A music engraving program to produce high quality and beautiful sheet music.


Our rating: 

License: Free (Open source)
Review & Alternatives: Best Free Music Notation Software

Pros & Cons:

Excellent text-based music language, produces beautiful sheet music, has various third-party GUI's.
Text-based editing can be awkward.

Our Review:

LilyPond takes a unique approach to rendering notation by having you type out the music in a kind of programming language, which LilyPond converts into a PDF or MIDI.

Though learning it is daunting, the LilyPond language is built to be logical, comprehensive and beginner-friendly. The LilyPond website provides excellent tutorials and documentation that enable you to start notating music with a brief knowledge of the language. The basic parts of the LilyPond syntax are measure divisions, note pitches and note durations, but you will also find that a wide variety of features such as dynamic marks, staves, instrument-specific notation, and page format, are included. In addition to the language's functionality, the sheet music looks nice and just about every detail is adjustable.

LilyPond by itself will likely be useful solely for converting handwritten sheet music to a printable format. I found that being unable to see the music as I typed it made it difficult to understand what I was typing, which made composing from scratch difficult. If you spend enough time with LilyPond, though, reading the textual music might come to feel natural.

There are also other ways to use LilyPond, listed on's Easier Editing page. Frescobaldi displays the compiled PDF as you edit the LilyPond text. Denemo, another program recommended on the LilyPond website, lets you edit the notation graphically while using LilyPond behind the scenes to create the final PDF. If you love the style of LilyPond's sheet music but cannot work with text, there is likely some program that can turn your music into LilyPond sheet music.

LilyPond is compatible with Mac OSX, Windows, Linux, and FreeBSD. Frescobaldi is compatible with Windows and Linux. On Mac OSX, Frescobaldi requires some hands-on setup. Denemo is compatible with Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux.

LilyPond was reviewed by on based on version 2.18.2-1.