Using Jupyter as a Music Notebook

I recently started playing guitar again after a long absence and wanted to start making some notes in a digital form. Unfortunately, I didn't find any good tools. There is TeX of course, which can do anything, but I was hoping for something a bit more WYSIWYGy. There are some very good tools available for musical scores (MuseScore, Frescobaldi), but I want something that is more like a traditional notebook with lots of notes interspersed with occasional musical notation (in both traditional and tablature forms).

So an obvious potential candidate is Jupyter (nee IPython), but it has no support for musical notation out of the box. But it is doable and in this post I'll walk through how I got it to work on my Mac. This is also my first attempt at using a Jupyter notebook as my blog post in Nikola so I'm kiling two birds with one stone.

I want something that is fairly easy to write the music in. MusicXML isn't too bad, except XML. What little I've seen of Liyponds markup looked pretty unfriendly for the simple use cases I have. A few days ago I stumbled across a Python library called abjad which looked just the ticket. As I write this I have it working for music on the staff but not tablature (I'm not sure it supports that) but I hope by the end of this post I'll have that figured out too!

Abjad relies on Lilypond, so first that has to be installed. It can be downloaded from, and then the tarball needs to be uncompressed and the folder dragged to /Applications. You need to follow the instructions at that link to set up a command line version too. I created a file /usr/local/bin/lilypond for that; my Homebrew install uses that folder so it is already in my path.

Next we need to install Abjad. You should ideally do this in a virtual environment. I use Anaconda and already have one set up, so can do the installation as follows; you may need to prefix this with sudo depending on your setup.

In [1]:
pip install abjad[development,ipython]
Collecting abjad[development,ipython]
  Downloading Abjad-2.16.tar.gz (27.2MB)
Collecting Sphinx>=1.0.7 (from abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading Sphinx-1.3.5-py2.py3-none-any.whl (1.5MB)
Collecting configobj>=4.7.2 (from abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading configobj-5.0.6.tar.gz
Collecting ply>=3.4 (from abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading ply-3.8.tar.gz (157kB)
Collecting pytest>=2.1 (from abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading pytest-2.8.7-py2.py3-none-any.whl (151kB)
Requirement already satisfied (use --upgrade to upgrade): Pygments>=2.0 in /Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages (from Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
Requirement already satisfied (use --upgrade to upgrade): six>=1.4 in /Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages (from Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
Collecting alabaster<0.8,>=0.7 (from Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading alabaster-0.7.7-py2.py3-none-any.whl
Collecting babel!=2.0,>=1.3 (from Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading Babel-2.2.0-py2.py3-none-any.whl (6.5MB)
Collecting snowballstemmer>=1.1 (from Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading snowballstemmer-1.2.1-py2.py3-none-any.whl (64kB)
Collecting sphinx-rtd-theme<2.0,>=0.1 (from Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading sphinx_rtd_theme-0.1.9-py3-none-any.whl (693kB)
Requirement already satisfied (use --upgrade to upgrade): Jinja2>=2.3 in /Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages (from Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
Requirement already satisfied (use --upgrade to upgrade): docutils>=0.11 in /Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages (from Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
Collecting py>=1.4.29 (from pytest>=2.1->abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading py-1.4.31-py2.py3-none-any.whl (81kB)
Collecting pytz>=0a (from babel!=2.0,>=1.3->Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
  Downloading pytz-2015.7-py2.py3-none-any.whl (476kB)
Requirement already satisfied (use --upgrade to upgrade): MarkupSafe in /Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages (from Jinja2>=2.3->Sphinx>=1.0.7->abjad[development,ipython])
Building wheels for collected packages: abjad, configobj, ply
  Running bdist_wheel for abjad: started
  Running bdist_wheel for abjad: finished with status 'done'
  Stored in directory: /Users/gram/Library/Caches/pip/wheels/9c/61/2d/e0a56fe03a96b4603c07e7135aa8f125f277582d32f93f3607
  Running bdist_wheel for configobj: started
  Running bdist_wheel for configobj: finished with status 'done'
  Stored in directory: /Users/gram/Library/Caches/pip/wheels/d0/18/3a/88a9e8e07940560496c247872870978bf9b6cd5d914c0eac3e
  Running bdist_wheel for ply: started
  Running bdist_wheel for ply: finished with status 'done'
  Stored in directory: /Users/gram/Library/Caches/pip/wheels/d9/34/fe/b9f5d00d8690911944b0c24811ed7f5fb2c5d89f9c4d6053c7
Successfully built abjad configobj ply
Installing collected packages: alabaster, pytz, babel, snowballstemmer, sphinx-rtd-theme, Sphinx, configobj, ply, py, pytest, abjad
Successfully installed Sphinx-1.3.5 abjad-2.16 alabaster-0.7.7 babel-2.2.0 configobj-5.0.6 ply-3.8 py-1.4.31 pytest-2.8.7 pytz-2015.7 snowballstemmer-1.2.1 sphinx-rtd-theme-0.1.9
  Abjad 2.16 does not provide the extra 'development'
  Abjad 2.16 does not provide the extra 'ipython'

Note how there are no spaces in the argument to pip install. The Abjad documentation shows spaces at the time I write this but that is incorrect; I have reported the issue and it should be corrected.

