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    Open-source Notation Software

    Dear music theory community,

    The open-source community has developed several musical notation programs, such as Lilypond and Gregorio.  Both are markup language software, meaning that you write in what looks like programming code, and the software typesets musical notation into a PDF or image file.

    Lilypond is designed primarily for modern notation, though it supports a variety of historical and world notations (mensural or Kievan square and Arabic or Turkish classical notation, for example).  It has many applications, and Schenkerians have adapted it for their uses, and it looks as though Contemporary notation is in development.

    Gregorio is designed to create Gregorian notation, but has been developed to add St. Gall neumes.  This collaboration between scared musicians and open-source programmers is especially unique, taking ancient music notation and creating it using the most modern techniques, but it is a logical pairing, especially applying the principals of public domain and creative commons.

    My question is simply whether any in the music theory world have begun to incorporate these tools into their work.  There is a steep learning curve in the way the music is entered (as text; for example, "r8 g8 g8 g8 | es2\fermata | r8 f8 f8 f8 | d2~ | d2\fermata" would produce Beethoven's 5th in Lilypond).  However, both Lilypond and Gregorio allow for seamless integration into documents, and I imagine that the music theory community could provide many insights and developments to the software, making them even more powerful.

    All best to you and your great work,

    Conor Cook

    Director of Music, St. Francis Xavier Parish, Buffalo, MN

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    • 4 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • There is another Gregorian notation font named Caeciliae that I have found quite easy to use. I incorporated a small amount of notation in Caeciliae into my dissertation.

    • Caeciliae looks to have the advantage of integration directly in the typing of the document, whereas Gregorio relies upon LaTeX, a document typesetting program that itself is markup-based.  The advantage of the latter is that the text-based files are conducive to collaboration, improving scores and the software itself (if you dare tinker with the software files, that is).

      That last point, collaboration, is interesting in the context of music theory applications.  What kind of uses could there be for small, text-based files of music notation in the context of such things as papers with multiple, distant authors?  Many use cloud folders and version control (like Git and GitHub) to collaborate, just like programmers.

    • There are a number of graphical front-ends and editing tools for Lilypond, including Denemo (GUI editor) and Frescobaldi (text editor with preview of graphical Lilypond output, contains formatting help, Lilypond function lists, automatic template creation, etc.)  Personally, I find the Frescobaldi approach to be best, since it allows for easy and complete control of the code but also easy graphical previews and parsing to check your code as you go.  For people who find the text-based input intimidating, these tools can be helpful.

      Of course, there are also other open-source music notation programs too, including ones with a GUI such as MuseScore.

      It's worthwhile noting that Lilypond has good integration into LaTeX.  (No more exporting images and pasting them into documents: you can insert the music code and edit it directly in text, at least for most straightforward situations.) 

      For those who prefer a GUI word processor, LyX offers an environment that is powerful (and perhaps less cluttered than MS Word), as well as direct input and typesetting of basic Lilypond code in-text -- a great timesaver for inserting short examples in theory handouts or tests.

    • Conor,

      I use lilypond all the time for my research and teaching. It would be nice to have some better tools for Schenkerian notation, because it takes a lot of tweaking and I end up doing most of it after exporting the notation to image processing software.

      --Jason Yust