The ABCMus Rhythm Fix

ABCMus is a wonderful tool, but for many types of tunes it fails to provide upbeats, making them sound dead and plodding. It is also unfamiliar with tunes that require that beats appear at "odd" places -- such as in some Scandinavian and Balkan music. The "fix" I've found helpful in dealing with this requires the creation of a separate "playback" version of the tune that tricks ABCMus into rendering the tune in a form more closely aligned to the way it should sound when played naturally.

For each tune for which this has been done on my tune page, the play file is the one created by this fix. To indicate this, I've used an asterisk on this link and mentioned the fix in the tune's footnote, providing links to the fixed (playback) abc and sheet files and the "unfixed" play file.

The following describes the ways in which the various rhythms are handled.


ABCMus will play upbeats for a tune identified in ABC as being "reel," though this requires setting the "Backing Style" to "Driving the piano." But regardless, it rneders the tune in a "dotted-flagged" form, like a hornpipe, which can sometimes sound quite cool, but isn't what is intended. Correcting this doesn't require a separate file, but it does require moving ABCMus's "Rhythm" menu from "reel" to "polka".

Other 2/4 and 4/4 meters

Many other duple meters, like marches and Scandinavian reinlendars and gånglåts, do require a separate playback file. The general approach is as follows (though even it requires tweaking in various cases):

  1. copy a 4/4 tune into a separate "playback" version
  2. set the meter to 2/4
  3. set the default note length so that there are 4 eighth notes -- or 8, in the case of marches (rhythm="march") -- in each measure
  4. break all the measures in half
  5. in ABCMus, set the Backing style to "Driving the piano."

Except for marches, this creates an incorrect situation -- the meter of the actual ABC notes is now 2/8, not 2/4 -- which generates an ABCMus error message for every measure. But the resulting sound file has the required downbeat/upbeat rhythm. The key is the incorrect meter (2/8) -- if you leave it at the correct 2/4, you get the required number of beats, but each is a downbeat sound, simply creating a different, faster "plodding" effect.

Because variations on this approach are sometimes needed, I've always included in the tunes' footnotes links to the ABC and sheet-music (PNG) files of the playback version, to clarify what has been done.

3/4 meters

To give a clear rhythm to the tunes, I've used ABCMus's "grand piano" voice ("Options > MIDI") for accompaniment. For some reason this sounds heavy with waltzes, often giving them a plodding sound. I haven't found a way to fix this.

However, in the case of another class of tunes -- the Scandinavian 3-beat polskas and polses -- the traditional use of 1st-and-3rd beat rhythm is not natural for ABCMus, and none of its "polska" rhythm settings can handle skipping the 2nd beat. That requires a separate playback versions, in whose ABC notation explicit chords are placed on every first and third beat. ABCMus's "Backing Style" (rhythm) is then set to "None," which plays only the explicitly stated chords.
(Note: One side-effect of this is that half notes at the end of measures -- particularly at the end of phrases -- have to be split into tied quarters in order to place the chord on the third beat. ABCMus then regrettably plays these as separate notes.)

Balkan "odd" meters

Many Balkan tunes use meters different from the "usual" 2/4, 3/4, and 6/8 (jigs). The collection of my tunes includes a tune in 7/8 (a lesnoto, rhythm = * ‑ ‑ * ‑ * ‑ ) and one in 11/16 (a gankino, rhythm = * ‑ * ‑ * ‑ ‑ * ‑ * ‑ ).

ABCMus's approach to this is to create a chaotic "arrhythmia." I've dealt with this the same way polskas are dealt with (above). The playback version has an explicit chord placed at every point a beat is needed, and ABCMus's "Backing Style" (rhythm) is then set to "None," which plays only the explicitly stated chords.