Back to ABCs

I’ve been itching to get back to work on the ABC module (originally by SF from, but my fork is the only version seeing current development work). A reference in an HN comment to Lilypond has provided the perfect. Lilypond is a long-lived open source project for music notation with very ambitious goals. In the past I’d tinkered with it a bit, but always come away unsatisfied. Today, though, I had a notion for an interesting project, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

So, here’s a PDF of my tune “The Star of Rakudo” done with my usual slightly hacked version of jcabs2ps. And here’s a quick stab at a Lilypond version (with completely unnecessary 1st and 2nd endings added just so I can see what they look like). The Lilypond version has a heaviness to it I’m not wild about, but I think it’s pretty arguable that the various elements each look better than the other version. In addition, Lilypond appears to have good support for a more complicated musical elements. My inability to get jcabs2ps to portably generate all the musical elements I need has been a longstanding stumbling block to a side project of mine, so Lilypond is intriguing.

I don’t particularly like Lilypond’s music “language”, but that’s okay. My idea is to have the Perl 6 ABC code automatically translate ABCs to Lilypond for me, in effect generating good-looking notation from them. It will then be the best of both worlds — the lightweight, easy-to-type ABC format generating professional-looking output from Lilypond.

So, now I need to figure out how add actions to a Perl 6 grammar…


3 Responses to “Back to ABCs”

  1. Bruce Keeler Says:

    Agree with your comments about Lilypond. Gorgeous output, and it does OK from the “complex things possible” angle, but misses the “simple things easy” mark.

    When I decided to learn it 6 years ago it took me probably about 80 hours to typeset one piece, though admittedly it was a complex one ( or, and I was learning as I went. Reviewing it now, I hardly recognize the syntax at all.

    • colomon Says:

      I wonder how much better your piece would look today, after six years of improvements to Lilypond? It seems like there are a few elements in there covering each other up, and I really don’t like the filled in flat signs. (Or was that a feature?)

      What an ambitious piece to tackle! I’m planning to focus on tunes that are about 16 bars long…

  2. Bruce Keeler Says:

    But still less ambitious than actually playing it! Some day…

    I’m sure it would require a lot of work to bring it up to date with latest Lillypond though. I tried running the auto-migration tool on it about a year later and it failed horribly. I hate to imagine what it would do these days. I might get around to it yet though.

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