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The composition process doesn't get disrupted using Lily Pond?

From: Flaming Hakama by Elaine
Subject: The composition process doesn't get disrupted using Lily Pond?
Date: Wed, 9 Jan 2019 18:06:27 -0800

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Yakir Arbib <address@hidden>
To: address@hidden
Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2018 18:28:36 +0100
Subject: The composition process doesn't get disrupted using Lily Pond?
Dear list,

First of all, happy New Year to everybody!

I wanted to ask you a more general question related to composition and LilyPond:

Can anyone here who is a composer and uses LilyPond to compose give me
some little insight about the process?

I mean if you are composing for more than one stave (I.E. piano and
cello or string quartet) how do you keep track of the music if each
stave has to be coded separately?

Do you composers use Lily only after you notate the pieces on regular
paper, or is it possible to make some sort of easier structure in Lily
to make sense of a multi-instrument piece of music so your composition
process is not constantly being interrupted by technicalities?

I am visually impaired and don't have a primary way of notating the
music "for myself" first.  Any tips would be incredibly appreciated!!

Thank you very much and all the best in music!


Happy new year.

So, the tl;dr version is that, yes there can be blocks to the composition process when using lilypond.  But it is often possible to bucket that work, so you can get it done and get back to the composition process.  I think it can be worth it since there are a lot of good features in lilypond to help composition/arranging.

My composition process sometimes includes lilypond.  Generally speaking, this is only at the point when I know the entire layout of the piece--at least in terms of the overall structure, the sections, and their durations.

The way I work is to start with a "global" variable definition that includes all the signatures, barlines, rehearsal marks, tempi, etc., filled with spacers.

Then, I take that structure and create a blank version of the variable (only the spacers, no barlines or additional content) and use that as a starting point for creating a variable for each instrument/staff in the score.  These different instrument variables get combined into score and parts, which can be built, although at this point there is no content, just structure.

Once I am through with that setup, then, I can start composing by adding content to whichever instrument in whichever section I'd like.  I can build the scores (including midi) with the work-in-progress, review them either visually, or aurally (by importing the midi into a DAW).  I use tags to limit the compilation to only the sections/instruments I am working on, or need to see/hear, so it goes faster. 

I tend to keep each instrument's music variable in its own file, so I need to open that instrument's file when I need to add content.  If I am working on multiple instruments at once, I open up each of those instruments' files in multiple tabs in my editor and switch to the appropriate one.   If, for example, it is section writing where each instrument has similar rhythms, articulations and dynamics, I will just copy & paste the code from one instrument variable to another, then update the pitches (or anything else) as necessary.

The reason I like to start with the complete roadmap planned out is that it can be a pain to update the durations.  Especially if there are many instruments in the scores. 

For example, if you then want to add a measure to one section of the song, you need to add this in the global definitions, as well as in each instrument/staff's music variable (and if you have chord symbols, it will need to be updated there, too.)   So, there becomes a little more overhead to modifying the duration of a section after the fact.  This type of thing can be done, but it does feel like a break in the composition process since you go from musical entry to lots of cutting & pasting in multiple files, with all of the debugging to ensure that you did it correctly.

On the other hand, you can certainly use lilypond to sketch out ideas, not worrying about, for example, how many bars will be in the intro while you work on the main theme, or how many instruments will be in the ensemble while you're trying to figure out the harmonic progression.  But at some point you will need to stop working on a sketch, and proceed with engraving.  At which point, you will have another break in the composition process while you prepare your lilypond code for note entry.

So, generally, I would say that I tend to use lilypond after most of the composition has been done.  But you can use it earlier in the process.  It's just that it is likely you will have to refactor your sketches into a final engraving at some point, which will be a break from the composition process.

In general, I do most of my core composition work before touching lilypond, and do a lot of arranging from within lilypond.  This can be a very organic process--sometimes I go back to the piano with pencil and paper to make decisions, or to a DAW where I can loop a section and play along until I figure out what I need, then go back to lilypond once I know what I'd like and enter it there.


Elaine Alt
415 . 341 .4954                                           "Confusion is highly underrated"
Producer ~ Composer ~ Instrumentalist

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