Why work so hard?

Musicians are usually more absorbed with performing than with studying the looks of a piece of music, so nitpicking typographical details may seem academic. But it is not. Sheet music is performance material: everything is done to aid the musician in letting her perform better, and anything that is unclear or unpleasant to read is a hindrance.

Traditionally engraved music uses bold symbols on heavy staff to create a strong, well-balanced look that stands out well when the music is far away from the reader: for example, if it is on a music stand. A careful distribution of white space allows music to be set very tightly without crowding symbols together. The result minimizes the number of page turns, which is a great advantage.

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 sheet music this is of double importance because musicians have a limited amount of attention. The less attention they need for reading, the more they can focus on playing the music. In other words, better typography translates to better performances.

These examples demonstrate that music typography is an art that is subtle and complex, and that producing it requires considerable expertise, which musicians usually do not have. LilyPond is our effort to bring the graphical excellence of hand-engraved music to the computer age, and make it available to normal musicians. We have tuned our algorithms, font-designs, and program settings to produce prints that match the quality of the old editions we love to see and love to play from.

Essay on automated music engraving v2.25.10 (development-branch).