The ABC Notation System
A personal account by Flos Headford.
The notion of writing tunes down in everyday letters is not a new one. Most young learners of music find themselves at some point trying to make a quick pecilled note in the hope that it might somehow help in remembering a new tune later in the day. (Perhaps, with the advent of cheap digital voice recorders, that need will disappear.)
Chris Walshaw eventually proposed a system which allowed one to write tunes at a standard computer keyboard. It was well received, and has been refined, expanded and formalised, though I suspect it will be under continuing enhancement for some time. If all you want is a method of writing and communicating tunes, though, it's stable and ready to use.
There is plenty software available cheap, or more often free. Also, many important collections of traditional music from Britain and beyond have been transcribed into the ABC system. The usefulness of the latter is that, without being able to read music, you can now obtain free, small files containg hundreds of tunes and listen through them, or search for particular tunes and learn them.
It also means that anyone can now produce clean, computer-printed sheet music, and that (even with an old, non-broadband internet connection) you can send or collect a bookful of sheet music over the net in seconds.
As always, any online resource that offers you (or points you toward) collections of music, is morally or legally bound, as we do here, to warn prospective users that they need to assure themselves of the legal position on copyright in any of the material they might encounter. I have transcribed a few old collections into ABC, and I use the ABC collections as an aid in comparing different versions of tunes. John Percy and I use ABC in the band, too. Though John doesn't read music, I can send him tunes (often, over the net) and he can then listen to them and, if he likes them, learn them. If John were to find on the net an "ABC'ed" tune he really wanted to play, he could easily send it on to me to learn, or print it out and hand it to other musicians (within copyright rules).
Top of this page. - ABC Further Details.
- ABC software - ABC collections.
Examples of ABC transcriptions.