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abc Music Notation

What is abc Music Notation?

abc music notation is a way of writing music as a simple text file which computer programs can use to convert to sheet music. These days it is used by everyone from amateur musicians to professional musicians and singers and even orchestras. For an example of abc's complex capabilities see here.

Originally designed for use by traditional musicians playing fairly simple musical pieces, over the years it has developed to become a fully fledged system capable of highly complex classical music with base and treble clef, multi part pieces with notes, vocal and percussion components fully represented. The abc text files are used by computer programs to generate fully featured sheet music and midi sound files for use in recording studios.

abc is simple to use, quick to write, very easy to edit and the files are very easy to exchange by email or sms.

Many abc computer programs are available (must at no or low cost) for use on desktops, tablets and smartphones which are able to convert the text files to sheet music and midi files. Using these programs abc has many capabilities such as:

Example of a simple abc file

Let us consider a common traditional tune, this is an Irish reel called the Sally Gardens.

First we have the abc notation of the tune, for simplicity we will only show the header lines and the first line of the tune:

T: Silver Spear, The
C: Trad.
R: reel
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
|: F2 A2 BAFA | dfed BcdA | F2 A2 BAFA | dfed B2 A2 |

This simple text when read as sheet music looks like this:

Silver Spear example

To get started learning how to read, write and edit music in abc go to our instruction page here.

An Example of Complex abc Notation

If you think that abc is fairly rudementary music notation here are the first five bars of something a little more complex:

X: 1
T: Ave Maria
C: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525 - 1594)
M: C|
L: 1/2
Q: 1/2=120 " Moderato"
%%staves [S A T B]
%%MIDI program 1 53 % voice ooh
%%MIDI program 2 53
%%MIDI program 3 53
%%MIDI program 4 53
V: S clef=treble name="Soprano" sname="S"
V: A clef=treble name="Alto" sname="A"
V: T clef=treble-8 name="Tenor" sname="T"
V: B clef=bass name="Bass" sname="B"
K: Gm
U: h=!breath!
% 1 - 5
[V: S] !p!G4 |G2G2 |_A2G2 |z4 |c2Fc-|
w: A-ve Ma-ri-a, a-ve Ma
[V: A] !mf!E4|B,4 |C4 |(G4 |_A4) |
w: A-ve Ma-ri -
[V: T] !p!c4 |d3e |(f3e/d/ |ed/c/de |f3e |
w: A-ve Ma-ri ---------
[V: B] !p!C,4|G,2G,2|F,2C,C |(C=B,/A,/B,)C|F,4 |
w: A-ve Ma-ri-a, a-ve___ Ma- ri-

And here is the abc code above converted into sheet music:

Ave Maria Example
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