What's wrong with computer music notation?We like to call LilyPond an "automated engraving system." It will format music notation beautifully without requiring typographical expertise of its users.
LilyPond is not unique in making music notation: there are a lot of programs that print music, and nowadays most of the newly printed music is made with computers. Unfortunately, that also shows: just ask any musician that plays classical music: new scores do not look as nice as old (from before, say, 1970) scores: the new ones have a bland, mechanical look. They are not at all pleasurable to play from.
To illustrate this, take a look at the following examples. Both are editions of the 1st Cello Suite by J.S.Bach. The one on the left is a very beautifully hand-engraved edition from 1950, the one on the right is a typical contemporary computer product. Take a few seconds to let the looks of both pages sink in. Which one do you like better, and why?
|Bärenreiter (BA 320, (c) 1950)||Henle (nr. 666 (c) 2000)|
The left picture looks nice: it has flowing lines and movement. It's music, and it's alive. Now, the picture on the right shows the same music, and it was written by Bach. His music surely has liveliness and flowing lines.... Except, the score doesn't show it: it looks rigid and mechanical. To understand better why that is, let's blow up a fragment of both pieces:
The location of the bar lines is a giveaway. In the new edition, both barlines are on exactly the same horizontal location. Also, the note heads are on the exact same horizontal location. When you look back at the whole page, you can easily verify that almost all barlines are in the same location, as are most of the note heads. The entire thing is spaced as if it were put to a big grid, which is what causes the mechanical impression.
This is not the only error on this example, and more importantly, this piece is not the only one with typographical errors. Sadly, almost all music printed nowadays is full of basic typographical mistakes.
Musicians are usually more absorbed with performing the music than with studying its looks, so this nitpicking about typographical details may seem academical. That is not justified. This piece here has a monotonous rhythm. If all lines look the same, they become like a labyrinth. If the musician looks away once or has a lapse in his concentration, he will be lost on the page.
In general, this is a common characteristic of typography. Layout should be pretty, not only for its own sake, but especially because it helps the reader in his task. For performance material like sheet music, this is doubly important: musicians have a limited amount of attention. The less attention they need for reading, the more they can focus on playing itself. In other words, better typography translates to better performances.
Next: What's wrong with software, or how
Finale is not the end-all of music software.