail&mid=1315C13AED867D9CDDE71315C13AED867D9CDDE7&FORM=VIRE
Yep, you could recognize this tune as Danny Boy. Yet those lyrics were written by an Englishman a bit more than a hundred years ago while musicologists have determined that the tune itself could be several hundreds of years old. Oh, and yes, this is a genuine Irish air.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Hi callison. I forgot to say thanks for finding the left-justified titles and stem specification. So that was four things I learnt from Nigel’s excercise. I think the M:none is for things with a variable length bars.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Of Derry Vale … This tune can be played on a keyless D flute BUT there is one essential low C# for which your embouchure must be in tip-top condition in order to bend the bottom D down into the required low C#. When you can do that then you could know that your embouchure has arrived. Ah, but there also is a joy in arriving at the high B in the upper register. Enjoy!

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

@ o’muirgheasain. I think that to make your point about staff vs ABC you need to show us a transcription. How about just one verse to start with?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Hi, David,

Well, I did so, see Derry Vale, as posted above. The thing is that music can defy rationality. It can fit within a framework which we could be familiar with, but be prepared for dashing originality. That is artistry. ABC notation can deliver much information but it lacks the ability to deliver such nuance and subtlety. Staff notation is literally hundreds of years old and is so highly refined, a virtual language in and of itself, yet even staff notation has its limits. Ultimately, it is up to a musician to make an interpretation.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

That link is to a video. Your OP refers to staff notation. The discussion title is not "ABC vs Aural Experience".

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I have to agree with Kenny.
I mean, whatever notation system you use and whatever music you play, the notation has to be interpreted with reference to the expressive conventions of the type of music you play.
For (let’s face it) very simple dance tunes abc is a quick and easy notational system. That doesn’t mean to say abc is better than staff notation for presenting a visual interpretation of the tune. It’s just a tool (as is staff notation).
The music, though is not in the notation. It’s in you.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

*headdesk*

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

This is a really weird discussion.

Obviously Doug is not able to provide an example, because there doesn’t really exist an example, of a piece of music that cannot be represented by abcs equally as well (or poorly!) as by sheet music… so instead he just keeps repeating (or is it copying and pasting) almost the same reply verbatim. What nonsense!

If he used that method of "proof" in his career as a mechanical engineer, he’d have been fired or laid off decades ago. It boggles my mind.

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Doug, I’m having extreme difficulty reading the staff notation on your link!

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Alright, yes, I have cheated all of you by linking to a well-known tune but without posting a staff notation of it. But it should be obvious that it is not a dance tune, yes, that it is a genuine Irish air. Yet I did so in the spirit of asking you of just how ABC notation could possibly represent such an air. Staff notation could present a fair approximation of it but even that representation could be lacking. Sure, if you had enough money then you could hire an artist to teach you. But how else could you get such information? Yep, ABC has its limits and staff notation then really becomes your only other option.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Your ability to use logic is severely lacking.

I believe the summary of your posts is:
1. Sheet music can do things ABC can’t (you haven’t proven this yet)
2. Here’s a video that I don’t believe ABC *or* sheet music can completely capture (you provide no proof, nor any effort to capture this rendition with sheet music, even though there are in fact thousands of transcribed versions of Danny Boy you could have instead picked)
3. But sheet music can capture more than ABC (but you don’t know this, because you don’t actually know ABC at all… so you’re really just repeating step 1.)

Stop repeating your claim. Go back to step 1. Find sheet music that you believe captures things ABC can’t. Post it. Until you do that, you’re making a completely unsubstantiated claim.

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I don’t know ABC that well, so I don’t know it’s limitations, can any of you ABC buffs tell us where ABC has difficulties? Like say orchestral pieces with many lines? Viola 1 1st violin, 2nd violin,cello etc etc etc Is this convertible to ABC?
Is there in fact any score that can’t be accurately notated in ABC ?

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Will, abc limitations are mostly unsupported ornaments in regards to ITM. Guido Gonzato’s manual specifically states that abc does poorly on Gregorian chants and then promptly provides some reasonably complex samples of baroque music in abc.

Multi-voicing, instrumentation and a slew of other facilities have been added to abc since its inception and Guido’s manual has examples of nearly all of them. To be honest though, some can be quite difficult to implement in abc. Sort of like painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling with finger paints rather than fine artist brushes.

