Music Theory and Composition : Music Theory and Composition

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

Professional Music Notation Software

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Professional Music Notation Software

Overview

Sample of Manuscript Using SibeliusThe simple idea of transferring musical thought into a tangible product or manuscript historically had been accomplished with the pen and paper in hand.  The process was slow and somewhat cumbersome in nature taking several years to master the intricacies of music notation and doing so with high efficiency. With the advent of and common use of the computer, music notation software has been developed improving not only the process of producing the music manuscript but doing so in an elegant manner.

There are many benefits of using music notation software which includes the production of visually elegant manuscripts, digital reproduction capabilities, immediate feedback via midi and audio playback, rapid editing, improved collaborative methods and increased proficiency in producing scores and parts are among the many benefits one learns quickly when studying this type of software. From an educational point of view, music notation software greatly assists the music teacher in many ways as well making this software a vital tool for student learning in music education environments.

Music Notation Software as a Learning Tool

Having spent many years composing music using music notation software I have come to find three main features of these programs to be among the most important reason for using them; professional layout and score preparation, immediate playback ability and learning the instrument’s limitations.

Manuscript Preparation – First, historically when a composer completed handwriting a composition on manuscript paper, their composition work was demonstrated to others in hopes of gaining performers to play the music as written. The task of writing out the music was time consuming and if the composer did not have good or excellent penmanship the final result may not be of a nature that was presentable to professional performers.

In more modern times gaining an audience by performers remains a difficult task for many budding composers. It is even more difficult without professionally prepared manuscripts as one would guess.  For those not exposed to music notation software, life as a composer would be most difficult especially in today’s marketplace.

The manuscripts produced through the use of music notation software are, well, they are beautiful. In fact, they a publishable once the composition is completed. The budding composer learns how to properly layout the score, legibly place the notation symbols within the score and make copies as needed with nothing more than a desktop printer.

Audio Playback – One of the main features of music notation software is the ability to hear immediate playback of the sounds of the music as written.   Through the use of midi sounds or professional sound samples, immediate playback becomes easy to do by linking together the midi code or the sound sample to the notation. This is called a midi mock-up or a digital demo of the music. For those learning about music composition, this playback feature is extremely effective in speeding and elevating the abilities of a novice composer.

Improvements in recorded sound samples made in recent years now offers even a beginning composer the ability to hear what they have written the instant it is written. The audio and visual feedback loop is strengthened at the same time.  Their masterpiece unfolds before them with immediate audio playback, making any necessary changes or edits in the score, while continuously learning as they go along.

Musical Instrument Limitations – This feedback loop is helpful in not only learning music notation but in learning musical instruments and their individual limitations as well. By that I mean there are limits to what notes can be played on a given instrument. Writing music outside of these limits  makes it impossible to find performers to record the music. Within the professional music notation software products the instrument limitations are built into the programming, eliminating the guesswork or memory requirement of those limitations. I will add that it remains important to learn the instrument limitations and music notation software aides in the hands-on learning process.

For example; in Sibelius Music Software, when a note is placed on the music staff which falls outside of the limits of an instrument the note changes from black to red providing another learning feedback mechanism built within the program. This particular feature allows someone just starting out with music composition to understand over time just what each instruments limitations are. This improves their abilities to compose playable music making it easier to locate performers who might play the music. Without this feature one must learn all of the limitations for the instruments they are writing for prior to beginning their notation of the score. With the feature included within the software, the student can learn as they compose regardless of the instrument selection for a given piece of music.

Throughout this website, there are many examples which are used to provide the audio portion of the explanations for the concepts within music theory for example. Learning is improved and composition skills are developed much faster than when using the old school methods of teaching.

Professional Music Notation Software

I have selected three of what I think are the better notation software products on the market today. Each has something very positive to bring to the composer and each has the tools to make wonderful music.

My decisions for selecting these were based upon several factors. First, I have used them myself, Sibelius and Finale or I know of other professional composers who prefer using the third, Notion 3. Secondly, they each bring something unique to the table and depending upon the application or preferred use each fulfills the needs elegantly. Let’s take a look at these three professional music notation programs.

Sibelius

Sibelius – I have used Sibelius for the past 7 years and have found it to meet my needs quite effectively and thoroughly. I like its ease of use and its shorter learning curve. This has been my personal favorite to work with. For those who have been following my music theory articles, I have used it extensively when writing them.

Sibelius comes packaged with Sibelius Sounds, rewire capability and PhotoScore a music scanning program along with a host of features any composer would find useful and beneficial.

Finale

Finale – There is a standing argument within the industry over which is better, Sibelius or Finale. Personally, I think it is a matter of which one a person is first exposed to that is really sustaining the argument. Finale is a wonderful music notation program. For me, however, I found the learning curve longer than it is for Sibelius. I will leave that to you to decide for yourself. Both are highly effective and both produce excellent manuscripts.

Finale allows more control over different aspects of the score layout. It has a good streamlined interface when working with VST’s or virtual instruments referred to earlier as professional sound samples, is more efficient, intuitive, and consistent. Finale also comes bundled with 375 instrument sounds from Garratan as well as 100 from Tapspace, collectively providing for excellent playback of your scores. Finale offers a wide range of capabilities suitable for any type of music score preparation.

Notion

Notion – is one of the newer music notation software products available in today’s marketplace. Notion has developed additional and new technology which makes this a highly competitive choice when it comes to music notation software. Again, the manuscripts produced from it are beautiful. Notion has full Rewire capability and it has a Sequencer Staff included as well as a built-in professional mixer making Notion 3 a strong and viable contender.

Notion 3 is a full featured music notation program including the extensive ability for score editing, capable of using the latest VSTi’s including the Vienna Symphonic product lines among others. Notion 3 also comes bundled with over 10GB of orchestral and non-orchestral sound samples. Again, as with the others the list of features is extensive.

Conclusion

Creating music is made much easier when using professional music notation software. Regardless of which program you chose, you will continue to gain more knowledge and develop more skill as you continue to use any of these music notation programs.

One other note of significance, I also like the fact that Sibelius, Finale and Notion3 are made available for educational institutions and students at reduced pricing.

I’m certain that once you get a chance to work with any of these music notation  software programs you will be more inspired than ever to compose even more of that beautiful music rising from the depths of your soul!

Keep making that wonderful noise!

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