It's also possible that the development and ipython extensions are irrelevant. The error message above suggests they may be. However, I'm including them as that is what the documentation states.

To have MIDI output recorded in the notebook, fluidsynth is needed. This requires Homebrew or MacPorts on a Mac. I have Homebrew so I do the installation with:

In [2]:

brew install fluidsynth --with-libsndfile
==> Installing dependencies for fluid-synth: flac, libogg, libvorbis, libsndfile
==> Installing fluid-synth dependency: flac
==> Downloading
==> Pouring flac-1.3.1.el_capitan.bottle.tar.gz
🍺  /usr/local/Cellar/flac/1.3.1: 50 files, 2.3M
==> Installing fluid-synth dependency: libogg
==> Downloading
==> Pouring libogg-1.3.2.el_capitan.bottle.tar.gz
🍺  /usr/local/Cellar/libogg/1.3.2: 95 files, 668K
==> Installing fluid-synth dependency: libvorbis
==> Downloading
==> Pouring libvorbis-1.3.5.el_capitan.bottle.tar.gz
🍺  /usr/local/Cellar/libvorbis/1.3.5: 155 files, 2.6M
==> Installing fluid-synth dependency: libsndfile
==> Downloading
==> Pouring libsndfile-1.0.25.el_capitan.bottle.1.tar.gz
🍺  /usr/local/Cellar/libsndfile/1.0.25: 47 files, 1.8M
==> Installing fluid-synth
==> Downloading
==> Downloading from
==> make install
🍺  /usr/local/Cellar/fluid-synth/1.1.6: 29 files, 556K, built in 24 seconds

Now we should be able to load Abjad, as follows:

In [1]:
%load_ext abjad.ext.ipython

and test it:

In [2]:
from abjad import *
In [3]:
duration = Duration(1, 4)
notes = [Note(pitch, duration) for pitch in range(8)]
staff = Staff(notes)
AttributeError                            Traceback (most recent call last)
<ipython-input-3-b2e3fd3821b2> in <module>()
      2 notes = [Note(pitch, duration) for pitch in range(8)]
      3 staff = Staff(notes)
----> 4 show(staff)

/Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages/abjad/tools/ipythontools/ in __call__(self, expr)
     23             'output.png',
     24             )
---> 25         result = topleveltools.persist(expr).as_png(temporary_file_path)
     26         pngs = []
     27         for file_path in result[0]:

/Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages/abjad/tools/agenttools/ in as_png(self, png_file_path, remove_ly, illustrate_function, **kwargs)
    340             ly_file_path,
    341             illustrate_function=illustrate_function,
--> 342             **kwargs
    343             )

/Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages/abjad/tools/agenttools/ in as_ly(self, ly_file_path, candidacy, illustrate_function, **kwargs)
     86             assert '__illustrate__' in dir(self._client)
     87             illustrate_function = self._client.__illustrate__
---> 88         illustration = illustrate_function(**kwargs)
     89         if ly_file_path is None:
     90             ly_file_name = systemtools.IOManager.get_next_output_file_name()

/Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages/abjad/tools/scoretools/ in __illustrate__(self)
    115         from import lilypondfiletools
    116         from import markuptools
--> 117         lilypond_file = lilypondfiletools.make_basic_lilypond_file(self)
    118         lilypond_file.header_block.tagline = markuptools.Markup('""')
    119         return lilypond_file

/Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages/abjad/tools/lilypondfiletools/ in make_basic_lilypond_file(music)
     61     if isinstance(music, lilypondfiletools.LilyPondFile):
     62         return music
---> 63     lilypond_file = lilypondfiletools.LilyPondFile()
     64     header_block = lilypondfiletools.Block(name='header')
     65     layout_block = lilypondfiletools.Block(name='layout')

/Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages/abjad/tools/lilypondfiletools/ in __init__(self)
     80         self._file_initial_user_comments = []
     81         self._file_initial_system_includes = []
---> 82         token = lilypondfiletools.LilyPondVersionToken()
     83         self._file_initial_system_includes.append(token)
     84         token = lilypondfiletools.LilyPondLanguageToken()

/Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages/abjad/tools/lilypondfiletools/ in __init__(self, version_string)
     27         assert isinstance(version_string, (str, type(None)))
     28         if version_string is None:
---> 29             version_string = abjad_configuration.get_lilypond_version_string()
     30         self._version_string = version_string

/Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages/abjad/tools/systemtools/ in get_lilypond_version_string()
    211         '''
    212         from abjad import abjad_configuration
--> 213         if subprocess.mswindows and not 'LilyPond' in os.environ.get('PATH'):
    214             command = r'dir "C:\Program Files\*.exe" /s /b | find "lilypond.exe"'
    215             proc = subprocess.Popen(command, shell=True, stdout=subprocess.PIPE)

AttributeError: module 'subprocess' has no attribute 'mswindows'

Well, that didn't go so well. It turns out Abjad releases aren't that frequent, and while this issue was fixed over six months ago ( it hasn't made it into an official release yet (Abjad 2.16 as I write this). If you are using Python 3.4 or earlier this isn't a problem; its a Python 3.5 change.