Guido Gonzato’s "Making Music with ABC2" https://sourceforge.net/projects/abcplus/files/Abcplus_en/abcplus_en-2016-06-08.zip

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

The second two - maybe, the first - not at all.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

:)

Well, John Stump sure was a switched-on geezer to come up with that! He’s done some other really funny stuff too.

@Will - "Like say orchestral pieces with many lines? Viola 1 1st violin, 2nd violin,cello etc etc etc Is this convertible to ABC? "

I reckon so. I’m not sure where/what format the source was, but "A Forgotten Sea" did OK for both standard notation and abc format.

Here’s the standard notation : https://www.dropbox.com/s/6bznw0s3k2f0n86/a-forgotten-sea.JPG?dl=0

…and here’s the abc - oh, and that’s only exactly half of the 1st page (what you see in the pic). Wait for it :

X:1 %Music
T:A Forgotten Sea %Tune name
C:William Allen Hale %Tune composer
N:Copyright 2002 %Tune infos
Q:1/4=117 %Tempo
V:1 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘Choir’ @
%!INSTR ‘Flute-3’ 0 5200 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Dm
z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |
V:2 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘Flute 2’ @
%!INSTR ‘Flute-2’ 0 7300 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Dm
z4 A2 |d3 e f2 |g2 f2 e2 |(e/(f/)(e/) d4) z/ |z4 A2 |d4 d2 |c3 A A2 |A6 |
V:3 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘Clarinet 1’ @
%!INSTR ‘Oboes’ 0 7100 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Dm
z6 |z6 |z6 |D4 A2 |G/A/G/ F4 z/ |z6 |z6 |z6 |
V:4 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘Clarinet 2’ @
%!INSTR ‘Clarinet 2’ 0 7100 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Em
z6 |z6 |z6 |G2 F2 G2 |F/G/F/ E4 z/ |z6 |z6 |z6 |
V:5 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘Bassoon’ @
%!INSTR ‘Bassoon’ 0 7000 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Dm clef=bass
z4 A,,2 |D,3 E, F,2 |G,2 F,2 E,2 |(E,/(F,/)(E,/) D,4) z/ |z4 A,,2 |D,4 D,2 |C,3 A,, A,,2 |A,,6 |
V:6 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘French Horn 1
’ @
%!INSTR ‘French Horn’ 0 6000 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Am
z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |[F6A6] |[E6G6] |[A4E4] [E2A2] |
V:7 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘French Horn 2’ @
%!INSTR ‘Trumpet 1’ 0 6000 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Em
z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |
V:8 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘French Horn 3’ @
%!INSTR ‘Trumpet 2’ 0 6000 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Em
z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |
V:9 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘Pizzicato Strings’ @
%!INSTR ‘Trombone 1’ 0 4500 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Dm clef=bass
z6 |[z2D,,6] [A,2F2] [F,2D2] |[A,,6z2] [G,2E2] [E,2^C2] |[D,2D,,2D2] [F2F,2] [A,2A2] |[D,2D,,2D2] z4 |z6 |z2 z4 |z6 |
V:10 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘Trombone ’ @
%!INSTR ‘Trombone 2’ 0 5700 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Dm clef=bass
z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |B,,3 D, F,D, |D,6 |A,,6 |
V:11 %
%!STAVE 0 ‘Tuba’ @
%!INSTR ‘Tuba’ 0 5800 @
M:3/4 %Meter
L:1/8 %
K:Dm clef=bass
z6 |z6 |z6 |D,3 z3 |z6 |z6 |z6 |(A,,6 |
%End of file

…and that’s just the 1st 8 bars for each instrument. And it’s just the intro.

If there’s one thing that jumps out at me, it’s that for 8 bars of music, it takes *one* line of standard notation to read it.

For the same 8 bars in abc, it takes *six* lines to read it.

Simple, really :)

It’s reinforcing the idea for me that reading/writing abc is perfectly fine for simple bare-bones Noddy tunes. But, take one of those Noddy tunes, add slurs, bow markings and fingering, well … there’s a challenge.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

ABC is not a general purpose music typesetter (or typesetting language), and that is not its purpose. The original purpose was to be a textual representation of music equivalent to staff notation, and in a relatively readable form (compared to something like, say, MusicXML). Like anything simple, it soon grew additions (I want to add chords, bowings, gracenotes, text, etc, etc…), and of course it very quickly became a de facto language for typesetting, though that was not its original purpose. Today it represents a large and complex subset of the things that could possibly be expressed in staff notation.

