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Shape notes

From: J. David Blackstone
Subject: Shape notes
Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2002 17:33:44 -0600

Hi, folks,

  I'm not trying to start any arguments over shaped notes.  Let me please
explain myself and answer a couple of objections.

  I am posting my work on shaped notes to the list for these reasons:

* In case someone comes searching the mailing list to see if lilypond
supports shaped notes, they will find this information when they search.

* If I post what I'm doing to the list, I can get corrections if I try to
do things in ways that don't make sense.

  Now, a few objections:

* What use are shaped notes?

  Of no use to most of you, but of infinite use to me.  That's why I'm
doing this.

* Shouldn't the lilypond project be working on other priorities?

  Yes.  And it is.  My work is additional.  I want shaped notes, and so I'm
making it happen, for me and people I know who want them.  Perhaps my work
will not be of general use enough to be included in the main lilypond
distribution.  I expect that.  I'm certain I'll be maintaining this as an
optional patch for people to apply themselves.  (And probably supplying
Windows and MacOS versions for people to download, because I'll bet my
target audience can't apply patches and compile software.)  My working on
shaped notes doesn't interfere with any other features someone might want
to work on.

* What if J. David implements shaped notes in a poor manner?

  No problem.  Han Wen will not integrate my work unless it is determined
that it was done well, and also only if people actually want the feature.
Meanwhile, I'm sure that as I work with the software I'll learn how things
could have been done better and make improvements.  Also, see above, where
I mentioned that's why I'm posting to the list.

*  Lilypond already supports a lot of shapes.

  This wasn't exactly an objection, just a piece of info I was given.
Lilypond supports shapes, but not the seven Aiken shapes I need.  And the
shapes have to map to the right staff degrees automatically.  I've got the
mapping down, now I just need to get the shapes in a metafont.  The seven
Aiken shapes I am implementing are a superset of the four fasola shapes
Laura posted the link about.  Most information on the internet about shaped
notes is about fasola or Sacred Harp music.  The Aiken system, as far as I
know, is about the only other shaped system that ever caught on; a place to
begin reading about it is .
There's also a few scanned copies of a shaped note theory book called
"Rudiments of Music" I've seen around.  One day I hope to use Lilypond to
republish several shaped note theory books I have and make them available
on the Internet.

  So, if you have an objection about my work with shaped notes, good for
you. :)  I'm not trying to convince anyone to use or support them.  I'm
rather amazed at the amount of traffic this has generated.  I greatly
appreciate all the information people have given me to help me understand
how lilypond works and how I can add the features I want.  If shaped notes
aren't someone's cup of tea, I won't be offended.

  One last thing.  Finale currently supports the Aiken shaped note system,
the Sacred Harp system, and even some others I think.  I know Lilypond
isn't trying to completely duplicate the Finale feature set, but it would
be nice to take away any reasons people have for sticking with a non-free

J. David

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