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What is your favorite ABC player?


I just discovered that VLC media player will play ABC files (at least in Debian Linux) but it sounds lousy and chokes on chords. A python script called abctool handles chords and sounds good, but it lacks pause and other nice features.


Practicing along with ABCs provides flexibility, a clean sound and easy to set tempo. But a better player would be nice.

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you may want to convert your ABC to MIDI first; I believe that MIDI technology (and therefore useful MIDI playing technology) has been around much longer...

Thanks. I've done that, and it seems like these programs must do so internally. But when you want to add a repeat, or drop the tempo 10bpm, it is so nice to be able to skip that step. Also, I'm lazy.

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The best sound that I have heard from an ABC file is achieved by using Musescore with the built-in Fluidsynth midi player.


I have a concertina sound font (.sf2 file) that you can plug into Musescore/Fluidsynth so that you can even get a reasonable concertina sound. This is Phil Taylor's (no relation) sampled baritone EC concertina. It is not bad, but Fluidsynth has to make some big interpolated jumps to get it to play the higher notes. I am grateful for it, but I really wish that we had some better sound font files with a bigger range of samples in it. Maybe a nice Jeffries...


Anybody? Pretty please? Those of us with aspirations to build a midi concertina really need some more concertina sound font files.


Anyway, here is Phil's sound font file repackaged from the Barfly days:




Back to Musescore:


Musescore is not an ABC player, but there is an ABC plug-in that allows you to import ABC into Musescore and play it back, even edit it in Musescore if you like. I use EasyABC to create an ABC file and then just cut and paste the ABC text into Musescore.


You can do this with the current stable release version of Musescore (1.3) but I am using Musescore 2.0 beta2 because it has some nice features and is reasonably stable. In particular, you can select a section of the score and play it inside a loop and you can set a metronome going as well. You can also slow it down and if you have two parts in the score then you can adjust the volume on each part. Musescore 2.0 really is a beta and is not quite finished but it works well enough as long as you are not surprised by the very occasional crash. When it starts up on my machine I get a couple of windows that appear to be errors that I just dismiss and go straight to the main window.


You can download Musescore from here:




The plug-in is a bit picky and flaky at times so take a look at the resulting score before playing it, you may need to to tweak it a bit. It does not handle pickup notes (anacrusis) correctly so you have to go into Musescore and fix that - I will leave that as an exercise for the reader! Also, note that the plug-in needs Internet access as it does the conversion from ABC to MusicXML on a server server somewhere in the Outer Hebrides (just kidding, but it needs Internet access).


You can download the plug-in (abc.qml_.zip) from here: http://musescore.org/node/21989


Installing this plug-in into Musescore requires fiddling around with Plugins->Plugin Manager. I had to shut down and re-start Musescore before it eventually showed me an entry for ABC import under the Plugins menu item.


Musescore comes with Fluidsynth built-in but the supplied sound fonts are not the best (they are way better than the default system sound fonts which suck the bag IMHO) because they are trying to keep the download size down. For non-concertina sound fonts I like the FluidR3_GM sound fonts which you can get from here:




Note that this sound font is 141.5 MB and that it all gets loaded into memory. Lots of nice sounding instruments in this package.


In Musescore 2.0 beta, you have to go into View->Synthesizer to tell Musescore about a new sound font file (use Add and browse to wherever you unzipped it) plus you have to re-order the list of sound font files in the Synthesizer pane so that the one that you want to use is the highest priority.


You can install the concertina.sf2 mentioned above in the same way. Note that there is only one instrument in this file and it occupies the first slot which makes it a piano as far as Musescore is concerned. You change the instrument playing by right clicking on a staff line and then editing the Staff Properties.


If all of this seems a bit overwhelming then it really is not too bad once you have Musescore set up. At that point t is simply a matter of cutting and pasting the text of an ABC file into the ABC import windows, doing a quick visual check of the score and then playing it.


I have asked the current maintainer of EasyABC if he can incorporate Fluidsynth directly into EasyABC but this does not look likely to happen any time soon so this will give you the best sound from ABC files for the foreseeable future.




PS. I am doing this on a Windows 7 computer, but I am pretty sure that this should all work on Mac and Linux computers too. Musescore 2.0 beta2 is available for Window 7/8, Mac OSX 10.7 and up, Debian/Ubuntu and PCLinuxOS. There there is the source code ...

Edited by Don Taylor
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I stil use Phil Taylor's BarFly on a 5-1/2 year old Mac laptop running OSX 10.6.8. The fact that it doesn't run on newer versions of OSX is the main reason I haven't upgraded. In 2011, I wrote to Phil:


Hi, Phil.


Thanks for years of using BarFly. I've been reading about the new OSX, and how it is incompatible with Rosetta and any program written for PowerPC, that uses Rosetta for Intel compatibility. This means a lot of my favorite software, including, it seems, BarFly. Will there be an Intel-native version?


He responded:


It will be very difficult to make an Intel version, for various technical reasons. While I haven't entirely given up hope of doing it, it's not going to happen in the near future.


If you want to keep using BarFly there are several possibilities:
Keep an older system version on a disk partition or external drive.
Run Snow Leopard in a virtual machine (can be done apparently, but it's a hack, contravenes Apple's user licence and needs considerable technical savvy to get it working).
Run OS 9 under Sheepshaver and use the Classic version.
Personally I'm hoping that someone will hack Rosetta to work on Lion.
Otherwise, take a look at Easyabc or Skink, both of which are quite capable programs.
Phil Taylor



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I usually play along with a real recording using Transcribe. That will allow me to slow

down the tempo if it's too fast and drop or raise the pitch. It's great for transcribing but

for practicing too. I can't see the benefit of playing along with ABC, Midi or any of those

formats when better tools are available.


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I do agree that a real recording is more useful, as it will have those critical nuances that give life to the tune. An ABC or MIDI player won't provide those subtleties any better than just playing the written music on the page would. So personally I prefer to work out the tune from the written page rather than listen to an ABC player.


But for those who don't read music, it could be useful to have an ABC or MIDI format player, to be able to hear the tune as written if a real recording isn't available in the desired version of the tune.


Haven't tried Transcribe, but it does sound useful.

Edited by Tradewinds Ted
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There are settings in ABC2MIDI which allow you to "stress program" by tune type so that tunes sounds less mechanical. They are automatically turned on in EasyABC. You might not like them, though they can be changed if you wish to bother, and the are certainly not as good as listening to live music. But they are considerably less bothersome than some MIDI playbacks.

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