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Rockin' in the Free Software World

by Dave Phillips

I've been playing the guitar much longer than I've been playing with Linux, so it was only a matter of time before I'd take a closer look at the software available to the Linux guitarist. I was happily surprised by what I found, and I'll share some of my discoveries in the course of this article.

I've divided Linux software for guitarists into a few broad categories:

  • Notation formats for file exchange.
  • Instrument tuners.
  • Effects processors.
  • Miscellaneous musician's amenities.

Let's take a look at some interesting software from each of those categories, starting with notation exchange media.

File exchange formats: Standard notation, ChordPro, and tablature

Standard notation

The general subject of music notation software is broader than space for this article permits. However, guitarists of all styles commonly encounter standard music notation in sheet music, songbooks, magazines, theory, and other textbooks, and even on the Web, so a few words on the subject are in order.

Linux can claim several general notation packages with a variety of intended uses. Some packages are designed for music typesetting (MusicTeX and its clan members) while others are more composer/arranger-friendly applications such as NoteEdit or Mup. As much as I'd like to provide full reviews of this software, I'm going to remain focused on guitar-specific software. Readers interested in the available Linux notation packages should investigate the links found on the music notation software page of the Linux soundapps site.

Comment on this articleOK, you guitar players out there ... what did Dave forget to talk about that other musicians would want to know?
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The ChordPro and Chord file formats

The ChordPro file format is a lightweight and convenient means for guitarists to exchange song lyrics and chords over the Internet, typically via Usenet newsgroups or Web pages dedicated to ChordPro file collections. A ChordPro file is written in simple ASCII text that can be edited with any standard text editor, and is named with the chopro or pro extension. Here's a simple example downloaded from OLGA, the online guitar archive of songs in ChordPro, Chord, and tablature formats :

# From: kharding@lamar.ColoState.EDU (Karol Harding)

{c:key of A}
[A]Silent night, holy [A7]night
[E7/Bm]All is cal[E]m, [F#m/A]All is b[A7]right
[D]Round yon Vir - gin, [A]Mother and Child
[D]Holy Infant so [A]Tender and [A7]mild,
[Bm]Sleep in h[E7]eavenly [F#m]peace,
[A]Sleep in [D]heavenly [A]peace.

Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleleu- lia
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the savior is born.

The curly braces hold directives that include information about the song, including title, artist, key, and chord definitions. Brackets contain the name of the chord to be played when the following word or syllable is sung. The hash symbol (#) precedes comments.

ChordPro is well represented in Internet song collections such as The ChordPro Guitar Archive and OLGA.

Chord is an older Unix program that converts simple ASCII text files to PostScript files. Its crd format is also popular on OLGA and is frequently encountered on the Usenet newsgroups devoted to tablature. The formal layout of a crd file is somewhat looser than ChordPro, as the following example illustrates:

Joseph Mohr, Franz Gruber. publ.1818
[suggest capo III]

Silent night! Holy night! [G]
All is calm, all is bright [D7 G]
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child [C G]
Holy Infant so tender and mild [C G]
Sleep in heavenly peace, [D7 Em Em/C#]
sleep in heavenly peace. [G D7 G]

Unlike the ChordPro format, a crd file supposes that the guitarist knows where the chords should be placed within the melody.

Now that we understand the chopro and crd formats, let's look at some Linux software that works with them.

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