So let's try get the bleeding edge version:

In [1]:

cd ~
git clone
cd abjad 
pip install --upgrade .
Processing /Users/gram/abjad
Requirement already up-to-date: ply in /Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages (from Abjad==2.16)
Requirement already up-to-date: six in /Users/gram/anaconda/envs/nikola/lib/python3.5/site-packages (from Abjad==2.16)
Installing collected packages: Abjad
  Found existing installation: Abjad 2.16
    Uninstalling Abjad-2.16:
      Successfully uninstalled Abjad-2.16
  Running install for Abjad: started
    Running install for Abjad: finished with status 'done'
Successfully installed Abjad-2.16
Cloning into 'abjad'...
Checking out files: 100% (2651/2651), done.

Once that is done, after a kernel reset in Jupyter we can try again:

In [1]:
%load_ext abjad.ext.ipython
In [2]:
from abjad import *
In [5]:
duration = Duration(1, 4)
notes = [Note(pitch, duration) for pitch in range(8)]
staff = Staff(notes)

Unfortunately, no output was produced. We can look at the source of the show() method by executing show?? in a cell. I've done that and am going to execute the same code in more detail below. First the part that should generate a PNG in a temporary file:

In [13]:
from import systemtools
from import topleveltools
from IPython.core.display import display_png
import os
import tempfile

expr = staff

temporary_directory = tempfile.mkdtemp()
temporary_file_path = os.path.join(
result = topleveltools.persist(expr).as_png(temporary_file_path)
((), 0.006474018096923828, 0.5328137874603271, False)

Looking at that temporary folder, I see a '.ly' file but no .png. So it seems that this line:

result = topleveltools.persist(expr).as_png(temporary_file_path)

is not working. Let's break that down:

In [17]:
x = topleveltools.persist(expr)
print (x)
PersistenceAgent(client=Staff("c'4 cs'4 d'4 ef'4 e'4 f'4 fs'4 g'4"))

That looks okay. What about the next step? If we look at that as_png function we see it returns the path, the lapsed formatting and rendering times, and a flag for success. We saw ((), 0.006474018096923828, 0.5328137874603271, False) as the output so success was False. I still have the .ly file around and it looks like what is failing is:

In [20]:
systemtools.IOManager.run_lilypond('/var/folders/rf/zdnznzn15_l5q5x64pyd7b7m0000gq/T/tmp4vq93m6l/', flags='--png')

So indeed that is the failure. If we look at its source with systemtools.IOManager.run_lilypond??:

def run_lilypond(ly_path, flags=None, lilypond_path=None):
    r'''Runs LilyPond on `ly_path`.

    Writes redirected output of Unix ``date`` to top line of LilyPond log

    Then appends redirected output of LilyPond output to the LilyPond log

    Returns none.
    from abjad import abjad_configuration
    from import stringtools
    from import systemtools
    if not lilypond_path:
        lilypond_path = abjad_configuration['lilypond_path']
        if not lilypond_path:
            lilypond_path = 'lilypond'
    lilypond_base, extension = os.path.splitext(ly_path)
    pdf_path = ly_path.replace('.ly', '.pdf')
    if flags:
        command = 'date > {};'
        command += ' {} {} -dno-point-and-click -o {} {} >> {} 2>&1'
        command = command.format(
        command = 'date > {}; {} -dno-point-and-click -o {} {} >> {} 2>&1'
        command = command.format(
    if not os.path.exists(pdf_path):
        exit_code = IOManager.spawn_subprocess(command)
        postscript_path = ly_path.replace('.ly', '.ps')
        except OSError:
        if exit_code:
            return False
        return True

we can see that it writes to a log file, with a path given by abjad_configuration.lilypond_log_file_path. Let's look at that:

In [22]:
In [23]:
tail '/Users/gram/.abjad/output/lily.log'
Preprocessing graphical objects...
Finding the ideal number of pages...
Fitting music on 1 page...
Drawing systems...
Layout output to `'...
Converting to PNG...dyld: Library not loaded: ./bin/../sobin/libgs.8.70.dylib
  Referenced from: /Applications/
  Reason: image not found

fatal error: GS exited with status: 5

If you do a Google search for that error, you will find its been reported, and there is a workaround, which is:

In [25]:
cd /Applications/
install_name_tool -change ./bin/../sobin/libgs.8.70.dylib @executable_path/../lib/libgs.8.70.dylib gs

Let's try again:

In [28]:

Success! But what about tablature? It turns out that Lilypond uses a variant of Staff called TabStaff for tablature. Abjad does not have a TabStaff class but does allow you to override the tag used for a staff with a context_name argument:

In [29]:
staff = Staff(notes, context_name='TabStaff')

There are a few things left I'd like to do, and I will update this post if I figure them out. First there is a lot of blank space around the output it would be nice to be rid of. Secondly I want to do guitar chord diagrams. My understanding is that these can be done in Lilypond with a tag \fret-diagram-terse but Abjad doesn't seem to support this so I will need to figure out how to extend it to support that. Watch this space.


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