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GUI for lilypond/help

From: Jeff Henrikson
Subject: GUI for lilypond/help
Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2000 18:20:39 -0500

Hi Richard,

First let me say I appreciate your enthusiasm!  I hope you are able to learn 
some lilypond if it is a useful tool for your
purposes.  Another composer sent an email to the list recently asking if 
lilypond would suit him, and I sent him offlist a summary
of my experience trying to do music composition with lilypond.  At the time I 
was very frustrated with the experience of composing
straight into the computer, as I had just done my first project longer than a 
few pages and had had a lot of problems.  I was
thinking then that the language was too harshly critical to send to the general 
list, but I don't think it's too bad, so I'll
include it at the end of this mail, and maybe later post it on the web with 
some howto pages for alleviating some of the
difficulties I encountered.

However, I make the general disclaimer that I think my perspective as a 
lilypond user is atypical because of two things: First, I
write in a jazz style and need some different notational elements which are not 
fully supported, whereas Lily comes from a very
classical tradition.  Second, I compose, whereas most lilypond users transcribe 
music.  I think well over half if not 90% of what
has been typset in lilypond is transcriptions of classical composers whose 
copyrights have expired or never existed.  The process
of entering a score out of order into a text file is totally different than if 
you can look at a fully assembled score and just
copy it line by line.  I'm not sure if your needs are more or less similar to 
mine than the gnu music community.

As for your idea of a GUI, music notation human interaction is not just as 
simple as click this and this will happen sort of
description.  I have been seriously thinking about this, both as a jazz 
composition student and a computer science/math
professional for over 5 years, and I am convinced that editing music is beyond 
what the current state of the art in GUI design
(take MS word as an average benchmark) can understand well.  IMHO Finale, and 
(the even more expensive) Sibelius are _not_
solutions because something that takes me one hour to write with a pencil will 
take me 5 hours to get into Finale, counting the
compositional process from beginning to end, including revisions and etc.  That 
is not to say that they are not great for _copying_
music like some people do with lily.  Especially if you have a MIDI keyboard 
connected, Finale speedy entry and some other things
can be very quick for certain types of material.  But not generally and once 
any editing needs to be done, most things have to be
entirely re-entered or tweaked in some way that takes even longer.

Just trust me that pointing and clicking in the way you describe would be way 
slower than even finale or lily.  While you might be
able to learn it, you wouldn't be able to use it because you wouldn't make your 

Again I make the disclaimer that the comments on GUI are probabably way off 
gnu-music-discuss targets.  Lilypond is not a project
about GUIs.  It says so right in the FAQ, "Lilypond itself has no GUI, but some 
people are working on separate programs to handle
that."  While I personally may be very interested in a robust GUI solution, the 
lilypond authors seem to have interests that lie
elsewhere.  (pardon me if my presumptions are inaccurate)

On your lack of DOS skills, there really aren't many required to use lily.  
Basically you have to be able to install the
program(s), be able to edit text files, maybe being able to move/delete in some 
way or another, and be able to type lytodvi <my
file>.  If you can edit autoexec.bat, you can edit  That 
said, learning how to write and debug lily code is quite
difficult for a non programmer and that IMHO has something to do with the fact 
that most of the lilypond users run UNIX.  (Simply
given that you can use UNIX, you must be able to manipulate files and deal with 
error messages.  Windows no.)  I suggest starting
slowly by compiling a finished example like  Then try to change the 
notes and rhythms, checking the results each time,
until you understand.  Don't do anything so drastic that you can't figure out 
how to put it back the way it was when the program
compiled last.  At first, the error messages won't make sense, but try to learn 
by experience the way that you learned to play

If you still feel insecure about starting, be aware that while internet lists 
are a great place to ask specific questions, nobody
is willing (or really able) to hold your hand step by step.  And even if they 
were, it wouldn't teach you as well as you figuring
it out for yourself.  So when asking questions don't say "I need help learning 
about lilypond."  Say "When I compile this file
(email-attached to message) I get the message 'bla bla bla'.  Can anybody tell 
me what this means?"  If you cannot get to that
point by yourself I would recommend getting a more experienced person who can 
sit with you in person (not on the phone, that's
horrible for both people) at your computer and help you.

Best of luck with your pursuits.

Jeff Henrikson

(mail to other composer will follow as forward)

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