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Author Topic: LilyPond vs. ABC?  (Read 1124 times)

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Roger Hare

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LilyPond vs. ABC?
« on: March 14, 2018, 03:15:12 PM »

I just stumbled across a reference to the LilyPond software (, which I had not heard of before.
I had a look, and I'm thinking of installing it for a trial run. However, looking at the documentation, I get the idea
that it is more (a lot more?) 'verbose' than ABC (the syntax seems to be very TeX-like - I never really got on with
TeX/LaTeX). I also get the impression that it has less functionality than (say) EasyABC.

The few references to LilyPond on this forum refer to it as an aside in other threads.

Are there any users in this forum who could comment on its functionality, ease-of-use and suitability for producing
simple scores and sound files as compared to ABC? Are there any repositories of tunes on t'Internet in LilyPond
format as there are for ABC? Pros and cons?

Thank you in advance.

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Re: LilyPond vs. ABC?
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2018, 03:44:49 PM »

Watched a few of the instructional videos on YouTube.

First opinion is it seems to create really good scores if you want multi lines, or multi instruments and complex tunes. This is all well and good but for melodeon music seems to be overkill when all you really want is a melody line with chords above the stave. The input syntax also appears to be more complex and, to my mind, definitely come from a software writer sphere as it has all the impenetrability of some C or Java.

So as far as I can see unless you want the superior engraving possibilities ABC is a better tool for folk music. I also can not find the equivalent of JC's Tune Finder/Folk Tune Finder etc.



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Re: LilyPond vs. ABC?
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2018, 04:12:21 PM »

It is much more verbose than ABC, to the extent that I don't think you are expected to be able to simply type or read the code, but to use it with a dedicated editor (these exist) or convert e.g. from ABC to Lilypond.

You can't really talk about ease of use with Lilypond. The Lilypond program itself is just a command line tool that converts a Lilypond text file into one of several graphics formats (PDF, PS, SVG, PNG etc.), or displays it on the screen or prints it You have to create text files for input. You could try to compare EasyABC with Denemo or Fresocbaldi (music editors with Lilypond support)

As with Musescore, and apparently to an even greater extent, you have finer control of the output and it is capable of typesetting features that can't easily or at all be done with ABC. I wouldn't say 'less functionality than ABC' - you can do just about anything with it but they are very different programs.

If you want an alternative that's not quite so perfectionist as Lilypond, look at Musescore. That's purely a music editor, using its own XML based file format, but it's also free software, and it has been discussed at length on Melnet. It can do more than ABC and isn't terribly hard to learn.

I still think ABC (backed up by PDF or PNG images) is the best notation for posting tunes here (and for collecting tunes generally).
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Re: LilyPond vs. ABC?
« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2018, 10:38:16 PM »

Disclaimer: I have used ABC extensively for what will all too soon be two decades, so my views may be slightly coloured by exposure.

ABC is very, very easy to use to do simple things that its creators intended.  I can typeset pages and pages of tunes in minutes and be pretty confident that when I run it, the engraved output will be what I expected. 

It's also pretty good at doing things it *isn't* designed to do, by sheer dint of various people endlessly hacking at the various tools to make them do what they needed them to do.  However, it can take some figuring out and frankly at times knowing how a computer thinks can be a big help. 

Lilypond, on the other hand.  Lilypond is designed with two things in mind - to produce excellent engraving - it certainly does - and to be able to do anything you could need it to do.  It achieves this aim by making even the simple things verbose. 

I have sat down to learn Lilypond properly over the years and I must admit every time, so far, I have failed.  I can follow the basics but their comes a point where my brain gives in.  For example, this paragraph from the help(!) text: "Each engraver processes the particular objects associated with its function, and maintains the properties that relate to that function. These properties, like the properties associated with contexts, may be modified to change the operation of the engraver or the appearance of those elements in the printed score. "

Just so.

Sound files - ABC has always done this.  I can't really comment as it's something I've barely used as I can read a score faster than I can listen to it.  Lilypond does have a MIDI output but by their own admission it is pretty basic as their focus is on engraving.

At this point in time, I wouldn't personally (re)learn Lilypond unless I had very good reason.  I can do almost anything I have to with ABC, and if I found a use-case ABC didn't cover I suspect the chances are I'd end up needing Finale or Sibelius for some other reason (such as working with other people). 

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Re: LilyPond vs. ABC?
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2018, 07:04:20 AM »

Thanks to all those who responded to my query about LilyPond on and

I didn't express any strong opinons about LilyPond in my OP because: 1) I didn't want
to influence the opinions of any responders; 2) I hadn't tried it yet.

All the responders to my original post made points which mirrored my own thoughts, which
have largely been re-inforced/confirmed by my little experiment (see below).

I've now installed LilyPond and tried it with a couple of very simple files.

The program installed with no problems.

Tunes can be input via a 'dedicated' editor, or via an editor of your choice. In fact the
'dedicated' editor isn't much different from an ordinary editor. There doesn't seem to be
a full-blown GUI (as with Musescore) or a flexible multi-window interface (titles, score and
code, as with EasyABC). In that sense, LilyPond seems a little basic but it is a dedicated
music typesetting language, not a 'quick and easy' tune create/edit/playback utility.

The user interface seems to be via either:

1) Simple 'drag and drop' of a .ly file onto the LilyPond icon on the desktop.
2) A command line interface within the Windows Command Prompt window.

Both worked and I was able to produce PDF scores, and (with a little fiddling about) MIDI files.

The syntax of what really is a music typesetting language is very verbose and looks a lot
like C/Python/TeX/LaTeX/w.h.y. The 'verbosity factor' in the simple file(s) I tried was about
5:1 - that is, in LilyPond, it took about 25 lines to specify what I could specify in about
5 lines in ABC. I don't think that's really a fair test; that factor would surely drop in
larger files, but IMO probably not to a value of 1:1. Unlike with ABC, the files aren't really
'readable' by a human being.

I didn't take it much further than that.

I suppose the real clincher is that in the 3.5 years since signing up to and, I've never seen a tune posted in LilyPond format(*). I've only ever seen tunes
posted in ABC format, so ABC for me, although I occasionally use MuseScore for specific tasks
which (as far as I can see) are not catered for in any of the popular ABC utilities (EasyABC,
ABCExplorer, etc.).


(*) I didn't know about the LilyPond and MuseScore tune repositories - thank you for pointing
these out.
« Last Edit: March 22, 2018, 07:08:04 AM by lachenal74693 »
Roger Hare, Urmston, Lancs., U.K. (rjhare at outlook dot com)   Manchester Morris Men   Beech Band
Music Packages (ABC/PDF/MIDI)    Thompson's Compleat Tutor for Fife (c.1765)
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