Learning an instrument – Be a musician, not a machine

Before I begin, I would just like to make a point that this is not a step-by-step procedure on how to learn any instrument in the world, nor is it a guide of scale patterns and drills to get you started. I would like to share with you my personal philosophy of learning how to play a musical instrument. Why? Because I believe that the kind of mindset you have when starting anything new has a huge impact on your speed of progression. This is my opinion of what the proper mindset is while learning an instrument, whether it’s your first or your twentieth. Like almost everything in life, this subject is full of grey areas, and not everyone may agree with what I have to say, but this is based entirely off of my own experiences and what worked for me. I am addressing this way of thinking to everyone, whether they aspire to be a singer-songwriter or an oboist for a wind ensemble.

Understand music, not just the instrument

“When I was young I took piano lessons for 10 years, but I barely remember anything”

– A lot of people

Let’s think, for a second, about what a musical instrument is. I think the first sentence of the Wikipedia page for “musical instrument” sums it up nicely:

A musical instrument is a device created or adapted for the purpose of making musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can serve as a musical instrument–it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument.

The key word here is purpose. You can use any instrument to play a million scales, precise exercises, impressive drills, or even memorized songs, but the question is, can you create music? Can you stand there, alone, with no sheet music in front of you, no conductor, and no guidance, and play music that you didn’t memorize? This, I think, should be the goal in mind when learning an instrument. To be able to improvise and create music from your own head, on the spot, is one of the greatest accomplishments in your musical undertaking.

Those drills and exercises are important and serve their own purpose, but you need to keep in mind that they aren’t everything. Many of us have heard the stories about people who study an instrument for several years, only to forget everything they learned down the road. I would argue that this happened because they didn’t focus enough on the creative side of the coin. It’s like when you read several pages of a book, only to realize that you didn’t take any of it in. You know you understood each of the words, but you weren’t interested enough in the sentences they formed to retain any of the information or meaning.

So my suggestion is this: First learn to play the instrument enough to be able to produce and control musical notes. Learn how to play a couple of scales and chords (if it’s a chordal instrument, of course). You don’t need to learn every chord or scale in the universe, and you don’t need to play them at unbelievable speeds, just learn the basics so that you can begin creating music.

Think of yourself like a child aspiring to be a painter, and you have to start with finger painting. Once the art teacher shows you how to dip your hands in the paint and draw basic shapes on the paper, what do you do? Do you do it once, then say, “okay, next lesson”? No, you use that basic knowledge to go crazy. You paint blobs of color that might-sort-of-kind-of resemble a cat, little stars and circles that have no purpose or connection other than the fact that you “just felt like painting them”.  People with greater painting experience may pass it off as “just another child’s chicken scratch”, but you think it’s a masterpiece, and you had a whole lot of fun making it. It’s no different in the world of music. You shouldn’t learn the basics and say “okay, next lesson”, you should take what you’ve learned and go crazy.

Let me further explain this with my own story.

I started learning to play the guitar when I was about 11 years old. My father, also a guitar player, gave me two beginner books for Christmas and let me practice with one of his classical guitars. Every once in a while we would open one of the books and he would help teach me the basics. I learned how to play an open C scale, an open G scale, a couple of chords, a smidgen of picking technique, and a few songs that curiously resembled “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. After I began to understand the beginner stuff, I started to just…play. I would sit in my room and mess around with the scales I learned. I would pick notes at random and play them, then try to repeat what I just did. After I discovered that my Dad owned some basic recording software, I decided that I wanted to try to record some of these ideas. Like most 12 year old kids, I didn’t have any expensive microphones and audio interfaces, but I did have a plastic camera that came with the Lego Movie Maker set.

The hi-tech camera I used to record when I was 12.

Lucky for me, this little, plastic, Lego camera had a cheap microphone built into it, and better yet, the recording software recognized this microphone as a recording device. So, I would “borrow” my Dad’s electric guitar and amp from the basement and dangle the Lego camera in front of the amp with some tape. My Dad also had a multi-effects pedal, which I used to to get distortion and drum patterns. Armed with this technology, I fooled around with recording for hours. I would turn on one of the drum loops and play over it. With no one around to hear me, I was my only critic. Eventually I recorded my very first song.

