Who reads ABC and who prefers dots?


I prefer dots but see the benefit of the text based ABC system for sending tunes on the internet. There are many great softwares out there for free (such as ABCExplorer) which can convert ABCs to MIDIs, PDFS, jpgs, bmps, and also allow you to edit them.

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I suppose I shouldn't really be chipping in here, in this either or topic, but I'd just like to speak up for the 3rd option, which is of course learning by Ear.

I must be honest Davy, I've been playing Irish Music for almost 40 years now & I can honestly say I've never actually learned a tune by the Dots or by the ABCs.

With so many ways of recording & storing MP3s now, I reckon the best way forward is actually to record the playing of the tune & passing that on, whether as an attachment or storing it on a website. Then you can either send interested folk your MP3 or direct them to your site, via a link, where they can hear the tune for themselves.

I think the important factor in all of this, is the fact that so much of what is involved in expressing an Irish Tune can't be written down, so Dots & ABCs always have & I suspect always will, fall short of the mark, whereas Audio or Video can hit the spot.

I'm sure other folks here will have a different opinion, so let battle commence! ;-)



I totally agree with ye Dick, and I also tend to learn tunes by ear mostly (refining them later by use of dots or repeated listening to a recording). I have noticed, however, that ABCs have proliferated incredibly over the internet in recent years. My question was designed to find out if anyone had actually learnt the ABC system. I know a few people who swear by it.

Having learnt to sight-read dots in my early youth as a chorister, I can't be bothered to learn another system, although I appreciate ABC sysem's usefulness as a keyboard-based system, with small sized files, speedily transmitted over the internet.

Another benefit I have found is that when I am searching for a tune for which I can find no recorded source, I can usually find an ABC out there somewhere and can quickly convert that to dots and MIDI.

My vote goes for dots - otherwise Captain O'Neill wasted all that good playing time.

Thanks Phil,

I know a young accordian player who learnt his instrument through ABC. Seems it was his teachers, and now his, preferred system for teaching. Neither he or the teacher possesses a PC. I also know many people who learnt their instruments using the do-rah-me (sol-fa) system

In don't really 'read' ABC (some softwares I know do it very well), but I write ABC quickly. Dots ? Forget it ... That said, 99% of the tunes I am playing has been leanrt by ear.


Notation is good for remain, web transfer (ABC rocks), and working on arrangments (ABC beeing multi voices when you have the correct software).


Phil Schappert said:


To me, ABC is program code and is not, and has never been, meant to be "read"...


Well, I disagree. ABC was used in music classes far before the PC, as an easy to write and read notation tool. Il has become a standard for computers following the nice job made by Henrik Norbeck from Sweden in the second half of the 90's.

The basic form of the ABC notation was in use in the Scoil Eigse in 1976 in Buncrana.


A= La

B=Si etc.


A' for the higher octave, (a in standard ABC)


A- for a long note (A2 in standard ABC)


It seemd not to be something new here. AFAIK, it is widely used in first classes (I meant for young pupils) for songs and music all around the world. What Chris Walshaw and Henrik Norbeck have done is to give a well structured form to ABC as used by computers (kinda computer programming language, I agree, I used to be a computer programmer). But the use of letters as a support for music is much older ...


I think we are talking about two different but similar system here


My original question referred to the ABC system in general. It would seem to me that the newer system (Chris Walshaw's) obviously eveolved from the older system. I know many players who learned the old system, and have no problem reading from the newer system, even though it was designed to suit a PC keyboard.

Phil Schappert said:

That much is obvious, Davy! I didn't even know the other system Emmanuel is talking about existed. Of course, I know the Do-Re-Mi stuff, but not that it had been codified into something represented by letters. No matter how old I get, I still learn something new everyday!

So, now the question is "to which ABC system did your original question refer?"


I learnt to read music at school, when playing keyboards I play a tune for the first time using Standard Music, unless I know it well, in which case I play It by ear,with Banjo Mandolin Harmonica, I play it by ear if I know It or use Tabs as a guide to learn it. When I saw the Reference to ABC this morning , I had to look it up, I probably have seen it on odd occasions whilst looking for tabs, but, after over 50 years of using Ear and standard music, and Tabs for strings, I would find it difficult to use, I suppose its what you are used to.When I started Bass lessons I was a bit startled to find we would be using Bass Clef, but now I can use either Music or Tabs for Bass, but have started to incorporate ear playing as well,hearing the bass part in my head.
I prefer both learning by ear and by dots.  I can just passably read ABC, but if I have never heard a tune before but see the dots for it first, I can more easily "hear" the tune in my head before trying to play it than I can by reading the ABC notation. That's just me.  I learned to sight read and "hear" the music in my head at an early age.  But boy, oh, boy did i ever learn NOT to bring dots notations along the first time that I went to a traditional session.  The presiding "elder" took me aside and said I'd be welcome back to the session as long as I left the dots at home (-;  Since then, I have really concentrated on learning by ear!


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