Free Software

GNU LilyPond is written and maintained by a community of enthusiasts. It is published under the GNU General Public License and the GNU Free Documentation License, giving everybody the freedom to fix, modify, and extend the program. Creating beautiful music should not require hundreds of dollars of software!

What are the benefits to users?

  • No cost: download and try it out! What do you have to lose?
  • Sharing: if you like the program, give a copy to your friends, teachers, students, and colleagues!
  • Source available: if you are curious about how LilyPond creates some notation, you can see exactly how it is done.
  • Extendible: you can add features, fix bugs, and change the functionality. If you are not a programmer, you can hire somebody to do those tasks.

    This may not seem appealing to casual musicians, but the ability to extend software can be highly valuable to serious composers, companies, and academics.

  • Future safety: if a commercial company goes bankrupt, what happens to any electronic music which depends on their products? This is not a concern with LilyPond; even if the entire development team quits (extremely unlikely), the program will still be legally available for copying, modifications, and distribution.

Why do LilyPond developers “give away” their work for free?

Most of us view LilyPond development as a hobby or volunteer work. So this question is really asking “why do people volunteer”?

  • Fun: working towards a goal can be enjoyable, especially when you work as a team!
  • Shared goals: we all want beautiful sheet music, but few people have the expertise (and nobody has the time!), to create a program which can handle all situations. By working together – one person improves the automatic beaming code, another person improves the shape of slurs, and a third person writes documentation explaining how to use these features – we can achieve our goal with only a fraction of the individual effort.
  • “Gift culture”: the Free Software movement has created many great software projects, such as GNU/Linux, Mozilla Firefox, and Battle for Wesnoth. Having benefitted from these projects, some developers want to “give back” to the community.
  • Work experience: contributing to free software projects is a great way to practice programming, documentation writing, documentation translation, or design. This experience has helped some developers gain job offers or scholarships.

Where now?

Still not convinced? Read our extensive essay about our engraving philosophy in Background. If you’ve already decided to try LilyPond, first read about our Text input.