It had a repetitive, digital drum pattern, looping over and over again until you wanted to punch the speakers. The melody, also repetitive, consisted of 4, maybe 5 notes in total. The guitar tone was cringe-worthy and the recording quality was abysmal. It was amateur, sloppy, disorganized, monotonous, repetitive, and it was absolutely awesome. The thrill of creating my own song was powerful and addictive. From that point on there was no going back. I made another song, then another, then another, all equally sloppy and repetitive. I learned how to finger paint and I hit the ground running.

This gave me a reason to practice those scales, chords, and picking technique. It gave it all purpose. It’s one of the reasons that now, about 10 years later, I still remember everything I learned, I’m still playing music, and I want to try any musical instrument I can get my hands on.

“That’s great and all, but I don’t have any fancy recording software”

Right off the bat I’d say that you don’t need software to record your musical ideas. It depends what you want to accomplish. When I suggest that people record themselves, I’m talking on any level. That being said, it’s actually pretty easy to get your hands on basic recording software these days. If you have a Mac, it most likely already has Garage Band. For Windows, Mac, or Linux, you can download Audacity absolutely free. Utilize this amazingly vast collection of resources known as the Internet and just try a bunch of things out. If you have a large sum of money to spend and want to go straight for the biggest names, check out Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase, Ableton, and Sonar. Some of them even have free versions of their software, so feel free to explore their websites.

You’ll notice that some software, such as Ableton, is focused more on MIDI sequencing than recording audio. This is something that I highly suggest you try to get involved in, as it is a way to easily jot down melodies in your head without needing an instrument. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a melodic idea, opened up Ableton, quickly programmed the melody, saved it, and went on with whatever else I was doing. I now have a folder on my computer filled with little ideas that I can expand on whenever I want.

You can also use music notation software to jot down your ideas. If you’re a bit of a computer junkie, check out my post on Lilypond, a free text-base notation editor, and it’s partner, Frescobali. For more conventional software, check out Finale and Sibelius. Again, I have hundreds of Finale and Lilypond files, all filled with quick ideas that popped into my head.

There are countless ways to jot down your musical ideas even without fancy recording software. Do you have a cell phone? It probably has a voice recorder feature. You can also use a good-old tape deck, a webcam, Windows Sound Recorder, Ubuntu’s Sound Recorder, anything! The list goes on and on.

The reason I am so persistent about recording your musical ideas is that it worked wonders for me. It really made a world of difference in terms of developing my “ear” for music. I have come up with a ton of song ideas after looking back through my old recordings and finding some snippets that I had completely forgotten about. Think of recording music the same as sketching a drawing. Recording a bunch of little ideas is like jotting down a bunch of quick drawings in a sketchbook. You can actually hear how you’ve progressed just as you can see how much better your drawings are.

“But I don’t want to write music!”

Just to clarify, I am not saying that you are only a musician if you write, record, and sell your own music. You don’t have to strive to be the next biggest rock star or composer. If all you want to do is learn guitar and rock out to Led Zeppelin, or learn flute and play masterful compositions in a disciplined ensemble, that’s absolutely fine. However, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I believe that these suggestions can still help.

Let’s take the example of the guitarist who only really cares about playing songs by his or her favorite band.

Extreme scenario 1: They never worked on developing an “ear” for music at all. Their only option is to have the song taught to them, either by someone who already knows it, music notation, or guitar tabs found on the Internet. Once they have learned the song, they are good to go, but only as long as they can memorize it. Given a long enough time where they didn’t play the song, they might forget how to play it and have to be “re-taught” before they can play it again.

Extreme scenario 2: They have spent a great deal of time experimenting with the scales and chords they learned and have a much better understanding of how song structures work. Thus, they have a well-developed “ear” for music. They can listen to the song, decipher the structure, and figure out how to play it on their own. They can even play along with the song during their first listen, playing chords that work over what they hear, or improvising melodies to create their own guitar solo over it. No memorization is necessary as it only takes them seconds to teach themselves the song.

In both cases, the guitarist is able to learn the song, but which of these scenarios sounds more fun? Sure, to a beginner guitarist the second scenario sounds like a dream too far to reach when they first start, but what I’m saying is that if you strive for scenario number 2, you will have a much more fulfilling experience with music. If your idea of learning an instrument is memorizing song after song after song, without diving deeper into what the instrument can be used for, you are destined for the first scenario. I believe that the suggestions I have given in this post will help you achieve the second scenario.

