The 123s of ABCs: The Basics

February 1, 2011

Music & Hairstyle Guides

So you’ve experimented with the music system a bit, downloaded some abcs from The Fat Lute or other site, and had some fun serenading Bree-Town. But now you’re looking at all the names of people who transcribe abcs for others and thinking to yourself, “I can do that too! But…how?”

Well, look no further, friends. You’re right. You can do it. And in a series of instructional posts I will show you exactly how. Not only will I provide you with information on the basic tools and methods you will need to use, I will actually walk you through the creation of an abc file. But first let’s start by assembling the tools you’ll need.

You will need:

  1. A midi editing program. The one most popularly used by LOTRO transcribers, and the one I use, is Anvil Studio. I will be using Anvil as I demonstrate making abcs in this series. You can get it easily for free at
  2. A midi to abc conversion program. The easiest and most commonly used program is LOTRO midi player, which was written by LOTRO player Digero for this purpose. It is also the one I will use in my demonstrations. You can get it from his thread here.
  3. A midi file. While there are some gifted people who are able to transcribe abcs directly from sheet music or even their own compositions, we will be using the easy method of converting an already existing midi file into abc notation. You can find midi files all over the internet with a simple search. Keep in mind that oftentimes, you don’t have to use the first midi file you find for a song. There are usually multiple versions lurking around on different sites. Listen to them and decide which one sounds the best to you.
  4. Patience. And lots of it. Learning to make abcs is a process. Your first efforts will most likely be mediocre. I can give you plenty of tips and tricks, but ultimately making good abcs is a matter of trial and error, of learning as you go along, and of picking up an instinct for what you are doing after lots of practice.

Other Useful Tools:

  1. ABC Player. Another program by Digero which will allow you to play your abc file outside of the game to see how it sounds. This is particularly useful if you are making multipart abcs and want to test it out and fix any big problems before you assemble players in game to play it. Keep in mid that the program doesn’t replicate the sound of the Flute, Clarinet or Horn as you hear them in game very well. They will often sound warped through the program but fine in game. You can get it from his thread here.
  2. The Drum Conversion Project. One of the hardest aspects of making an abc is converting a drum track. To eliminate that headache, Figgy of The Fat Lute and a friend have created a program to help convert drums. Now, I’ve never used it so I cannot give instructions on how to work with it or vouch for how good it is, but you can find the project at this thread (I will be using my own method for transcribing drums when we get to that step in this series.)
  3. Pitch Bend Remover. Here’s another useful program by Digero. If you’re working with modern music, mostly likely you’re going to run across Pitch Bends in a midi at some point. I will explain what they are later, but essentially if there are many Pitch Bends in a song, it will usually sound wrong after it is converted to abc. Digero has created this program which can just remove all the pitch bends (which can be a very tedious process manually) or if you choose it can also replace them with a corrected note. You can obtain it from this thread.

The Basics

The method that we will be using is the most simple method of creating an abc file. It requires taking a midi music file, editing the file to LOTRO limitations and standards, and then running the midi file through a conversion program to convert the notation into abc language. I will not demonstrate this process step by step in this post, but here I will go over the basic methods and principles you will need to understand to make your own abcs in this way. All instructions and examples will assume the use of Anvil Studio and LOTRO midi player as suggested above.

The LOTRO music system has certain built in limitations in what it can and can’t play. ABC transcribers thus have to take their chosen midi and edit it to make sure that it fits into those limitations before it is converted to abc notation. The main limitations we need to work around are:

1. Each LOTRO instrument is only capable of playing a range of notes equal to 3 octaves.

Here is a chart that displays the range of every LOTRO instrument:


Every instrument track in the midi must therefore fit into that 3 octave range. You will need to move notes that are outside the range up or down until they fit. This is done by using the “transpose” function in Anvil found under the Track menu. With this function you can transpose an entire track or highlight specific notes to transpose them in groups or individually. You can choose to transpose the notes by any number value you choose. Personally, I always transpose by an entire octave so that the note is still the same, just an octave lower or higher. To transpose by octaves you enter the value 12 to transpose one octave up or -12 to transpose one octave down.

2. An instrument in LOTRO is only capable of playing 6 notes at a time.

Every instrument track must therefore never have more than 6 notes playing at any one time. This is mostly a problem if you are trying to combine multiple tracks together to create a solo song. If you find that you have more than 6 notes then you will simply need to start removing notes until there are only 6. I remove notes by using the Piano Roll Editor function (found under the View menu) which changes the way the song is displayed. You will see the notes as blue bars under this view. Once you’ve identified the note you want to remove, you simply need to click on it to delete it. This is the best way to add or remove notes without having to worry about affecting the existing notes in this song.

