Software for Traditional Irish Music

Latest Update: 3 July 2009

I've been a great advocate of using available technology to help students of traditional Irish music in the difficult task of learning and mastering tunes. Over the past two years I've learned hundreds of tunes using the programs and resources listed below.

See you at the session!



About ABC Notation

ABC is a language designed to notate traditional tunes in a standard text format. It was designed primarily for folk and traditional tunes of Western European origin (such as English, Irish and Scottish) which can be written on one stave in standard classical notation. Since its introduction at the end of 1991 it has become very popular and there now exist several PC and Mac based tools which can read abc notation and either process it into standard music notation or play it through the computer speakers.

As an example the tune The Blarney Pilgrim would be written out as

T: The Blarney Pilgrim
|:ded dBG|AGA BGE|ded dBG|ABA GBd|

The .ABC home page is located at

A comprehensive list of available .ABC related software is available by clicking here.

The .ABC notation for nearly any tune can be searched for by name at JC's Tune Finder.

Once you have the .ABC notation for a file, you can play or convert it to standard notation.

Recommended ABC Software

These are programs that I use and recommend for working with .ABC files:

ABCMus - Full-featured .ABC player for Windows. Includes stylistically correct "swing" and beat emphasis for reels, jigs, and hornpipes. This is what I use for practice nearly every day.

ABC2Win - .ABC to standard notation program for Windows.

Tuners and Metronomes

Some useful freeware tuners and metronomes:

WeirdMetronome - Very versatile MIDI percussion-based metronome program.

Tuners and Metronomes - Various tuners and metronomes.

Chord Charts and Chord Finder Software

Freeware for finding chord patterns on guitar and Irish bouzouki:

NutChords Basic - Freeware chord finder software for guitar in a wide variety of tunings, including DADGAD.

NutChords Advanced - All of the features of the basic version, plus support for 4, 5, and 6 string instruments and wavetable based playback of chords.

Software to Assist with Learning Tunes from Audio CDs

One of the best ways to learn to play traditional Irish music with the correct feel and ornamentation is to listen and analyze the playing of good players on audio CDs. The only problem is that often times they play so quickly that it is difficult to figure out exactly what they are doing.

If you have a reasonably fast computer with a CDROM drive, many very useful tools are now available for assisting with learning tunes off of audio CDs. These programs allow you to do several things:

1) Capture audio tracks off a CD to a .WAV or .MP3 file on the hard drive

2) Play the file back at a slower speed, without changing the pitch. Most programs will allow you loop on a particular section.

3) Change the pitch of a recorded tune without changing the speed. This is very useful, for example, if the performer on the CD is playing an E-flat or B-flat whistle and you only have a D-whistle.

Tune Slowing/Pitch Shifting Programs

Seventh String Music Software

The Transcribe! application is an assistant for people who sometimes want to work out a piece of music from a recording, in order to write it out, or play it themselves, or both.

The usual technique for doing this is to copy the music to cassette and then listen repeatedly to each bit, using your ear and your brain to work out what is happening. Unless you have perfect pitch then you also need a piano or a guitar handy to check out which note is which. However, if you copy the recording to your computer's hard disk as a sound file then you can use Transcribe! instead of the cassette machine and the piano. Transcribe! offers many features aimed at making the transcription job smoother and easier, including slowing the music down without changing the pitch as well as actually showing the pitches present at any point in the music.

30-Day free trial versions for Windows, Mac, and Unix available for download.

PG Music Band-In-A-Box

PG Music Home Page

I use the Mac version of Band-In-A-Box 8.0 by PG Music as a practice aid. Both Mac and Windows versions are available.

Band-In-A-Box is a program that generates full backup arrangements given the song's style and chord progression. With a good external general MIDI sound module or sound card, the results can be quite amazing.

MIDI File Players


For a good MIDI player for Windows or Macintosh, I highly suggest downloading and installing the latest version Quicktime from Apple's website. If you have a reasonably fast system this will give you a very high quality software General MIDI synthesizer for MIDI file playback.

Contact for more information:

Michael Eskin