Jim, you’re right that your ABC code there is unreadable in its own right. But *any* text based input to a typesetter is going to be just as bad (the Lilypond equivalent for example, would be four or five times as long).

But Lilypond is designed with the intention that you can design, move, and draw more or less at will; it’s the electronic equivalent of a pen and a blank sheet of paper. That gives you expressive power, at the cost of complexity. ABC on the other hand can only represent what the language says it represents; so if I want to add, say, a Scott Skinner looped slut, I need to get it added to the language first of all.

For many use cases, ABC is ideal. For many, it is not. For me, ABC is ideal for typesetting GHB music. That said, if I were typesetting certain pieces - such as piobaireachd - I might want the extra power some other system like Lilypond gives me.

As an aside, I have a blind pupil who uses my ABC directly as he finds it much easier to read than the staff notation equivalent.

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Slurs, bow markings (up/down) and fingering are pretty straight forward. I don’t have any idea what "Noddy" tunes are though.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Jim Dorans, you do realise that each instrument is reading it’s part? So, when there are multiple voices (flute, oboe, basson…) you only need to read one voice when your instrument has a part or count when your instrument is not playing. i.e. you don’t need to read the other voices during your instrument’s rests. You could read the Guardian if you can count at the same time and still be prepared to play when your part comes up.

Posted by .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

"you can go an entire lifetime playing Irish trad without seeing a piece of sheet music or having any need to"

Re: reiterations of the obvious …

I had that discussion w/llig several times, irishfiddleCT. He never insisted notation is not useful.

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Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Yes notation is useful, I agree.

But…

"you can go an entire lifetime playing Irish trad without seeing a piece of sheet music or having any need to"

as in, why should we discuss notation so much here, when all you need are your ears and the control of your instrument!

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

We should discuss all manner of notation here. Here is where many, many, many tunes are notated.

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Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Actually this is an Irish trad website so we should discuss all manner of Irish trad here so…

"you can go an entire lifetime playing Irish trad without seeing a piece of sheet music or having any need to"

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I would characterize this forum as a ship floating on a sea of abc notation. That’s just my personal take though. Here’s some excerpts from the bottom of this sites home page (Jeremy):

https://thesession.org/help
What’s ABC notation?
ABC is a great way of passing on tunes by writing the notes out in plain text.
It’s very straightforward and easy to learn. You can find out more on http://abcnotation.com/.

And just because we’re on this thread specifically:

Why is there no tune category for slow airs?
When you submit a tune, the tune type determines the time signature: jigs are in 6/8, polkas are in 2/4, etc.
Because slow airs come in a variety of time signatures (3/4,6/8, etc.), there can be no category for “slow airs” just as there can be no category for “speedy tunes” or “really great ones”.
Besides, transcribing slow airs is notoriously difficult and frankly beyond the scope of this website. For that reason, The Session is “limited” to dance tunes.

****************

I’m still waiting for a sample of an air (in staff notation) to see what’s so difficult. I’m sure they can be but I just want to see why.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Me too, callison. Me too.

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Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

[*Jim Dorans, you do realise that each instrument is reading it’s part?*]

Yes, I do :)

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

With you all: in staff notation you can put a tempo guide, e.g. 60 crotchets per minute. That’s not to say that you can’t drift around it a bit, put in your own ornamentation (especially if playing solo), add a wee bit of rubato, etc. But it does avoid tunes being played twice as fast as they were meant to be.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Wow. I had to look up yet another term - rubato. Definitely not a part of abc notation. Computers are notoriously adamant at maintaining even spaced values.

Tempo is available in abc notation as in the "Q:140" field header line of the Boys of Bluehill below:

X:1
T:Boys of Bluehill, The
R:Hornpipe
Q:140
M:4/4
L:1/8
K:D
FA |:"D" BAFA D2 FA | "G" BA (3(Bcd) "A" e2 de | "D" fagf "A" egfe | "D" dfed "G" B2 dB |

By default, if you have a Q field you’ll get the tempo listing in the score. If you don’t want the tempo to print in the score, you add
%%printtempo 0
somewhere in the header field of the abc notation. You would still get the tempo on audio playback in the abc editor but not the tempo representation on the score. If you have a tunebook with a lot of tunes you might wish to turn it off globally so you would place the "%%printtempo 0" at the top of the tunebook before the start of any of the tunes.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

And abc has a tempo field, Q:1/4=60.

