Plain Text Files in Music

Most musicians and musicologists are used to editing text documents and musical scores with graphical WYSIWIG tools and don’t even know that there is an alternative. Confronted with “source code” they are often reluctant to give it a try – I’d like to show that the benefits are worth the effort.

LilyPond isn’t the only program based on plain text files, there are other tools around that can make up a complete “plain text tool box”. Using these tools makes sense not only because of their high quality output, but especially because of innovative workflows they allow. Collaboration can be brought to a new level when backed up by plain text files and version control – this can go as far as “crowd editing”.

As part of the openLilyLib Tutorials series I have written an extensive essay on the topic and am happy to present it today. If you are working with musical documents on a regular basis (produce scores or scholarly editions, write books or essays containing music examples, create training or test sheets etc.) you might find reading it a rewarding effort.

While being rather voluminous the paper is structured into concise and small sections, so it should be quite accessible without using up your single spare evening of the week ;-). And being intended as an overview it tries to reduce your exposure to source code examples to a minimum. It should really serve as a good starting point exploring your new life as a “collaborative musician/musicologist/…”

Download Tutorial (PDF)

There is also a German version available now. It is considerably compressed, nearly a summary, and it is more focused on institutional level scholarly work.

Download German Version (PDF)

PS: One aspect that appears at a few places in this essay it the programmability of plain text files.  I am currently writting two posts which will give that “academic feature” some conceivable flesh and blood.

PPS: As a follow-up I would like to quote a recent discussion on the lilypond-user mailing list. This sounds like an example artificially designed for my essay, but unfortunately it’s sad reality …

Original poster:
I have a score I did some time in the previous century in Passport Rhapsody.  Now, I need to make some changes.  I cannot find out a way to read these files.  Is anyone here aware of any path to get from Rhapsody to anything that can be eventually turned into Lilypond, short of retyping it from the printed score?

Comment A:
According to, Finale can import from Rhapsody. Maybe that’s a usable itinery for you.

Comment B:
From MakeMusics web site:
“Please note that support for Encore, Rhapsody, SCORE, MIDI Scan, and SmartScore .fin file types was removed in Finale 2010.”
So maybe someone with Finale 2007 may help the OP.

Comment C:
I didn’t erase Finale 2009 when I upgraded, so could have a go if you like. I’m also getting reasonably proficient at musicxml2ly, with relatively straightforward choral scores at least.

Comment D:
I have Finale 2007 and it does appear that it will import from Rhapsody. Let me know if you’d like me to import and export as musicXML.

Original Poster:
I appreciate the kind offers.  After taking another look, I decided it would be more efficient simply to retype it, and I completed that task yesterday.


9 thoughts on “Plain Text Files in Music

  1. Pingback: Version Control, Text Quality and Creativity | Scores of Beauty

  2. Pingback: Engraving Challenges: Slurs and Ties | Scores of Beauty

  3. Pingback: Programmatically Generating LilyPond Input | Scores of Beauty

  4. Anonymous

    The PDF links appear to be broken. All I get is a blank page saying “404 not found”.

  5. Pingback: LilyPond and the World of Digital Music Edition | Scores of Beauty

Comments are closed.