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 definitive 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 abc2ps and James Allwright'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 from 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:
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 morris tunes.
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 problems.
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 opening *.abc files, and it resets the default icon to its own, too.

Steve Allen <>