ABC Notation As Used on This Site

In our set lists, there's a column called "Starting Notes". They're there just to help remind you of how the tune starts. Knowing this is of course critical to have everybody make the transitions smoothly.

The notes are given in a slightly simplified form of a very standard notation system called ABC Music Notation. There's a lot more to know about ABC than we use here, (see this for the full details), but for our site, here's all you need to know:

Note names

The notes are shown as the letters A,B,C,D,E,F, and G. We're usually only concerned with three octaves, due to the limitations of the traditional Irish session instruments. The three main octaves are shown like this:

The low octave

For the octave below middle C, the notes are shown as underlined capitals: G A B.
Note: this is the one place where we deviate from true ABC notation - there, this octave is shown with trailing commas: G, A, B,

The middle octave

For notes in the middle octave, they're simply capital letters: C D E F G A B.

The top octave

For the top octave, they're lower case: c d e f g a b. It helps to think of the small letters as light and airy, hence "high".
For that rare occasional really high c (in the 4th octave), it's shown with an apostrophe after it: c'. (And of course d' e' f' and so on, if you ever get up there).


You don't see a lot of rests in Irish music, but if you do, you'll see a 'z' instead of a note letter (think 'zzzzz...' as in sleeping). The rest's duration is indicated just like a regular note (see below).

Accidentals (sharps and flats)

You won't normally see any accidentals shown. That's because it's assumed that you already know these from the key you're playing in. For example, in D major, where the F's and C's are sharped, they're just shown as F and C, but you'd play them sharped. This just keeps things less cluttered.

However, if a note really does deviate from the key signature, it will show the required accidental. For example, in the key of D again, if one of the C's should be a C-natural (it would normally be sharp), it will be shown as =C. The accidental precedes the note. A sharp is shown as a carat (^), a natural as an equal sign (=), and a flat as an underscore (_). Examples:
 A flat:     _A
 F sharp:    ^F
 C natural:  =C

Technically, as in standard music notation, an accidental in a measure stays in effect until the end of the measure, unless specifically changed again. But on this page (just for clarity) you'll see the accidental every time the note deviates from the key signature.

Note Durations

For our purposes, each note is assumed to be an eighth note. For example, the first two bars of "Sean Bui", which is composed of all eighths, are shown as:

A bar line is simply a '|'.

Spaces can be ignored, and are just there to make it more readable. For duple meter (jigs, reels, etc), you'll see two groups of notes separated by a space. One for each 'pulse'. A slip jig would have three groups. Waltzes work best as a single group. You'll figure it out.

If a note is longer than an eighth, then it's followed by a number, which just gives the equivalent number of eighths required to add up to it. For example, a quarter note D is shown as D2. A dotted quarter would be D3. A half-note would be D4. A dotted half-note would be D6.

Here are the first two bars of "Saddle the Pony":
GBA G2B | def gdB

Here are the first two bars of "Jimmy Ward's":

There are a few cases where we actually play sixteenths, but to keep things simple, they're simplified here to a single eighth. These are just reminders as to how to start the tunes, of course, not sheet music.


If two notes are tied together, the first is followed by a dash. For example, in
the B is held for those two eights.

This can work accross bar lines, too:
That last B in the first bar is held through the first note in the next bar.