If you want to add space between notes for formatting purposes, there is the y symbol, which takes up the same space as the unit note length and can have decoration attached to it. You can modify its size as if it were a note, y2, y/, etc.

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Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Ok, I stand corrected re tempo indicator in ABC, but ah, rubato, used all the time in slow airs….!

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

What does rubato, the playing technique, have to do with ABC or staff notation?

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Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Calum - not one single thing.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

But it has a hell of a lot to do with playing slow airs!

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

Rubato, as Doug would put it in regards to airs, is something that can’t be accommodated in abc notation which is entirely correct - at least in the electronic sense. ABC notation would be able to place the word in the score but abc2midi wouldn’t be able to interpret it and the audible output would trod along at a dead steady pace. As Wikipedia puts it:

"Rubato must emerge spontaneously from the music, it can’t be calculated but must be totally free. It’s not even something you can teach: each performer must feel it on the basis of his or her own sensitivity."

If you wanted to program something like that into electronically formatted music, you’d need some sort of artificial intelligence to enable it.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I may have misunderstood, but isn’t that what Trish was saying?

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To your last comment, Carl, perhaps some musicians may not want to be enablers for such things just yet. ;)

Jim, the original abc code was intended for transcribing single voice melodies. Which I hope helps to explain why the abcs you posted for several instruments may appear to be a mess.But, before tossing it aside, I’d like to suggest there is more than one way to *write* the same thing; depending on one’s familiarity w/the syntax.

Mr. Dorans, I don’t know how you generated your abc file though I think it contains remarks & redundancies which aren’t necessary. Suffice it to say, those abcs would be near impossible for any one of the instruments to read & play. Perhaps that was your purpose.

On the other hand any system of notation is only as useful as it’s transcribers intend it to be. With this in mind I’ve borrowed Mr. Doran’s abcs and spent a wee bit of time to try & make them at least a little more useful. They are not anywhere near complete, but I’ve attempted to eliminate the instruments which are sitting out (in the 1st 8 bars), moved some of the formatting out of the tune body into the header & strived to make the actual abcs more readable (and condensed) for each instrument.

This is what I have so far ~

X:1
T:A Forgotten Sea
C:William Allen Hale (2002)
M:3/4
K:Dm
Q:1/4=117
%%score [2|3|4|5]|[9|10|11]
V:2 name="Flute2"
V:3 name="Clarinet1"
V:4 name="Clarinet2"
V:5 name="Bassoon"
V:6 name="French Horn1"
V:9 clef=bass name="Pizzicato Strings"
V:10 name="Trombone"
V:11 name="Tuba"
V:2 %Flute 2
z4 A2 |d3 e f2 |g2 f2 e2 |(e/(f/)(e/) d4) z/ |z4 A2 |d4 d2 |c3 A A2 |A6 |
V:3 %Clarinet 1
z6 |z6 |z6 |D4 A2 |G/A/G/ F4 z/ |z6 |z6 |z6 |
V:4 %Clarinet 2
K:Em
z6 |z6 |z6 |G2 F2 G2 |F/G/F/ E4 z/ |z6 |z6 |z6 |
V:5 %Bassoon
z4 A,,2 |D,3 E, F,2 |G,2 F,2 E,2 |(E,/(F,/)(E,/) D,4) z/ |z4 A,,2 |D,4 D,2 |C,3 A,, A,,2 |A,,6 |
V:6 %French Horn 1
K:Am
z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |[F6A6] |[E6G6] |[A4E4] [E2A2] |
V:9 %Pizzicato Strings
z6 |[D,,6] [A,2F2] [F,2D2] |[A,,6] [G,2E2] [E,2^C2] |[D,,2D,2D2] [F,2F2] [A,2A2] |[D,,2D,2D2] z4 |z6 |z2 z4 |z6 |
V:10 %Trombone
z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |z6 |B,,3 D, F,D, |D,6 |A,,6 |
V:11 %Tuba
z6 |z6 |z6 |D,3 z3 |z6 |z6 |z6 |A,,6|

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Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I wonder if the note lengths in this section shouldn’t be a bit different than shown:

V:9 %Pizzicato Strings
z6 |[D,,3] [A,F2] [F,2D2] |[A,,2] [G,2E2] [E,2^C2] |[D,,2D,2D2] [F,2F2] [A,2A2] |[D,,2D,2D2] z4 |z6 |z2 z4 |z6 |

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

AB - earlier in the thread Will asked "Is there in fact any score that can’t be accurately notated in ABC ?"
Hence my response with the big abc file and pic of the standard notation to match.

