Self-help Edjucashun

Never having learned to read music or play a musical instrument as a kid, I’m finding learning to play the harp quite incredible. The feedback loops between seeing marks on paper, speaking out the name of each note played (as recommended by several of the guides/tutorials I’ve seen), developing muscle memory and hearing audio feedback is just an amazing learning experience.

Progress is slow, and I’m struggling with metre and note length. I really should get a lesson or two with a teacher, not least so I can hear what my elementary practice tunes are supposed to sound like. (I have no idea what sort of models Google is building around all the Youtube videos of young children I seem to be watching (kids doing their practice pieces… You can probably imagine the level I’m at given I aspire to be that good!))

So… self-help… there’s loads of music related web apps out there, so I figured it might be useful to try to transcribe some of my practice tunes into a form that I can get some idea of what they should sound like.

The language I’ve opted for is abcjs (repo) which I discovered via the music21 package (see some music21 demos here) ; but it doesn’t need any of the Python machinery to run — it works directly in the browser.

Here’s an example of what it looks like:

X: 1
T: Blue Bells of Scotland
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: C

The M field gives the meter, the L the unit note length for the piece, and K is the key. V:R and V:L record right and left hand staves. Each separate line in the abcjs script corresponds to a separate line of music.

There are some handy notes (doh!) here — How to understand abc (the basics)
— and a some more complete docs here: The abc music standard 2.1 .

I’ve found that transcribing from sheet music to abcjs notation is also helping my music reading. The editor I use — — provides live rendering of the notes, so it’s easy to get visual feedback as I write in the notation about whether I’ve read to myself, and written, the correct one.

(The red highlight in the score follows the cursor position in the text editor.)

As well as live rendering of the score as you transcribe, you can also play back the tune using the embedded the music player. (I’m not sure if its possible to change the instrument type? It defaults to a sort-of piano…) The tempo is set by the Q parameter in beats per minute, so it’s easy enough to speed up and slow down the playback.

FWIW, I’ll start popping related tinkerings and doodlin’s here: psychemedia/harperin-onabcjs will also support adding things like fingerings for each note, but I don’t want to break copyright too much when I do post transcribed scores, so I’ll be omitting that…

As far as learning goes, learning to write abcjs will also help me learn to read music better, I think, as well as reading it a bit more deeply.

It’s ages since I learned a new sort of thing (though I have also been trying to learn Polish pronunciation so I can sound out names appropriately in a history of Poland I’m reading at the moment). It’s fun, isn’t it?! And soooo time disappearing…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

4 thoughts on “Self-help Edjucashun”

    1. @Grant I suspect the docs could probably do with a bit of tutorialising. I’m going to be on simple scores for some time yet, but hopefully at some point will start to blog some richer examples…!

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