Hello. I am new to this site and pretty new to playing music. I play guitar. I was on looking at some tunes on this site and its unclear to me how to read the ‘ABC’ file in the context of guitar playing. Would it be possible for someone to give me a quick run through of what’s going on? What does each letter stand for (‘X’ for example) and then what do the line of letters stand for (g2|aA A/A/A ABAF|EFAB cABc|dB B/B/B BcBA|Bcde fdBg|
aA A/A/A ABAF|EFAB cBBA - notes?)

Here is an example-
X: 1
T: Masons Apron
R: reel

M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Amaj
g2|aA A/A/A ABAF|EFAB cABc|dB B/B/B BcBA|Bcde fdBg|
aA A/A/A ABAF|EFAB cBBA|Bcde fgaf|edcB A2:|]
ed|(3cBA eA fAed|cA A/A/A fedc|dBfB gBfe|dBfB gfed|
cA A/A/A fAeA|ceAc fedc|Bcde fgaf|edcB A2:|]
fg|afec =c^cAF|EFAB cABc|dBBc dBcA|Bcde fec’b|
a2 ga fecB|AFEF ABce|fddd fefa|eAcB A2:|]
ed|c2 ec fcec|c2 ec fcec|d2 fd adfd|d2 fd adfd|
c2 ec fcec|AGAB cABc|dcBc defg|afec A2 B2|
c2 ac gcfc|c2 ac gcfc|d2 ad gdfd|d2 ad gdfd|
c2 ac gcfc|AGAB cABc|dcBc defg|afec A2|]

Re: Novice

I would reccommend this webpage for a breakdown on how to read ABC notation

ABC is a simple way to share music notation but the actual music notation itself is found on every tune page as well.

If you are new to playing music you might also want to search for how to read music notation on the guitar so that you know which note on the celf refers to which string and fret.

Re: Novice

‘celf’ ?

Posted by .

Re: Novice

Yes, Bazza, the terbel celf. 😛

Posted by .

Re: Novice

Chris, the letter notes you see there are the melody of the tune. The site then converts those letters into sheet music notation. See Mark’s link.

As a guitarist, you might be looking for chord letters, which these are not. Most of the tunes on this site are shown with only a melody, allowing guitarists to choose which chords they prefer to play with them.

Re: Novice

You should go to a session and just listen and observe the guitar player that is already there. If you are an American guitar player, what the guitar player does in an Irish session is surprising and does not in any way resemble what goes on in a bluegrass, old-time or praise music session. There aren’t official "chords" in the American traditional sense. They tune in DADGAD and play more open and ambiguous chords and do a lot of other things that are beyond my non-guitarist comprehension. I just want to warn you that full regular guitar chords can get you some evil glares at times. Not all the time, but sometimes. So it’s a good idea to go to sessions and just observe for a while.

Re: Novice

Further to what sbhikes said, a lot of Irish tunes are modal so a full chord doesn’t really suit.

Re: Novice

I’ve been playing guitar for 60 years. Smooth jazz, rock & roll, Contemporary Christian, western ballads and so forth. I won’t haul my guitar to a session though, I can’t do trad justice.

Re: Novice

"They tune in DADGAD".

No. They play the guitar. The tuning is irrelevant. The tune is the thing.

Posted .

Re: Novice

I agree with allan21.
There’s no requirement to be in DADGAD. Standard will work fine if, and it’s a big if, you learn the tunes.
How do you learn the tunes? By listening, listening and then listening some more.

It is also instructive listening to other guitar players who know what they’re doing. How do you know that they "know what they’re doing" ? If it sounds right.

Re: Novice

chrisdonaghy, are you planning on learning to flatpick the tunes on the guitar or are you hoping to start playing backup for tunes in the context of sessions?

If the first, go for it!

If the second, and this may sound harsh, unless you already know a lot of tunes, I suggest locking the guitar in the closet. Get yourself a mandolin or whistle, take a couple of years at least to learn to play a good number of tunes, then revisit the idea of playing backup.

In my experience, those who don’t learn the tunes first have a very small chance of being successful as backup players, at least in the context of playing with others in a session setting.

Again, I know this sounds harsh, but I won’t sugar coat it. Few things are more destructive to a session than a backup player who doesn’t know the tunes.

As others have said, tuning doesn’t matter so much as knowing the tunes and getting it right. And by right, I mean 100% right. I personally like the sound of Drop-D myself, but have played with awesome DADGAD and standard tuning backup players.

Re: Novice

I have the privilege of frequently playing in a session with one of the finest Trad guitarists ever (Daithi Sproule) and his accompaniment (utilizing DADGAD tuning) is stellar. His spot on accompaniment comes from his thorough knowledge of the instrument, Irish Traditional Music, and generally the tune we’re playing. He’s also a fine fiddle player. When I played accompaniment on guitar (I mainly use Octave Mandolin now) I played mainly out of standard tuning, drop D, or double drop D. Style wise I was influenced by Mick Moloney and my friend Pat Egan. Accompanying trad tunes is a very different animal and there are a number of decent approaches but rhythm and taste are key. Knowing the tunes will make you a much better player. If you are interested in flat picking ITM tunes you will find that you won’t be heard in most sessions and it might be more productive for you to learn banjo, mandolin, or some other melody instrument.

Re: Novice

I’m not much on ABC, personally I find staff notation quicker to read and easier to see the shape of the tunes.