Now let’s consider the flute player.

Extreme scenario 1: They never worked on developing an “ear” for music at all. They have mastered their ability to sight-read music and have perfect technique, but they can only play music if it’s put in front of them. They can’t function without music notation telling them exactly what to play, when to play, and how to play. Being told to play with “more emotion” means nothing to them.

Extreme scenario 2: They have spent a great deal of time experimenting with the scales they learned, building their own melodies, and have a much better understanding of how song structures work. This makes learning their required music much easier and more enjoyable. Their playing is most likely more relaxed, as their brain is focused on what is happening musically, rather than being an emotionless computer. They can still play with perfect technique and sight-read better than anyone else, but now they are more in-tune (pun intended) with what is happening while they play with an ensemble. They hear what is going on and understand exactly what they are contributing as a musician.

Again, both scenarios result in the musician playing the required part, but the second scenario is more inviting because it sounds like they are having a much more fulfilling experience.

“So…what exactly are you suggesting I do?”

Let me summarize my points to give you a better idea of what I’m suggesting.

– When learning an instrument, go beyond the systematic exercises you are taught. Don’t learn them and move on, learn them and create with them.

– Jot down these creative ideas by recording them. Think about making your own musical sketchbook. This will help you see your progress, develop your ear for music, and give a greater purpose to the mundane exercises you’ve been working on.

– Remember that regardless of your ultimate musical goals, thinking creatively will help speed up your learning process. It makes music fun and fulfilling.

Would you rather buy a fish or a fishing pole?

This entire subject is something that can be discussed endlessly. I can go on and on, further expanding on how to think more creatively, discussing my opinion on the best way to start improvising (something I may post on in the near future), but for my own sake (and yours) I think I’ll end this post and leave you with one old question.

Would you rather buy a fish, or would you rather buy a fishing pole?

Think about it. Buying the fish is the easy solution, but it only feeds you once. Buying a fishing pole is a greater initial expense and you have to learn how to use it, but once you do you can catch as many fish as you want. This can be translated into the music world. Learning songs without being musical and creative is possible, but at the cost of the time it takes to learn and memorize each one. Learning how to be musical and creative gets you the fishing pole. The big initial expense here is having to go beyond just learning scales, chords, and technique. You have to put additional effort into understanding them, experimenting with them, and playing without being told what to play. Learning a song because you understand it musically is as fulfilling as eating a fish that you caught yourself.

I hope this post helped someone out there. If you like what you read, be on the lookout for expansions on this topic in the future. Until then, happy playing.


Expand Your Library: Have you ever listened to a painting? Check out El Cielo

Recommended album: El Cielo by Dredg

If you’re into: Alternative, experimental, progressive, rock

The year is 2002. I am a twelve year old boy flipping through television channels in search of something to entertain me, most likely late at night after finishing some homework that I had put off far too long. I come across an eerie, strange, and slightly disturbing video of an odd-looking puppet in a suit, walking down a dismal road. Music is playing over this scene, and it contains a haunting vocal melody that hovers and drifts above a strong, bass-heavy drum beat. At first I am somewhat turned off by this depressing visual, but for one reason or another, I am transfixed by it. As the video and music continues, I watch with extreme curiosity, as I had never seen or heard anything like this before. When it finishes, I do not feel as though I had just watched another music video. For the first time, I feel as though I had just witnessed a work of art. The song was “Same Ol’ Road” by the California-based band, Dredg.

At the time, it was still too different for me to fully grasp, perhaps because I was not old enough to really appreciate it. Keep in mind, this was during the years when rap and pop-punk ruled the United States, so I was used to watching music videos of New Found Glory, Eminem, and Avril Lavigne. While I did not immediately like it, I was still compelled to obtain the song, which I may or may not have done through the use of a certain music sharing program that was popular at the time. The song remained on one of my music mix CD’s for a few years, and when I was about fifteen years old, I decided to check out what else the band had to offer. I believe I was in a music store in the mall when I shuffled through the many rows of CD’s in search for Dredg. The only album they had was “Catch Without Arms”, which did not contain “Same Ol’ Road”, but I bought it anyway. I did very much enjoy that album, and still do. However, I still wanted to find the album that had that first song I heard three years prior. After doing a little research online, I found that the album I was looking for was “El Cielo”. Since I couldn’t find it in stores and online shopping was not much of a reality for me at that point, I put it on my Christmas list. When the holiday finally came around, I was happy to find it under the tree. I went downstairs to my room, painstakingly unwrapped the annoying plastic wrapper around the CD case, then popped the disc into my CD player. For the next 57 minutes, I stood by the speakers, soaking in each and every song.

