ABC notation is a simple (and free) way of notating tunes and sharing them. ABC tune files for many, many tunes can be found free on the internet from many sites but a good place to start is abcnotation.com. To use ABC on your PC, laptop, tablet or phone you need some additional software to interpret the ABC code and convert it to dots (sheet music) or midi (sound files) – whether you prefer to learn from sheet music or by ear ABC can work for you as the software used will both display the sheet music on screen and play the music to you. Although premium paid-for software is available the good news is that ABC software is readily available for free, there are also quick and easy online converters you can use, like this one from Mandolintab.net.
For Windows machines:
For Apple machines:
For Android devices:
For more examples of available software see the abc notation website.
Once you have installed your software all you need to do is search for the tune you want and copy the abc – a good search tip is to enter the tune name followed by ‘abc notation’ – for example search on ‘Speed the Plough abc notation’. The various types of abc software will vary but generally you can simply copy the abc code from the web and past directly in your chosen software. You don’t need to read music to use ABC as the software can play the tune to you as well as produce sheet music. So whether you prefer to learn by ear, from written music or a combination of the two ABC can be useful to you.
If you want to start learning how to alter and write abc to notation you own tunes or tune variants you will find all you need to know on the abc notation website.
ABC notation is not restricted to any particular instrument so it is ideal for sharing traditional tunes among players of different instruments making it easy for us to share our ‘steady session’ tunes and build up a repertoire of tunes.