There is a long tradition that when learning a new computer programming language, tutorials will show the easiest and quickest way to display the message “Hello World!.” The purpose is to show quick results, to demonstrate the fundamentals of the environment, and to reduce the feeling that things are going to be “impossible.” While we are not learning a programming language, abc is in the category of “music macro languages,” which means the abc “language” is a representation of music that computers can easily read and process. (It’s great that the abc “language” is also music that humans can easily read and process too!) As a “play” on the “Hello World” idea, our first tune will be the musical phrase of “hello world” from the song “Hello World” by Lady Antebellum.
Open up a browser (Google Chrome is recommended) and enter this URL into the “location bar.” If you are reading this online, you can simply click the link and it will take you there.
You will see a screen that looks like this:
Figure 1 www.projectnotions.com/abc2shapenote
Replace the lines in the left widow with the following lines: (no blank lines inbetween lines.)
EE G2 |
In a couple of seconds notice your “Hello World!” tune is displayed on the right: Congratulations, you’ve created a musical score in the shape note style!
Figure 2 - “Hello World!”
Here is an explanation for all of the lines.
make up the abc tune header. The header starts with the reference number (X:) and the tune title (T:). The header ends with the key field (K:). Other fields can be between the X:,T: and the K: fields and we will cover some of them later.
X:n is the reference number. “n” can be any number you choose. We have used “1”.
T:text is the Title. The Title can be anything you choose to name it.
K:xx is the “key” of the song. Examples are, “C”, “Eb”, D#”, etc.
The lines after the header key field (K:) make up the tune body. The tune body contains the music code that specify the notes, bar lines, and other musical symbols. In our example
EE G2 |
indicates that the notes E, E, and G above middle C should be written. The G note should be twice as long as the default (in this case the default is an eighth note) and that a bar should follow.
And that’s it! It IS as easy as “abc!” You can even press the “Play” button and hear the notes played.
We will be using the classic early American song “Amazing Grace” for these instructions For this “getting started” set of instructions we will use a vocal arrangement designed for four part harmony. We will call the parts soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Here is a summary of the steps in the following sections:
Step 2 - Enter the tune header
Step 3 - Review the basics of the abc tune body
Step 4 - Enter music for the Soprano voice
Step 5 - Enter music for the Alto, Tenor, Bass voices
Step 6 - Enter the lyrics
Step 7 - Play, Print, and even more resources
Step 8 (Optional) - Music Basics Refresher and Links
Here is an example of “Amazing Grace” with a normal music score.
Figure 3 Amazing Grace in traditional sheet music notation
Below is an example of the same music printed in the shaped note system:
Figure 4 - Amazing Grace in the 7 shape note style
Beyond just printing a score in shaped notes, the web page will also play the song. For songs with multiple parts(or voices) you can select which parts you want to hear. For many non-professionals this ability to play the song helps tremendously in learning to sing the desired part. In a few short steps, you will be well on your way to printing and learning music in the shaped note tradition.
So, let’s get started.
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