ABC Philosophy and Application Notes
Under construction as of 1998-05-25
Sources of abc information
The abc format for musical notation is described by its
creator Chris Walshaw on the
abc web page. This page is required reading, and it
contains links to all the abc applications mentioned
below. Also, I have a page of
ruminations about abc and its evolution.
Notes on my use of abc
I started using abc in late 1993 when Chris Walshaw's
abc2mtex and Don Ward's
playabc were the
only applications which interpreted it. In early 1998 I started
making significant use of Michael Methfessel's
abc2midi. My platform was and is an
Intel PC running Linux, and I also use other Unix workstations.
Sometimes, however, I do reboot just to see what the Windows 95
abc applications make of my tunes.
I have been struggling to re-edit the morris tune library such that
the abc files might serve as ur-text. This effort
is still underway -- watch for more details.
Various abc applications and my tunes
I consider the output of
abc2mtex to be the best
typeset presentation of the morris tune library. However, I
am now making liberal use of the experimental "w:" notation
abc2ps which permits alignment of lyrics
with notes. Raw
abc2mtex1.6 does not understand
"w:", but I have a preprocessor script which converts my tunes
back to the "W:" notation.
The output of
abc2ps is without doubt the most
beautiful I have seen. Its experimental "w:" notation for
aligning lyrics with notes usually produces
publication-quality results. However it has some quirks in
its understanding of abc semantics which are not
shared by other programs:
It remembers the state of numerous abc
header fields (e.g., "L:") from the start of the tune
(first occurrence of "K:")
and if it encounters "P:" or "T:" in the body of the
tune it re-sets back to that state.
It always breaks the staff to a new line when it encounters
"P:" or "Q:" fields.
This offshoot from
abc2ps excels at the
typesetting of multi-voice tunes, and it can typeset multiple
voices onto one staff. I am making use of it in several
experimental contexts, but its features are not needed for the
Although this was my only abc playback
application for 4 years, it has not evolved significantly
since 1995. Its yacc/lex-based parser is an excellent
example of a grammar for abc, but it no longer
corresponds to the standard. My tunes are no longer suitable
for this application.
This is the application I currently use for playback of tunes.
It was the application which pioneered the experimental "V:"
notation for multiple voices. Its ability to understand the
"P:" fields means that it can produce a passable rendition of
the full sequence of chorus and verses in a morris tune. (I
have slightly tweaked it so that it accepts the '.'
characters in my "P:" header fields.)
abc2win (Windows 95)
This application does not recognize most of the morris library
as abc because my files have Unix line
termination (LF) instead of DOS line termination (CRLF). When
browsing for tunes it only displays the 8.3 versions of file
names, not the new long file names. It does not grok numerous
in-tune fields. I don't have time to identify any other
Muse (Windows 95)
When browsing this application shows the full long file names.
However, it does not grok all the variants of the "Q:" (tempo)
field. It also will not play most of the morris tunes
without paying its registration fee.
ABCMUS (Windows 95)
This application probably has the best audio playback of the
Windows-based lot. Its browser only shows 8.3 filenames. It
also has the extremely annoying habit of resetting the Windows
file type registry to make itself the default program for
*.abc files, and it resets the default
icon to its own, too.
Steve Allen <email@example.com>