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Re: Absolute Beginners

From: Manuel
Subject: Re: Absolute Beginners
Date: Mon, 25 Dec 2006 17:23:27 +0100

Here is the latest, only I haven't yet a better expression to substitute for "denomination".



Beginners Guide

for the

Absolute Beginner

(Mac OS X version)

Chapter One.

Open a new LilyPond window.

Then type this inside:

{ c'  d'  e'  f'  g'  a'  b'  c' ' }

Save the file and then select "Typeset file" from the "Compile" menu.

A small window will open, where you can follow the proceedings, and then a ".pdf" document will appear, with this result:

(insert graphic here)

It is a little C-major scale. Let us consider it:

The so-called "curly brackets"




are essential. You must always write your music inside such brackets.

Also, LilyPond is "case sensitive", which means that in our little example, "c" (that's lower case) is right, but "C" (that's upper case) would be wrong.

LilyPond has certain pre-set values, called "defaults", which will apply whenever you do not ask for something different. In our present example, for instance: the treble clef, 4/4 time signature, quarter notes (or "crochets", for non-American English speakers).

You can, of course, change these and all other defaults; indeed you can engrave old plainchant, contemporary notation, orchestral scores, do MIDI files, and more. But all that lies further down the road. For the moment, we will teach you how to engrave a simple melody.

First, we'll give you a very useful tool to input your notes, called the "relative mode".

In our example, we have written each note with an octave denomination: one apostrophe:


for the so-called "first octave", which is the octave immediately above and including the middle c - that's the central c in the piano keyboard - and two apostrophes:


for the "second octave", the one immediately above the first octave.

But now, using the "relative mode", you will save yourself a lot of work. Erase what you wrote before in the LilyPond window and write this instead:


{ c d e f g a b c }

Note that the \relative command comes before and outside the { } . Also, be very precise in the way you write this and all other commands: don't allow a space between the backslash and the word, since for instance:

\ relative

will not work, and only


will be fine.

Save the file again, close the .pdf and select "Typeset file" from the "Compile" menu. The result will be the same C-major scale:

(insert graphic here)

But now, with the


command, the first note is automatically engraved as close as possible to the middle c and every further note will be engraved as close as possible to the previous note. "As close as possible" means calculating the smallest interval. Thus if you modify your input to this:


{ e g c b g f d c  }

(Don't forget to always save the file and close the previous .pdf before compiling)

You will get this result:

(insert graphic here)

You can analyze the exercise and see that the fist note e appears a third above middle c instead of a sixth below; the same happens with the following g in relation to the preceding e; then comes a c a fourth above the g instead of a fifth below, an so forth.

Now in this mode, when you add an apostrophe, it makes the note appear one octave higher than it would have appeared without the apostrophe. Two apostrophes make for two octaves, and so forth.

To make a note one octave lower than it would otherwise appear, add a comma:


or two or more for more octaves:


See it here:


{ c' g e' d c c, d c  }

(insert graphic here)

Good. Now let's see how to select the following:


Time signatures

Keys major and minor

Rhythmic values

Sharps and flats

Double bars and repeat bars.

These are simple things to do. Write this example:



\clef treble
\key c \major
\time 4/4

 c d e f g a b c }

The result is our first example of a C-major scale:

(insert graphic here)

but this time you see the way some defaults are set. Change them easily, like this:



\clef alto
\key cis \minor
\time 2/2

 c d e f g a b c }

This should look thus:

(insert graphic here)

Don't worry just yet about the naturals. We'll explain that when we come to talk about keys.

You change the clef changing the denomination "treble" for




or other, no less important clefs, like:

french (G clef on the first line)

soprano (C clef on the first line)

mezzosoprano (C clef on the second line)

baritone (C clef on the fifth line)

varbaritone (F clef on the third line)

subbass (F clef on the fifth line)

percussion (percussion clef)

tab (tablature clef)

To set the key, proceed in this way:

\key (name of the tonic) \(major or minor)

like for instance:

\key g \minor

And similarly for the time signature, like this:

\time x/y

For instance:

\time 6/8

Now for the rhythmic values.

You specify these values with a number after the name of the note: "c1" will make a whole note (also called a minim); "d8" an eighth note (or quaver), etc.

Add full stops (called "periods" in American English) for dotted or double dotted notes:


for a dotted quarter note,


for a double dotted eighth note, and so on.

Insert rests with the letter "r" and specify their duration with numbers:


will be a dotted quarter rest.

Once a rhythmic value is entered it remains the same for all the following notes or rests until you change it. Lets see this with an example:


{c4 r8 e g4 c r8 g c r c,4 r}

(insert graphic here)

Analyze this and see how the rhythmic values are automatically repeated.

You can amuse yourself writing all possible and also impossible examples of simple melodies, and see what happens. Don't worry, whatever you type, you can't break it...

Working fine? Then let's go for sharps and flats. Just add


to the name of a note to make it a sharp, like this:








and add


to the name of a note to make it a flat, like this:







(Please note that this is not necessarily the way you are used to name the notes, just a quick, logical and easy way to work with LilyPond.)

"cisis" and "ceses" will give you double alterations. Get it?

Whatever key you have chosen, you must always input the exact name of the note you wish to have printed. For example in the key of D-Major you must type in "fis" and "cis" to get f-sharp and c-sharp, otherwise a natural sign will be printed before the note. This is not a disadvantage, as you will surely notice after a time.

Insert double bars and repeats like this:



\clef treble
\key c \major
\time 2/4

c d

\bar "|:"

e f

\bar ":|:"

g a

\bar ":|"

b c

\bar "||"


(insert graphic here)

The exercises you have done so far should enable you to write any simple melody. As you are surely aware, we have not said anything yet about tuplets, lyrics, polyphony and many other things, which are certainly no problem to do with this program. Indeed, if you wonder whether you can do any imaginable thing with LilyPond, the answer is very probably "YES!"

Look for it in the other tutorials or in the next chapters, as soon as they are written. Any unsolved questions can be directed to the mailing list, including an example of your problem. Take great care where you put your { and } around your music, and

have fun!

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