LilyPond – ly2video (alfa): English Suite I: Bourree I (J. S. Bach)

ly2video is a nice hack which generates a video from sheet music. The video shows the sheet music on a single unbroken line, with continuous horizontal scrolling from beginning to end, and with a cursor moving to show the currently playing note. The sound in the video is the MIDI output of the notation.

This will seem unremarkable because it is sheet music, which is meaningless to most people. Try to ignore that.

It is a step in the evolution of sheet music for the sake of easing the cognitive work a musician has to do. By having a single endless line that only makes sense if it is automatically scrolling while you play, this format abandons the physical page. If a musician loses his place, which happens all the time, the cursor reminds him.

For a musician having a hard time understanding the rhythms in the notation, the video acts like an animation. You can verify this by watching the video and carefully keeping track of the little black dots, so that you are matching the dots you see with the notes you hear, one dot for each note. You don’t have to read music to start having an intuitive sense of what the visual notation means as far as rhythms go. This technology is helping you with the cognitive work of learning to read notation.

It makes so much sense that I wonder how it ever makes sense to have sheet music that acts more like paper than film.

This is why it’s worth overlooking the fact that almost nobody reads music. The system of writing music as dots and flags on staffs is growing into something barely recognizable, but it is a starting point for new technology that helps with the mental part of making music. Helping musicians with cognitive grunt work is new technology with lots of fresh turf.