ABC Export

• Apr 25, 2013 - 14:13

I'de love to have an ABC Export (I know there is already an import...). Is there anybody out willing to code something!? :)


You can export to MusicXML (visa File / Save As in 1.3, File / Export in the nightly builds for 2.0; no plugin required). Once you've exported to MusicXML, you can run the excellent xml2abc from Wim Vree:

I suppose a plugin could be written to automate this further, but it's pretty straightforward as is. And actually, I believe the ABC import plugin really just does the same thing in reverse, running your ABC through Wim's corresponding abc2xml then importing the XML.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

The problem is: will any of the current music notation formats be readable by computers in a 100 years, 200 years, 500 years?

I doubt very much whether any of the present day commercial proprietary notation formats like .sib, .musx etc. or even musicXML will be readable. Non-proprietary MuseScore formats like .mscz may stand more chance of being readable because they are not dependent on commercial concerns (which can go bankrupt).

But realistically, the only format that stands a chance of being readable is plain text. That is why ABC (a plain text format) is so important. An ABC export plugin is essential for this reason--to preserve notation for future generations of computer users.

ABC is the format used for preserving traditional folk music and also early music and some classical music.

See this site which has a searchable database of 460,000 (mainly traditional folk music) tunes.

In reply to by Shaunthesheep

Yes, and I am a huge ABC supporter. But again, we already support MusicXML export, and there is a very fine MusicXML to ABC converter that we could not reasonably expect to improve upon. And given the importance of this, I would expect there to always be a MusicXML to ABC format as long those formats exist. If MusicXML should cease to be relevant at some point in the future, then presumably it would be replaced with something else, and MuseScore would export to that that, and a converter form that to ABC would spring into being as well.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

You are missing the point that the only format that will survive generational changes in computer technology is plain text. Unless you happen to already know about the ABC plain text format and third party MusicXML to ABC converters, chances are that many MuseScore users will never discover it, realise its importance or save their work in this format.

User need to be informed and educated about it if it is to become a standard for future-proof backup of their music. This is most likely to happen if ABC is an integrated save option in MuseScore or an export plugin.

In reply to by Shaunthesheep

MusicXML is a plain text format too. As is MuseScore's .mscx format, although the latter is proprietary. But the former is not and the MusicXML standard document should survive generational changes in computer technology pretty well.
Question is on what medium you'd want to store any of these, for them to survive the next 500 years.
Then again, this is open source, so feel free to develop such an exporter.

In reply to by Thomas

When I read "proprietary" in this context, I wonder if he meant "undocumented" (i.e. custom format). Usage of the MSCX format by others, and MSCZ by extension, has been discouraged many times in the forums due to the lack of documentation and its non-static structure. That seems to push it away from the truly open side, and closer to the "proprietary" side of the spectrum.

In reply to by Thomas

@Thomas. Thanks for that clarification.

Yes, I thought that the MuseScore formats were open source. So musicXML is proprietary but currently royalty free. Thus, there is no guarantee that it will remain so. It is up to the proprietor. It doesn't sound like a very firm foundation for future proof storage of music. A MuseScore ABC save option or export plugin would be useful as a sort of insurance in case musicXML does become problematic.

I have just been reading up a bit on the origin of ABC. I didn't realise until just now that it was developed by a flautist, Chris Walshaw, who, at the time, could not read standard music notation (although he later did learn it). He was on a trip round Europe listening to, and learning to play, folk music from different countries and devised what later became ABC as a shorthand method of remembering what he had heard.

One of the advantages of ABC, then, is that it was developed as a human readable music shorthand independently of computers, although it was later adapted so that computer applications could read it and convert it as well. That is a big plus in the event that future generations of computers are, for some reason or other, unable to handle it.

There are limitations to ABC. It is mostly used for sharing simple traditional folk tunes. It can be used for large scale classical works too but there has been in the past problems of lack of standardisation, although new versions of ABC are apparently addressing that.

See this page for some of the limitations:…

Here is the Wikipedia entry for ABC which mentions standardisation.

In reply to by Shaunthesheep

ABC is really a very fine format whose chief virtue is human readability / writability. It is also still in active development, in a good way - it is constantly being extended and made more robust and suitable as a computer readable / writiable format as well. It is primarily intended for representing the musical content of a score. It has only limited support for formatting, and the more you add, the less useful it becomes in terms of its chief virtue of human readability / writability.

One thing this means is that there is no way to avoid significant loss of information about the appearance of a score when exporting to ABC. MusicXML is somewhat better in this respect, but still not perfect, and support for it in MuseScore and other programs is also not perfect.

Which is to say that relying on either of these as a long term format is less than ideal. Depending on the anture of what you are trying to preserve, you might be better off simply printing the score on acid-free paper and working to preserve that. You may think I jest, but actually, there is a significant contingent with the digital imagery world that feels this way.

Anyhow, I am all in favor of people who are concerned about such matters having the means to export to ABC from MuseScore. What I am saying is this means already exists - export to MusicXML, run the converter. Could this be automated into a plugin much as is dne for ABC import? Sure - and feel free to contribute such a plugin to the community!

In reply to by Brewerpaul

If you scroll down to the bottom of, you'll see the link to install an EXE file. You do as far as I know have to run form the command line, but that's as simple as typing the command into the standard Windows command prompt, you don't have to learn any coding.

If you prefer having a web interface, see I just tried it and it did a nice job on a MusicXML I uploaded, showing both ABC and standard notation.

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