I’ve known about the power of the open-source music notation program, LilyPond for years. I have used it on school assignments, to re-write messy or deteriorating sheet music, and to notate my own compositions. But it’s only been over the past week that I’ve realized the program’s true power, and how easy it is to use.
If you’ve ever tried to use the program, you might be thinking, “Easy to use? Who’s he trying to fool?!” A year ago, I might have agreed, but as I learn more about the program (and about Scheme), I am starting to realize the logic and consistency of things that used to baffle me.
More than that, a specific application has made it way faster to create and edit scores with LilyPond: the Frescobaldi text editor, designed specifically for use with LilyPond files. Frescobaldi is built with KParts (I think… not entirely sure how this works), so it consists mostly of components that I already know how to use. What really puts Frescobaldi over the top, however, is the little additional features offered by the program. For example:
-when you click on something in the score preview, the text editing cursor will automatically be moved to that object;
-the score setup window provides all the options you will normally use, and some extras, too; this tool really helps with the aspect of LilyPond that is the hardest for me: knowing how to set up your score properly in the first place;
-integration with MIDI players, so that you can play LilyPond’s MIDI output without breaking out a terminal window;
-colour-coding in the text editor, so you can visually verify that everything was inputted in the correct order; big mistakes (probably typos!) are automatically highlighted and underlined in red.
The opportunity to write about these programs in Fedora’s upcoming Musicians’ Guide has made me a strong believer in the power and capability of currently-available open-source music and audio software. LilyPond in particular is a stable and mature application, and it produces output that is easily more visually appealing than the leading solutions, Finale and Sibelius. Rarely does LilyPond place an object in the wrong spot. Most of the time I spend editing LilyPond files is consumed by inputting the notes. Most of the time I spend editing Sibelius files is consumed by aligning objects. LilyPond allows me to focus on the content of the score, not its appearance.
Sometimes, open-source software solutions don’t work as well as proprietary solutions. LilyPond is a leading example that this needn’t be the case – the output produced by Finale and Sibelius is easily put to shame by LilyPond. If you want a flashy, graphical interface that will compose half your music for you, then you’d better choose one of the (very expensive!) commercial “music notation” programs. If you want something to make an attractive score for you, allowing you to focus on the musical tasks for yourself, there is no better choice than LilyPond – a true “music engraving” solution.
The Fedora Musicians’ Guide is being written for release with Fedora 14 (see this page for release dates). If you would like to help with editing, revising, and testing of the Guide, please visit the Testing Page, which is updated regularly with new tasks.