Getting Started with LilyPond in Ubuntu or Debian Linux

By | 2013/09/15

LilyPond is the great open source music typesetting app. I’ll show you how to get started with LilyPond in Debian or Ubuntu Linux!

LilyPond is a typesetting app, much like LaTeX. It is not particularly useful for composing, music playback, or so forth. It _is_ most useful as creating a final polished score that looks as good as or better than published music scores.

The input for LilyPond is editing a text file, somewhat like writing a computer program. LilyPond then renders the text file into a PDF score.

It is possible to convert from many programs such as Finale or Sibelius using musicXML.
I like to compose using Sibelius, then export to LilyPond with sib2ly.

1. First, install the app Frescobaldi which will pull in all needed LilyPond components:

$ sudo apt-get install frescobaldi

2. Next, I strongly suggest grabbing the latest stable version of LilyPond from the LilyPond website.

At the time of this writing, current 64bit stable is:

GNU/Linux 64: LilyPond 2.16.2-1

Save that download, then mark as executable and install with sudo:

$ wget

$ chmod +x 

$ sudo ./

Note that installing this version manually will not cause any trouble with the currently installed Debian or Ubuntu lilypond. In Linux, your shell will default to using /usr/local/bin first, so running ‘lilypond’ will run this downloaded version and all is well in the world with other dependencies.

3. Now run frescobaldi from the command line or from your menu.

Frescobaldi is an awesome LilyPond editor. Frescobaldi has a score setup similar to Sibelius or Finale to configure the title, subtitle, composer info, instruments, time signature, key, and other elements.

When editing the score, note that all input again is on the left hand pane with text.

02-lilypond 03-lilypond

I suggest using LilyPond templates available here.

Of course it is also possible to use lilypond from the command line to render the pdf:

$ lilypond

This will create a PDF myscore.pdf in the same directory.

Example scores

Without further ado, here is an example score of mine that you can open in Frescobaldi to check out:

LilyPond file:

pdf: synct.pdf

mp3: synct.mp3

I suggest checking out for more resources, docs, and information. LilyPond is cross-platform and runs on Linux, BSD, Windows, and OS X.

How does LilyPond compare to Sibelius, Finale, other?

For creating a nice polished score, LilyPond scores are by far the easiest to create and most professional looking – which sounds crazy considering the input method. It is possible to create just as polished score in Finale or Sibelius however it would take much more time. LilyPond automatically determines things such as slur and tie spacing, placement of accidentals, spacing of measures, text, and so forth.

For many engravers, I know Finale is preferred over Sibelius as Finale lets you set every little mark or note exactly where you want in an almost up/down/left/right placement. LilyPond automatically creates the spacing and placement for everything with no need to spend time adjusting. Of course it is also possible to fine-tune LilyPond’s placements of any elements if needed.

For the modern composer, LilyPond does all kinds of crazy notations. The best thing is that say, you don’t want a key signature – just leave out the key! And the score says ok, and you have an open key piece. Just render the darn notes – and it works great.

global = {

{\key c \major \time 2/4 \tempo 4 = 112 \tempo 4 = 120 s1*1/2  |%1

Don’t need a key? Leave it out!

global = {

{\time 2/4 \tempo 4 = 112 \tempo 4 = 120 s1*1/2  |%1