With these words merited community member Francisco Vila announced the completion of his PhD thesis, for which we would like to congratulate him heartily. It seems to be an interesting topic with – from our perspective – pleasant results.
The – Spanish – thesis is available from http://paconet.org/tesis/tesis.pdf, and it contains an English abstract which we cite for your convenience:
Based on the observations that use of sheet music is paramount in the field of music education, and that free software has characteristics that make it very interesting for use in all kinds of learning activities, our first study describes from multiple points of view a free software project dedicated to music typography. Over a span of 18 years, data about development of the project are analyzed from the whole registered history of its source code. Several visualization and modeling techniques suggest that such a system offers a fairly high level of robustness against deep changes in the composition of the developers’ team.
In our second study, a set of scores made with this program were subject to a custom-made, comparative test through data collected from 106 participating musicians, and at the same time their consumption patterns of musical scores are analyzed. The survey questionnaire and the score models used are validated by a team of experts. A test essay is made and timewise stability is checked by means of the test/retest method. Results show that musicians seem to prefer, in a statistically significant way, music scores made with a program which happens to be freely available for download. We conclude that such a solution makes a valid option for education and professional uses.
Both studies are leaded by a complete bibliographic compendium and a theoretical and historical framework about free software and music typesetting. Further and deeper studies are claimed to be done, as only the surface of the tool has started to show its full potential.
This looks really nice, but I had one open question left: “Musicians prefer LilyPond over what?” Francisco’s answer was pretty strict: “To the same music typeset by other means”.
Obviously they went to great lengths realizing a double-blind study. They prepared ten different (types of) scores, taking an existing (usually professional) engraving and a new LilyPond score, ensuring they were identical in as many respects as possible: paper color, page layout, staff size, background noise etc. This similarity was scrupulously evaluated by experienced musicians before the actual tests were made and the probands were presented pairs of randomly arranged scores. Music types were: a cello part, a piano sonata, a lied, an SATB choral piece, a drumset exercise, a leadsheet, a guitar piece, a string quartet, a chamber music for piano trio, and a full orchestra page, and for two ‘control’ cases the same score was presented twice.
Not all comparisons clearly showed LilyPond as the winner, and in one case – the guitar piece – it actually was the loser. Nevertheless, the average result was clearly favorable to LilyPond scores in a blind experiment where musicians did not know which one was LilyPond-made. I think this gives a clear body of evidence to a ‘truth’ I have felt for a long time (and discussed just recently): LilyPond’s pursuit of traditional aesthetics and craftsmanship simply works.