Other things that you will need to think about while editing your midi:

3. Assigning each instrument track to the proper instrument type that corresponds with the LOTRO instruments.

Midis have a large range of instruments and sounds they can use. LOTRO only has 9 instruments. To make sure your song will sound the way you want it to in game, you will need to change the instrument assignments in the midi to the ones that most closely correspond to the sound of the in game instruments. LOTRO instruments correspond most closely to the following midi sounds:

Lute: Acoustic Guitar (Nylon)
Harp: Orchestral Strings
Theorbo: Acoustic Bass
Clarinet: Clarinet
Flute: Flute
Horn: Alto Sax
Bagpipes: Bagpipes

Drums: Drums are a special case and will require a post by its self to explain. But if you see a track assigned to channel 10 then it will be the drums. It doesn’t matter what instrument it is assigned to, but it must be channel 10 to have the drum sounds.

4. Deciding how many parts you want in your abc.

First decide if you want to make a solo or multipart song. If you want to make a solo song you will need to combine and reduce tracks until you are left with only a single track. Even if you want to make a multipart song you will often need to merge and reduce tracks depending on how many parts you want. Many midis start out with large numbers of tracks.

Note: LOTRO midi player has a function that will merge together any number of midi tracks into one with the click of a button. It is by far the easiest way to make a solo abc. But this method is not reliable for making quality abcs because the program does not have the ability to make proper judgements between which notes it maintains and which it gets rid of to make the song fit into LOTRO’s limitations. Many songs made this way end up sounding chaotic or losing important notes over less important notes. It is better to make ALL edits in Anvil Studio until the song is completely ready and LOTRO midi player doesn’t need to change anything other than the notation method.

Many of the tracks will have no notes and you can tell this because when you select the track it will say “no notes” in red above the track list. You can delete these tracks right away by going to the Track menu and selecting Delete. Now you will need to decide which tracks are important and which are not. Get rid of the tracks that are not important to the song (sound effects, duplicate tracks, background sounds like strings, etc.). If it is going to be a solo song you can get rid of things like drums or bass. This is a matter of judgment and depends on how you want the song to sound in game.

When you are left with the important tracks that you want to keep you can decide whether or not you need to reduce them farther. At this point the key to making a solo song is prioritizing notes. When you merge two tracks together (Track > Merge function) you will have to choose the track you are merging the other track into. This is important because the notes in the track that is being merged into will have priority over the one you are merging it with. So you always want to have the more important track selected (for instance, a vocal melody track) when merging.

These are the most basic methods you need to understand to convert a midi into an abc. Next time I will show hands on how I go through the process of making a solo abc with plenty of images to show you exactly how it’s done. After that I will do the same for a multipart abc and then go in depth into the process of converting a drum track. I hope you will find these guides useful.

See my other music related guides here on CSTM!

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9 Responses to “The 123s of ABCs: The Basics”

  1. RannaDylin Says:

    Your timing is perfect: I was just thinking a couple of days ago that I want to finally give this a try! :-)


  2. Rauil Says:

    Awesome post, I’m adding the lotro sites I use to my kins list, I’m going to mention this post specifically, very helpful, can’t wait for the next one!


  3. Texborn Says:

    Great write Fionnuala!


  4. Shahn Gomeli T.B. Says:

    Great guide so far.

    I stumbled upon this by browsing through the turbine forum, where I found your note range chart. Excellent. Until now I thought it was just the flute playing one octave above and the theorbo playing one below. But you’re absolutely right, just double checked with a little abc in Digero’s ABC Player. Can’t believe I never realized this before, but I get easily distracted by sound over pitch.

    There are two little things you missed, though.
    Number one being the clarinet and horn missing 2 resp. 1 note at the bottom (C, & ^C,). Digero’s tool will convert these correctly, if you choose the proper instrument. I’m sure you’re already aware of that, but it should be mentioned in your guide.
    Number two is of greater importance. You state in the third but last paragraph that all tracks with no notes can be deleted right away. Tracks with no notes can still contain events, esp. such important ones as changing tempo. I’ve come across many of such midis. One of the major advantages using Digero’s tool for me is, that tempo changes in the midi are reproduced in the exported abc. To my knowledge there’s no other tool around that can do this, since LotRO only supports one Q: field in a track.

    Funny I should come here just two days after I decided to delete the (very little) english content on my site. I will gladly point my foreign readers here from my own ABC guide.

    Keep up the good work.


    • Fionnuala Says:

      As this post says, it is just the basics. A more detailed examination of the process will come if I can set aside the time to get it written, including a detailed explanation of how to use LOTRO midi player to best advantage. Also, it’s only the bottom (C,) on the Clarinet that coughs and LOTRO midi player considers that note out of range on all instruments which makes things a little tricky sometimes. Tempo changes aren’t tied to individual tracks in the midi and deleting a track with no notes has no effect on them. If a track has no notes, you can’t convert it. LOTRO midi player won’t even show it when you open the midi in the program.

      Thanks for the encouragement I’m going to try to get those other guides written.


  5. Jonathon Barton Says:

    What alternate tools are there for converting MIDI to ABC? Digero’s tool throws an error when I try to run it – I posted the error in his thread, but no response yet… I’ve got three or four songs queued up for conversion…



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