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Music Function Primer

This chapter will give you some building blocks that you can use to try out the Scheme features discussed in the current bookpart. They are provided “as-is”, and you should be aware that you are not expected to really understand them at this point. I am talking about music-, scheme- and void- functions, which are discussed in-depth in a dedicated chapter. In this chapter I will only give you a brief overview, and you can use these functions to experiment with the Scheme concepts discussed in the remainder of this bookpart.

Music-, scheme- and void-functions are expressions just like anything else in Scheme. In light of the previous chapter you can say that music functions evaluate to a “music expression”, scheme functions evaluate to any Scheme value, and a void function's value is #<unspecified>. That is, wherever you can write music (and overrides are “music” too) you can instead write a music function, wherever you can use a Scheme value (for example assigning values to overrides) you can instead write a scheme function, and void functions can be used whenever no return value is needed but something has got to be done.

All three forms basically look the same, and I will demonstrate this with a scheme function as an example:

mySchemeFunction =
#(define-scheme-function (argument-name)
   ; function body

We use a variable name and assign it a (music) function. Following the keyword define-scheme-function is a list of parameter names (in the example just one), which is then followed by a list of predicates (see data types). For each parameter there must be one predicate specifying the expected data type, in this case string?.

The function body can consist of an arbitrary number of expressions, where the last one specifies the return value (which is then substituted in the LilyPond document).

You may have seen such functions where the parameter list started with (literally) parser location. This is not necessary anymore in LilyPond releases starting with the current 2.19 development line. The current stable release 2.18.2 still requires this, but this is a topic that I won't discuss anymore in this book.

Scheme Functions

As we've seen Scheme functions are created using the define-scheme-function keyword. They evaluate the Scheme value (of arbitrary type) that the last expression in its body evaluates to, and this value is then used in the LilyPond document:

mySchemeFunction =
#(define-scheme-function (name)
   (string-append name " | " name)

\header {
  title = \mySchemeFunction "Doubled Title"

This will call the scheme function and assign Doubled Title | Doubled Title to the title paper variable.

Music Functions

Music functions are created using the define-music-function keyword. Instead of arbitrary Scheme values they are expected to return a music expression, so the last expression in the body must be “music”. The easiest way to achieve this is to switch back to LilyPond mode using #{ #}. If it is necessary to access Scheme values from within that one has to - again - use the # hash sign:

myMusicFunction =
#(define-music-function (color)
     \override NoteHead.color = #color
     \override Stem.color = #color
     \override Flag.color = #color

  \myMusicFunction #red

The #{ #} is one Scheme expression, but as in any LilyPond music expression it can have many consecutive elements like the overrides in this example.

Void Functions

Void functions are created using the define-void-function keyword. Regardless of the value of the last expression in their body they do not return anything and can therefore be used virtually anywhere in a LilyPond file. Void functions are used when something has to be done or modified but we don't make use of the return value:

myVoidFunction =
#(define-void-function (a-value)
   (display (* 2 a-value)))

\myVoidFunction 4

Last update: November 3, 2022