Album art for "El Cielo" by Dredg

“Lucid, you control it, your body’s asleep, but your mind is awake” -Dredg, “Scissor Lock”

I learned that this was a concept album dealing with lucid dreams and the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. The booklet that came with the CD was filled with images of letters from people talking about how they, too, often suffer from sleep paralysis, and describe their frightening experiences of hearing things and being unable to move as they are half awake and half asleep. The whole thing was apparently inspired and influenced by this Dali painting:

Dali painting

Painting titled: "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening" by Salvador Dali

The first track is titled “Brushstroke: dcbtfoabaaposba”, which is an acronym for the very long title of the inspiring Dali painting. Also, according to the Wikipedia article for the album, the Japanese words found in the song “The Canyon Behind Her” translate to:

“This album was inspired by a painting titled ‘Dream Caused By the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening’. It is recommended that you view this painting as you listen to El Cielo. It is as if one stimulus awakens other senses. In other words, it’s about drawing music.”

This is an album best listened to with shuffle off. Each song flows perfectly into the next song, creating an almost continuous flow of music. The “Brushstroke: ” tracks are short, transitional interlude snippets, used to present a feeling of movement from one track to the next, while also bringing back subtle motifs to further enhance the consistency of theme throughout. This is one of my favorite aspects of this album. Unlike a large portion of modern music, Dredg did not focus on releasing a single hit, or an album that was full of stand-alone, radio-ready songs. Instead, they worked towards creating an album that can only really be appreciated as a whole, when played in a particular order, and that is something I very much respect. That is not to say that every album in the world should be like that, as there are plenty of albums I love that are filled with stand-alone, radio-ready songs, but in my opinion this takes things to an entirely different level.

The sounds and instruments you hear will keep you on your toes. Whether it is the spine-tingling shriek of a violin (check out the end of “Brushstroke: A Walk In the Park”), the sound of a brush scraping against a canvas (found on the opening track), the beating of tribal drums beneath female chanting vocals and a tremolo mandolin (“Brushstroke: An Elephant in the Delta Waves”), or a saxophone with heavy delay and reverberation making sounds reminiscent of an elephant’s trumpet-like call (“Whoa is Me”), you will most likely hear something you haven’t ever heard before in a rock album.

The guitar playing by Mark Engles is very tremolo heavy, usually clean and reverberated for the verses and distorted yet crisp in the choruses. The tone and style of playing helps give the songs a lush, full sound, while not bashing you over the head with twenty distorted guitars. The focus is much more on quality than it is quantity, and the written parts for the guitar provide texture rather than brain-melting licks (though I do love me some brain-melting licks, this album just doesn’t require them).

Gavin Hayes, the lead singer, lays down clear, baritone vocals practically fit for a Broadway musical. While I have not intently listened to each song to pick out his full range, he can be heard singing as low as a B2 in “Scissor Lock”, as well as as high as a G4 in songs such as “Of the Room” and “Same Ol’ Road”. He also appears to use some falsetto to hit higher notes in songs such as “Sorry But It’s Over” and “Same Ol’ Road”. The album even finishes off with a dramatic vocal harmony at the end of “The Canyon Behind Her”, complete with beautiful suspensions and smooth movement from one chord to the next. I am not sure whether it is all Gavin, or if any of it has been doctored, but it sounds to me like the parts for the harmony go as low as an E1 and as high as an F#4.

The drummer, Dino Campanella, and the bassist, Drew Roulette, work together to form the backbone of each song, and one of my favorite aspects of the album. Dino’s drumming is tight, rhythmic, unique, and very, very groovy (just listen to the cymbal play in the verses in “Of the Room”). Drew’s bass playing fits right in, locking up with the kick drum so perfectly that you can practically feel a thud in your chest every time it happens (listen to the opening of “Same Ol’ Road” with a nice pair of speakers and a decent amount of volume and you’ll see what I mean, or “Triangle” from about a minute and fifteen seconds in to the rest of the song). Together they are the foundation of the album.

Each song contains lyrics that play with the theme of the album. They are poetic, symbolic, imaginative, thoughtful, and philosophical. They often do not rhyme and are sometimes sung in a loose rhythm that approaches rubato (such as the first verse of “Sanzen”). Check out this excerpt from “Same Ol’ Road”:

“All you need is a modest house in a modest neighborhood

In a modest town where honest people dwell

Making the cleanest energy for the greenest plants to grow

The richest soil that is drenched with the freshest rain

Then you should sit in your backyard

Watch clouds peak over the tallest mountain tops

Because they unveil honest opinions about the stars”

-Dredg, “Same Ol’ Road”

In the end, this album is a unique and fantastic experience for those who are into alternative rock. I realize that this is certainly not a new release, but the point of this post is to expose it to people that may not have heard of it before. Dredg has since come out with new material and they play and experiment with different sounds and feels for each, some more dramatically different than others (their most recent release to date, “Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy” is the clearest change in overall sound and has sparked quite a bit of discussion amongst fans). I do like their newer stuff, as well as their older stuff (“Lietmotif” is pretty damn awesome), but “El Cielo” just holds a special place in my heart, either due to nostalgia or just the overall feel and concept. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but whether you are an alt-rock fanatic or someone trying to broaden their spectrum of musical taste, do yourself a favor and at least give it a listen.

Software suggestion – Frescobaldi

I’ve already done a post about Lilypond, which is a text-based sheet music editor, but I have since discovered a handy piece of software that takes Lilypond to the next level.

Frescobaldi (here is the website) is an open-source editor specifically designed for Lilypond, and in my opinion it GREATLY enhances the experience. It provides a single window which contains the Lilypond text file you are working on, a preview of the PDF you are creating, and access to all of the help documentation your heart desires.

Without this software, you would have to have to work on your music code with a text editor, then run the code through Lilypond (via the terminal on Linux or by dragging the file onto the icon in Windows), which generates a PDF file that you have to re-open every time you want to check the changes you made. With Frescobaldi, everything is right there in one single window.

The built-in text editor is color coded and comes equipped with a library of Lilypond functions and variables that pop up as suggestions as you type your code. So rather than feeling like you’re typing a boring old notepad document, you feel like you’re using some fancy programming software, fit for programming the next huge operating system (or at least a sweet piano sonata). This feature is incredibly useful for keeping your text files organized and visually easy to navigate.

After making changes to the text file, all you have to do is click the Lilypond icon embedded in the top bar of the software, which compiles your code and instantly updates the PDF preview. No more closing and re-opening a PDF viewer each time you want to make any changes to your score.

As someone who considers himself far from fluent in the Lilypond language, I often have to search online for instructions on how to do certain things with Lilypond. Sometimes I forget how to add a double bar line, or how to include first and second endings, etc. The built in document view in Frescobaldi takes just about all the information I would ever need and plops it right in the window I’m already working in. Now I just tab to the documentation viewer and search keywords or navigate the contents of numerous manuals. This saves quite a bit of time and Google searches.

Along with everything I’ve mentioned here, Frescobaldi incorporates several helpful tools, including a page setup dialogue box, which allows you to fill in information about the piece, such as composer, arranger, title, etc. Once you hit the okay button, it converts your input into Lilypond code and includes it in your text file. There are several other handy features that I have not utilized, but everything is included to make your Lilypond experience as convenient as possible.

Did I mention it’s free, too? Gotta love open-source software. If you like Lilypond, download Frescobaldi…right now. In case you missed it, here is the link to their website again.

Software suggestion – Lilypond

I figured I should start things off with an informative post. That way I can at least pretend that this blog has a useful function and isn’t just a space for me to splatter my creations, blab about myself, or beg for work.

I’m here to type about a piece of software that I personally like to use for music notation called Lilypond. At this point, you may skip my lengthy explanation and simply click on this link to go directly to the website, where you’ll find download instructions and tutorials. If you’re still with me, read on.

As a big fan of open source software, I always try to find alternatives to mainstream software. My reasons being that open source software is free, usually lighter weight, and satisfies the techie in me. I say this because sometimes open source software requires a little tinkering around or has a bit of a learning curve. Lilypond is no exception, but once you learn how to work with it, you’ll quickly see the benefits.

If you do any digital music notation, you’re most likely used to products like Finale. I do own Finale (the PrintMusic version) and I’ve used it extensively. I have hundreds of Finale files filled with tons of ideas, ranging from little 2-measure ditties to multiple-paged orchestration scores. It is incredibly easy to use and has an intuitive graphic-user-interface. However, it can be a bit pricey, you have a limited number of computers you can install it on, and it may or may not be compatible with your operating system.

This is where Lilypond comes in. The notation input is actually text-based. In fact, with Lilypond, an entire orchestra score can be stored in a single text file. Yes that’s right, in its simplest form, Lilypond has no graphic user interface. Instead, you type out your score in a text file similar to typing programming code. To some people, this can be very off putting, but to others, like me, I saw it as a new and capable approach to scoring music.

After you install the program, all you have to do is open a text editor and input something like this:


c’ e’ g’ e’


You then save the file with the extension of “ly”. For example, you could save the text file as test.ly. Then you run Lilypond using that file (the way this is done varies by which operating system you use. In Linux it’s done with the command line and in Windows you just drag the file on top of the Lilypond icon. I haven’t tried Lilypond on Mac, but I’m sure it’s very easy). Nothing will pop up, but Lilypond will generate a few files in the same folder that the test.ly file is in. One of those generated files is a PDF containing your music. With the above example, the following would be created:

Lilypond example

For this incredibly simple example, all Lilypond did was generate a single measure containing the notes c, e, g, then e again. It automatically assumed we wanted treble clef and that we were in common time, both of which could be changed if we would like. The apostrophes next to each letter determine which octave the note should be in. I could take a lot of time explaining how this works thoroughly, but I’d rather just point you to the already-made Lilypond tutorial here.

Once you really dig into the syntax of Lilypond you’ll find that it is 100% customizable. You can add instruments, change the time signature, the clef, the spacing of the notes, the types of barlines, etc. One of the greatest things about this software is its versatility. Just by adding a few lines of code, you can make your sheet music look exactly the way you’d like. Here’s an example of a guitar arrangement I put together for Moonlight in Vermont, made entirely with Lilypond. Just click this link to download the PDF.

Moonlight in Vermont

You can also include a few lines of code in the text file that tell Lilypond to generate a MIDI file along with the PDF. This allows you to listen to your beautiful work of art. There is a fairly large list of instruments you can choose from for you MIDI output, but don’t expect a glorious, lush grand piano or a buttery, rich cello. Yes, its still MIDI and it’s not the most amazing sounding output, but this software is more about making some sweet sheet music eye-candy, not a FLAC file that’s fit for commercial release.

Of course, in my opinion, that is one limitation of Lilypond in comparison to commercial software like Finale. In Finale you can easily play back the music you are working on with a simple click of the play button. With Lilypond you need to compile the file, open the MIDI, then seek out the portion of the song you want to hear. So as far as working on music that requires constant trial and error and real time editing, I’d say that Finale is a much easier option. That being said, there is software being produced in the open source world (such as Rosegarden) that contains a GUI for Lilypond, which would make it easier to do this kind of work. However the last time I gave it a shot it was a task and a half trying to get it to work, though it may have come a long way since then.

I would have to say that one of the best things about this software is what it takes to run it. Since there is virtually no GUI and the files you work with are literally text files, you can run this software on just about any computer. Regardless of whether or not Lilypond is installed on a computer, you can still work on your Lilypond files, as long as you have a text editor (such as Notepad for Windows, TextEdit for Mac, or gedit for Linux).

So in summary, here are the pros and cons:


– There is a learning curve.

– Lack of GUI (graphic user interface) makes it a little hard to work with for visual people.

– Not the best for real time music composing that requires constant playback.

– The quality of the MIDI output is nothing to write home about.


– Highly versatile. You can make your sheet music look exactly the way you want.

– Sheet music produced looks professional and official. Software like Finale produces sheet music in a somewhat blocky, unnatural format, in a way that makes it obvious that it was created with Finale.

– Lilypond files are text files, so the space they take up is miniscule and they can be worked on with virtually any computer.

– It’s open source and FREEEEEEEEE!!!!!!! 😀 Which is just awesome enough in itself. You have nothing to lose to give it a shot. I mean, I guess you have time to lose, but I’m sure you’ve wasted your time on much more useless things.

EDIT: Check out my more recent post on a program called Frescobaldi, which enhances the Lilypond experience.