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Turning the page on ascii tabs

Producing good quality music notation is a difficult process. As a result, sheet music for drums is expensive and/or hard to find, and often only available in print. Over the years, ascii tabs have emerged as an expedient to share drum parts over the internet, but many drummers find them frustrating to sight read. Here is a side by side comparison of a bar written in ascii on one side and music notation on the other:

C  |x-----------------|
Hh |--x-x-x-----------|
S  |----o---oo-ooo--oo|
B  |o---------o---oo--|
   |1 + 2 + 3 + 4tl+tl|

Music Notation

Tools have appeared to make the ascii tab experience less painful. For instance, Dtab lets the transcriber place notes on a grid to skip having to type the ascii in a text editor, while TabTrax also aims to assist drummers in converting the ascii into music notation.

Many computer tools exist to help musicians author high quality music notation. They are ambitious programs that aim to provide the flexibility needed to produce a complete score with possibly many different instruments. This means that their user interface is very complex, resulting in a steep learning curve. Here is a screenshot of Overture, a popular score authoring program. Other prominent tools of this kind are Finale, Sibelius and Guitar Pro.

Overture User Interface
Overture's user interface. Copyright Sonic Scores.

A consequence of the power of these interfaces is that they are very complex to program, maintain and support, leading to prices that are often not affordable to non-professional musicians. One alternative is GNU LilyPond, which bypasses the user interface problem by letting musicians express the music in a programmatic fashion. LilyPond then compiles this code into very high quality sheet music. However, for casual computer users, LilyPond is difficult to approach.

We are making Aered to increase the availability of good quality sheet music to drummers. By limiting the scope to drums, Aered has a simple and easy to learn user interface but does not compromise on the quality of the music notation it produces. It will also be affordable to the tiniest budgets. Our hope is to render ascii drum tabs obsolete by enabling drummers to share sheet music.

In the next posts we are going to go into more specifics about Aered, and introduce website features aimed at letting drummers share (and collaborate on) music parts.