Computer Music Notes

On this page I plan to collect some notes on computer software and on-line resources that have helped me process written and recorded music. I hope it will be useful for my own reference and hopefully it will help others who try to do similar things.

ABC Notation

This is my computer music notation system of choice, it’s main advantages are

  1. very compact notation, which is easy to edit with a text editor and send by email
  2. A file can contain many tunes, and be manipulated as a tune book
  3. If  you are a programmer the simplicity of the format makes it easy to process with software you write yourself
  4. A lot of free tools available, both for computers and tablets, phones etc. Some of them, including abcm2ps (which typesets the music and is part of many other packages) are very high quality.

Disadvantages mostly relate to the fact that the system, and much of the software, will feel more natural to those who have a computer training and some aspects can be confusing to people who don’t have this background. This situation is changing and shouldn’t put you off, but if you are not keen on computers I would advise getting some advice to help get you started.  It is also worth noting that although complex multi-part scores can be typeset in ABC it is not really designed for this.  The  tools I use most are ABCExplorer on my Windows PC and TunePal on my Android phone.

If you want to learn about ABC there are plenty of resources on the internet, here are some suggestions,abc.html A good intro page with plenty of useful links   An interactive tutoral covering the basics A comprehensive use friendly description of ABC The official standard (although draft 2.2 exists too)  A great tune search site – not the most user friendly search engine (see links in documents listed above) but one which indexes a lot of tunes

Other Music Notation Software

It is not possible for me to do justice to the software available, and I am not qualified to provide a detailed comparison. I do most of my music processing using ABC notation and my usage of other software is limited, often involving translating scores transcribed by others to ABC format for further processing. I have decided to make a incomplete list and include some notes relating to specific features that I have found valuable.


Most would agree this is the industry standard, but it is quite expensive for personal use. You can now get a monthly subscription. There is a (free) browser plugin to enable Sibelius scores to be included on a web page.


There is a free version called NotePad which will read the files and allows some export.

Harmony and Melody Assistant from Myriad

I bought a Harmony Assistant licence because it is inexpensive (70 Euros) for a powerful program, with good import and export capabilities including ABC. I thought I would use it to explore multi-part arrangements but in the end I haven’t done so much of this, but it has been a useful too (see below) and I don’t regret the purchase.


Developed and sold by David Webber, this is a well thought out program which is relatively inexpensive, it has ABC export features.


This is notable by the fact that it is is released as free and opensource software under the GNU General Public License. It can import and export MusicXML

Decoding computer scores in graphical form

If you have a piece of notated music in graphical form, as an image or a PDF file, it is often useful to be able to read it into music notation software to allow it to be edited, transposed, or added to a tune collection. The process is not trivial and for a simple piece of music it may be easier to re-enter it. However I have looked into this and think it is worthwhile for more complex pieces.

If you have a PDF file generated directly by a music notation package, all the individual musical elements, lines, notes, etc will probably be present as individual entries in the file, making it possible to decode it without having to convert from a pixel image. This approach is taken by the tool PDFtoMusic from Myriad Software.  The  free demo version of PDFtoMusic is fully functional but will only output a singe page, it is still useful for odd jobs with this restriction. It can output a file in the Myriad format (.myr) and as I have a licenced copy of Myriad Harmony Assistant I can read it in and export the file to ABC format. From here I can do edits (some are essential to tidy up the PDF extraction which is rarely perfect) transposition etc.

If the file you are starting from a scanned image, or cannot use the PDFtoMusic route for any reason, there are tools which will decode a pixel based image, looking for music symbols.

Musitek SmartScore – see This seems powerful but is quite expensive and the demo versions cannot be used, even for a single page.  The same technology is available cheaper in the conversion tool

There is a freely available Open Source tool called Audiveris. A quick scan online failed to yield an easy-to-install Windows version (but I may have missed one) however I found an on-line import tool for the MuseScore package which I found worked pretty well. You submit PDF files and wait a few minutes (assuming there isn’t a queue)  to get a file back in MuseScore format.

MuseScore (which is free, see above) will load the result export the result in MusicXML file

MusicXML can be converted to ABC using this on-line tool: If your PDF contains many tunes, they will all end up concatenated and you will need to separate the tunes. This is easy if you understand text editors, but could be a bit more laborious using a graphical program. It might be easier to feed the converter one tune per PDF, if that is possible.