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This is my Help File that I use when writing out tunes in abc notation. It's intended as a quick reminder of details, not as a thorough introduction or tutorial. I'm putting it on my web site in the hopes that others will find it useful for that

purpose as well.

Peter Yarensky



T: Title (second time, prints smaller)

S: Source

C: Composer

O: Origin

N: Note

R: Rhythm (in words)

Q: Speed of playback

M: Meter (in numbers)

L: Length of default note (default length if no L field -

     divide meter: if <.75, default = 1/16; if ≥.75,


K: Key (must be last)


C, to B, = octave below staff

C to B = octave in lower part of staff

c to b = octave in upper part of staff

c' to b' = octave in the positions


   number after note is multiplier

   / + number after note divides duration

   < or > after lone note seems to dot it (instead of 1.5


LINE BREAKS: occur after each line of text

   \ = continue line with what's on next line of text

RESTS: z = rest; duration as with regular notes

DOTTED RHYTHMS: use > or < for dotted pairs

TRIPLETS: use (3 followed by notes; to slur, put additional () around whole


BEAMS: group notes without spaces

REPEAT SYMBOLS: |  |]  [|  ||  |:  :|  :: (left & right repeat on same line)

FIRST AND SECOND REPEATS: begin measure with [1 or [2;

   or if adjacent to bar lines, just |1 or |2

ACCIDENTALS: ^, = and _ are used before a note for sharp, natural or flat

CHANGE MID-TUNE — Meter, Key, Default Note Length

   Put in new line with K;, M: or L: field

   Then start music on another new line

   To keep on same line, use \ at end of previous line of music


   2 notes (within/across bar): - between notes

   otherwise: () around notes

   spaces within () OK between notes but not next to parentheses sign

GRACE NOTES: use {} symbols around grace notes; no () needed for slur

   or use ~ for general grace note

TRILLS: "T" before the note - not standard abc, but works with Barfly, abcm2ps


  Stacatto: use period before note

   u, v = upbow, downbow

CHORDS AND UNISONS: use [ ] around notes

   if both notes are the same it will be a unison

CHORD SYMBOLS: use double quotes just before note; e.g. "Am7"

BOWINGS & FINGERINGS: use u and v for up-bow, down-bow; e.g. uAvBuA.

Fingerings can be done like chords.

ORDER OF SYMBOLS: <chord symbols> <accents> <accidental> <note> <note length>


Common ABC Errors:

Some of these were compiled from the Fiddle List (Fiddle-L) from an e-mail from

Laurie Griffiths, who wrote the Muse abc program. Tragically, Laurie who made

many interesting contributions to the Fiddle List, died in 2002 when hit by a

car while he was out for a walk. He noticed that tunes submitted to the Fiddle

List didn't always work with the Muse program and looked for patterns. We can

all benefit from some of the patterns he found.

Incorrect:  |[1 |[2 for end of repeat.  Correct:  |1 followed by :|2

   -->the open bracket gives the appearance of the beginning of a chord

   which never ends.

Missing X: - The X: field is required at the beginning of all abc tunes!

Blanks in places where the syntax doesn't say they are allowed.

Line break in the middle of :|2

:||: for ::

H for fermata - apparently a private extension allowed by some programs.

Incorrect playback speed: Probably due to an incorrect number for the Q

   field. If you set Q:120 expecting playback to be at dance tempo you may

   be surprised depending on the default note length. For example, with L:1/16

   (default length of 1/16 notes), Q:480 will produce playback at the desired

   speed. Note that if there isn't a Q field your player program may have a

   default speed (check the Preferences). You can override it by adding a

   Q field to the header of the abc file.

Ties used in place of slurs.


Peter’s abc Help File


T:Golden Boy

C:Andy De Jarlis

N:as played in New Hampshire




F2G2|A4 d2e2|f6cd|e2d2 c2B2|A4F2F2|G4 e2>e2|e4G2G2|F4 d2>d2|d4 F2G2|

A4 d2e2|f6cd|e2d2 c2B2|A4F2F2|G4 e2>d2|c2A2 B2c2|d8|d4|]

[|e2>f2|g2B2 g2B2|g6 ag|f2A2 f2A2|f6 gf|e2A2 c2d2|e2g2 f2e2|f4>d4|A6 ef|

g2B2 g2B2|g6 ag|f2A2 f2A2|f6 gf|e2A2 c2d2|e2g2 f2e2|d8|d4|]

Since 5/14//07: