The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #51972   Message #794828
Posted By: Mark Clark
01-Oct-02 - 12:17 PM
Thread Name: Help: Music Write 386
Subject: RE: Help: Music Write 386
W.E., As you've probably discovered, the problem these days is that, even though a program might be small and simple enough to run on an i386 machine under Windows 3.1, they're all built using the latest development tools and software libraries so they usually require a Pentium processor and Windows 95 at a minimum. Very few developers will take the trouble to maintain backwards compatibility for computer systems that are several generations old.

What is your level of computing expertise? If you are willing to spend some time learning, and tinkering there is free software available for your system that will produce very nice looking scores. Of course the appearance of any printed page depends to a great extent on the resolution of your printer. The systems I'm going to discuss aren't sequencers or music production tools, they just let you produce nice printed scores.

The software is built on the TeX (pronounced tech) typesetting system placed in the public domain by its designer, Donald Knuth, Professor Emeritus at Stanford. TeX revolutionized the typesetting industry and, when you aren't typesetting music, will also let you create beautifully typeset documents.

Most of what you need can be downloaded from the Comprehensive TeX Archive Network (CTAN). Be warned that most TeX systems aren't going to install themselves just by clicking. You'll have to decide how you want to set up your directory structures and you'll have to know how to set up environment variables on your system. There are many complete TeX distributions but, for your purposes, EMTeX is probably the best choice. The EMTeX distribution was built by Eberhard Mathes (I think that's right) especially for the i386 and Windows 3.1. I used it for many years without any trouble. You'll also want Leslie Lamport's LaTeX (pronounced la-tech) macros if they aren't included with EMTeX.

After TeX and LaTeX you'll need MusicTeX or it's successor, MusixTeX. MusixTeX includes everything needed to print beautiful scores but encoding the source files is daunting for most people. Chris Walshaw's original ABC notation system used MusicTeX for output so he didn't have to write programs to produce a score. His program called abc2mtex is still available though I don't think it handles lyrics. The program takes ABC as input and generates a MusicTeX source file as output. The MusicTeX source file is then converted by MusicTeX and TeX into a device-independent (DVI) file that is then read by a DVI print driver (e.g., dvips for PostScript printers). There is also a dvipdf program for creating Adobe Acrobat files.

You could also use GNU LilyPond to provide a more friendly input syntax but LilyPond requires Cygwin (a UNIX/POSIX layer for Windows) on the Windows platform and I don't think the current release of Cygwin will run on an i386 system.

I know all this must seem daunting but these systems are in relatively wide use around the world. There is lots of help available on CTAN and in USENET News groups.

You must understand that the economics don't really support the use of all this if you're starting from scratch. If you are a computer professional or knowledgable hobiest you won't have any trouble but if computing holds any mystery for you at all, you'll be much better of hiring yourself out to shovel walks—a single major snow storm will take care of you—and use the money to buy a refurbished Pentium machine with Windows 95. The number of hours you have to spend before you're ready to print music will be a couple of orders of magnitude less if you go the snow shoveling route.

      - Mark