That score I posted was just one of the demo "tunes" that comes with Harmony Assistant software.

As to the accuracy of the abc export - I guess it’s OK - if you import the abc back in, the resulting score is the same, albeit with a slightly different layout. Whether it would retain everything when imported into another system (eg Finale) is another issue.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I don’t think that an ABC export really addresses the question. That it was an export explains the poor readability by a human.

That it doesn’t read in again exactly the same may tell us about an ABC limitation but it may also be a limitation of the export-import coding.

Pasting it into the version of EasyABC I happen to have open results in a blank page. Pasting in AB’s hand coded version results in a credible looking score with one minor glitch.

Did anyone bother looking at the stuff on the page I linked? http://wiki-score.org/doku.php

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

ABC to midi is a tool I’ve not made use of , being fairly adept at reading the kind of tune I’m interested in. I spent some time learning to read classical guitar notation with several lines moving In different directions and found that relatively quickly I was able to read chords as though they were one thing. Ie I could see a bunch of notes stacked as an E chord at a glance.
In guitar notation the fret and fingers are often added to make clear where on the neck the note should be played and what finger. How this would be notated in ABC I’m not sure, cumbersome but probably do able.
But rubato is fairly simple, although the midi rendition would not play it, the discussion is really about communicating ideas via code.
So ABC is a code that communicates ideas that a computer program would read and transform into standard notation to read on the screen. Just as a screenshot of notation is actually, under the hood a code that is understood by the computer program . So to compare like with like we couldn’t justifiable compare notation with ABC , rather ABC with the lines of code that create the screenshot.
Anyhow what I wanted to say is that standard notation does not read itself, it requires a person to play ,so rubato is a command on the score to play with flexible rhythm which is exactly what it is in an ABC score too.
Obviously a standard notation score conveys a lot more information at a glance to a player because it is a pictorial representation of movement and sound . Just as a cartoon or glyph or symbol can convey a mass of information much faster than the written word .
I’m very glad I learnt ABC . It’s been a really useful language . I recommend Doug gives it a go despite his misgivings , once the language is understood then ideas can be communicated quite simply. For example . If I have a tune in standard notation and I wish to find a new key to play it in , I transpose it online and try a few variations. For example recently I revisited the musical priest. A tune I never play these days , one I learnt 30 yrs ago. To bring it back into my repertoire I decided to try it in another key. And found by transposing it down to Gm it fell under the fingers on my fiddle and is great fun to play. First I tried Am . This process took a moment while had I to write it out by hand it would have taken ages .

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

I find ABC to MIDI very useful for ‘proofreading’. Most typos in the ABC produce something that sounds wrong.

I don’t know if people who can sight-read music have the same problem spotting their own mistakes as people who sight-read writing, but I imagine that if it really matters (an expensive print run) someone else would read or play through to check.

Re: ABC vs Staff notation …

> I don’t know if people who can sight-read music have the same problem spotting their own mistakes as people who sight-read writing,

I certainly do. I pick up quite a lot by reading but the quickest way for me to find mistakes is to send someone else a copy.

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Re: ABC … Pizzicato Strings?

Thanks, callison, the "Pizzicato Strings" staff seems to be quirky. I’m not sure how many classical scores include
a part for PS. I imagine it’s only included by composers who use software generated instruments.

Having said that my guess is the note durations in Mr. Dorans’ original abcs are accurate according
to the composer’s intention. The only way to know for sure would be to see a copy of his original score.
And I don’t know if the score Jim has in his Dropbox is that.

Without more information about the original source I’m only speculating. But here is my best, most recent approximation of those 8 bars in abc code; I’ve re-inserted the rests I left out earlier & written voice overlays
< http://abcnotation.com/wiki/abc:standard:v2.2#voice_overlay > instead of the bracketed chords.

V:9 %Pizzicato Strings
z6 |D,,6 & z2A,2F,2 & x2D2F2|A,,6 & x2G,2E,2 & z2^C2E2 |D,,2x4 & D,2F,2A,2 & D2F2A2|D,,2z4 & D,2x4 & D2x4|z6|z2 z4 |z6|

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