But just now I was looking at the ABC posted above in a different way, looking at it as a guide to the chords, and I think for that ABC works fairly well.

For example if you see AC#EA it’s obvious that an A Major chord would most probably be called for.

And if you see ABC#D you can see that the 1 and 3, the main beat and the secondary beat, fall on members of an A Major chord, suggesting that. The B and D, the 2 and the 4, being in-between notes, would carry less harmonic importance.

I’ve never thought of ABC that way. Is it a substitute for years of listening to the music and playing the music as a melody player? Of course not. But for a newbie it might be better than nothing.

Re: Novice

I’m not a guitar player so take what I’m about to say with a boulder of salt - but I’ve noticed that guitar players who come in from outside the tradition feel the need to give Irish reels the same sort of backbeat two/four feeling that old-timey and folk music employs. Resist that with all your might. When you back an Irish reel, drive the one.

Re: Novice

Yes Nutter Eejit I hear that all the time.

Even more annoying to me is when guitarists from outside the tradition do that same "backbeat 2/4 feeling" on jigs! It kills the life and lift.

It’s like those guys perceive everything as 2/4… but then, when I happen to listen to current pop music (not by choice) that’s the only beat I hear.

Re: 2/4 Rhythm

Is that because, pre-performance, they hear so many sound engingeers, maybe roadies saying "ONE TWO, ONE TWO"?

All the best
Brian x

Re: Novice

ABC is a computer code for representing staff notation on a computer, although it is based on musical shorthand methods which are much older. The "X;", "R:" and other headings are instructions to the computer - "X:" tells it this is the start of a new tune (a file can contain many tunes, "K:" is the key. If you copy and paste the entire text, including the headers, into an online interpreter such as this one:

or free software such as ABC Explorer it will convert the letters into staff notation, and play the tune if your sight-reading is a bit rusty.

What seems to confuse people is that since it is simple text it can also be read straight off the page, however most people seem to prefer to convert it to staff notation. If you are reading the text you need to be aware that sharps and flats are implied by the key specified in the K: field and are only written if they are accidentals, outside the normal scale of that key.

One of the many benefits of ABC is that it allows tunes to be shared very easily, as they don’t take up much memory (less of an issue than it used to be, but still a consideration) and can be easily be incorporated into emails and posts on internet forums. It is capable of representing very complex music, but then becomes difficult to write - it is most useful for simple melodies such as folk tunes.

Chords can be shown in ABC, both as notation and as chord names above the staff. However, as others have already explained, these can be less than helpful for this style of music and you would do better to work out your own chords and a sympathetic playing style.

Re: Novice

Hey Chris,

Its great to see that you’re interested in playing this wonderful music.

One of the interesting things about Irish trad is that the melody players play a fixed melody while the backing players improvise accompaniment.

The opposite being music like bluegrass where melody is improvised and and backers stick to 145 minor 6 chords.

Having a guitar just play a keys 145 chords over every tune will kill a session quickly.

Ideally you need to know the tunes very well and have a great mastery of the guitar to accompany trad music on the fly. That is a tiny percentage of humankind. The rest of us mere mortal must come up with strategies.

I suggest downloading a chord finder app onto your phone. Play the tune you are working on into the app and it will work out the chords for you.

A good place to get started.

Best of luck and.most importantly…Enjoy!

Re: Novice

"… backers stick to 145 minor 6 chords …"

@Noah Finn: That could easily be read the wrong way - that would be a heck of a lot of minor 6th chords 😉 (especially since there are only 12 possible minor 6th chords available - and none of them commonly used in bluegrass). Commas, or at least spaces, would make it clearer - in fact, you don’t need to say ‘minor’ at all as that is implied by the scale anyway. So "… 1, 4, 5 & 6 chords", or better still, use Roman numerals: "… I, IV, V and VI chords …"

Sorry to nitpick, but that is how I read it when I first saw it.

Re: Novice

Along with what Jusa Nutter Eejit mentions, I know a classically trained guitarist that got picked up to back a nominally trad band where I live. It takes real talent to make 12/8, 9/8, 6/8 and 2/4 sound like 4/4 on every tune. The dude is really good at classical music though.

FWIW: "there are only 12 possible minor 6th chords available". True enough until you take into account the many possible forms of the minor 6th and playing positions on the neck of the guitar. I suspect that there might indeed be as many as 145.

Re: Novice

Hey, Chris—I’m glad you’re interested in Irish traditional music, and I’m seconding the comments here on learning the tunes very well - before going into backup. As mentioned, the tunes themselves tend to be "fixed" in their playing whilst the backup is improvised. As ITM backup should be simultaneously "driven" as well as dead-on in the beat (YOU are setting the beat and the pace and YOU are the foundation for the melody players!), the Irish style runs counter to many other genres in trad music, and Irish backup takes a lot of time to learn and get it down well. And at first, you’ll have an overwhelming desire to speed up within a set.

Not only does the backup play need to know far more than I-IV-V, but reels, jigs, slip-jigs, marches, polkas, aires, etc., are all very different in backup as well… and knowing the modes is important!

As you learn more and more of the tunes themselves and get into the backup, eventually you’ll be able to anticipate the chord patterns without making yourself think too much on it.

But don’t forget to ENJOY yourself and have fun!

Re: Novice

p.s., Chris - where you are now is where we all were, at one time or another…