ABC Music Notation: Grace Notes and Ornaments

by John Chambers
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Grace Notes

ABC has a simple notation for grace notes:

This represents the note e with two grace notes, c and d, before it. Music formatting programs will represent these as tiny notes. Playback programs will play them somehow, but exactly how isn't defined by ABC itself. A good way to write out complicated ornaments is to write the main notes as regular notes with their full time, and fill in between them with little notes. Here are some examples:
| {E}FA{c}AF DF{^dc}A f{A}df f{AGA}df \
| {B}D2 {A}D2 {G}D2 {F}D2 {E}D2 \
| {E}c2 {F}c2 {G}c2 {A}c2 {B}c2 |
| {A}^c2 {gcd}c2 {gAGAG}A2{g}c<{GdG}e {Gdc}d>c {gBd}B<{e}G \
| {G}[G4e4] {FGAB}[^c4A4] {ef}[e4c4] {d'c'bagfedcB_AcBFGC}D4 |]

Grace notes

The presence of gracenotes is transparent to the broken rhythm construct. Thus the forms A<{g}A and A{g}<A are legal and equivalent to A/2{g}A3/2.

Accents and other symbols

Staccato marks (a small dot above or below the note head) can be generated by a dot before the note, i.e. a staccato triplet is written as (3.a.b.c

For fiddlers, the letters u and v can be used to denote up-bow and down-bow, e.g. vAuBvA

Some common ornaments in use by most programs are:

. staccatto
~ turn
H fermata or "hold"
K accent that looks like >
k accent that looks like inverted V
M tenuto or emphasis
O coda
P uppermordent
S segno
T trill
u up-bow
v down-bow
Just what these look like is not too well defined, unfortunately. But that's also true of "standard" music notation. For example, the bowing symbols both appear in two forms. An up-bow may be V or inverted V, and a down-bow may be |_| or inverted |_|,

In older ABC software, these symbols are mostly hard-coded and can't be changed. However these symbols (.uvTHLMPSO and the roll ~) are just short cuts for commonly used accents and can even be redefined (see Redefinable symbols). More generally accents can be entered using the syntax !symbol!, e.g. !trill!A4 for a trill symbol (tr). This is a proposed extension to the standard, described in a separate Proposed Ornaments section.

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Copyright 2001, 2002 by John Chambers