abc2mtex version 1.5

This is a package designed to notate tunes stored in an ascii format (henceforth abc notation). It was designed primarily for folk and traditional tunes of Western European origin (such as Irish, English and Scottish) which can be written on one stave in standard classical notation. However, it can be used for multiple staves and should be extendible to many other types of music. It can also be used as a fast preprocessor for MusicTeX or MusiXTeX.

One of the most important aims of abc notation, and perhaps one that distinguishes it from most, if not all, computer-readable musical languages is that it can be easily read by humans. In other words, with a little practice, it is possible to play a tune directly from the abc notation without having to process and print it out. Even if this isn't of interest, the resulting clarity of the notation makes it fairly easy to notate tunes.

As an example the tune Paddy O'Rafferty would be written out as

T:Paddy O'Rafferty
dff cee|def gfe|dff cee|dfe dBA|dff cee|def gfe|faf gfe|1 dfe dBA:|2 dfe dcB||
~A3 B3|gfe fdB|AFA B2c|dfe dcB|~A3 ~B3|efe efg|faf gfe|1 dfe dcB:|2 dfe dBA||
fAA eAA|def gfe|fAA eAA|dfe dBA|fAA eAA|def gfe|faf gfe|dfe dBA:|
The abc notation is then read in by the program and a MusicTeX file generated (in a matter of seconds). TeX can then be run on this output to "typeset beautiful music". The result looks like this:

The package is small, easy to use and features, amongst other things, the ability to transpose both music and abc notation. It will also create an index of all the tunes you have transcribed and includes a powerful search facility.

The ability to write tunes in abc notation means that they can be easily and portably stored or transported electronically. This package allows you to typeset them easily too.

You can get a copy of the package by anonymous ftp from:

or by sending an email request to me (

The file README tells you how to set it up.

If you just wish to find out about the notation have a look at abc.txt. To find out more about how to use the package look at

There are also at least two collections of abc-notated tunes available on the internet. There is a large collection of mostly Irish stuff in the Ceolas archive and a library of morris dance tunes at UCSC from Steve Allen of Seabright Morris & Sword.

The package has been written on top of MusicTeX , Daniel Taupin's music typesetting package, itself written on top of TeX, Donald Knuth's typesetting package. To run it you will need TeX - freeware available by ftp from a number of sources such as the Complete TeX Archive Network (CTAN) in the USA, UK, or Germany. You will also need MusicTeX (also available from CTAN: USA, UK, or Germany) and a C compiler.

PC users can shortcut all of this by getting the contents of abcwin and the abc2mtex executables from Ceolas, which Mac users can get all the precompiled goodies in MacABC.

PC users can also try out a separate package called ABC2Win. The ABC2Win program supports the entry of ABC notation and viewing the musical notes onscreen in Microsoft Windows including Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and Windows 95. It will read and update files of ABC tunes. Tunes can be played over the PC speaker as a means of checking the accuracy of the notation. Information and copies of the program are available from the ABC2Win home page.

Chris Walshaw