Hybrid Arts EZ-Score Plus
Software for the Atari ST
The first of a series of scoring programs for the Atari ST. Aaron Hollas checks out its extensive editing facilities and its compatibility with the company's sequencing programs.
The first in a series of planned scoring programs for the Atari ST family of computers, this package features extensive editing functions and compatibility with the company's sequencing programs.
ARE WE BEING replaced by computers? If not they're certainly having a major impact on our lives as musicians. Thanks to them, our instruments are smaller, cheaper and sounding better than ever. Computers themselves are also getting smaller and cheaper. Plus, there are a lot more software companies supporting MIDI these days, including Hybrid Arts, who have long supported the musical applications of the Atari ST. The latest challenge accepted by the company is to produce a series of Desktop Music Publishing programs for the ST.
EZ-SCORE PLUS is the first in the MIDI-Score series of professional composing/scoring/printing programs. It's designed to be a music transcription program for the Hybrid Arts line of sequencers, although it will stand on its own as a music scoring/editing program. EZ-Score Plus files will be upwardly compatible to MIDI-Score, which is Hybrid Arts' planned professional scoring program. An added feature of EZ-Score is the ability to export sections to DEGAS (a drawing/painting program for the ST) for additional editing, or for importing into desktop publishing programs and some word processors. The finished score can be printed out on Epson-compatible dot-matrix or laser printers in draft mode or final mode.
Various means are available to create a score using EZ-Score Plus. One method is to use the mouse to place music symbols onto the screen. Another is to use key commands and the cursor keys on the ST keyboard. You can also map the controls of any MIDI keyboard to perform cursor positioning and editing functions. You then use the MIDI keyboard to step-enter the notes. Finally, you can use the Auto-Score function to convert SmpteTrack, SyncTrack, EZ-Track or EZ-Track Plus song or sequence files into notation. This, of course, assumes that you have one of these sequencer programs to begin with. Any one, or combination, of these methods can be employed to suit an individual's approach to scoring. So let's take a look at the program in detail and see if EZ-Score Plus measures up.
BEING A GEM (Graphics Environment Manager) based program, EZ-Score Plus makes heavy use of the mouse, although most of the commands are duplicated on the ST keyboard. All editing is done on a single screen with dialogue boxes and alert messages that accompany functions which would require any input from you. Along the top of the screen are the requisite pull-down menus found in most ST programs. And along the bottom of the screen is a row of pop-up menus that contain the symbols: Notes, Rests, Ornaments, Dynamics, Articulations, Measures, and Special.
The first step in creating a score is to select your "score paper". This is done by selecting Re-Format under the Global menu, which allows you to change the screen to any of the four formats offered as well as choose the number of ledger lines for each of the staves. One of the limitations of EZ-Score is to be found here. You are allowed only three staves at any one time, although the most popular formats are supported: solo, piano score (grandstaff), piano/vocal score (grandstaff with solo line on top), and trio. A series of dialogue boxes in which you can set the key signature, time signature, and clefs are part of this operation. All major and minor key signatures are supported as well as time signatures from 1/1 to 99/64. Variable stave spacing is permitted with all formats, so multiple verses can be inserted by changing the number of ledger lines between staves - this automatically changes the staff spacing. A maximum of 21 ledger lines is available per staff. If you Re-Format the screen at any time, the information is only hidden, not deleted, so that you can print out the separate parts. For example, you could Re-Format a piano/vocal score to the piano score format and print out only the piano part then Re-Format again to print out a lead sheet, all from the same score.
Once you have created your blank "score paper" you must decide on a method of input. After spending some time with EZ-Score Plus, I have come to the following conclusions. The mouse is good for moving around the page quickly, selecting menu items, and for doing regional editing where you must select areas of the score by dragging the pointer across the screen. The mouse is also useful in the play mode, in which case the pointer becomes an index finger that can play notes or chords. It is not so good, however, for placing notes above or below the staff as there is no indication as to where you are, and the ledger lines don't appear until after you insert a note. Even with the aid of the large cross-hair that extends to the edges of the screen, placing notes in the right place is, at best, tedious.
I found the ST keyboard better for entering notes or symbols and it is, of course, the only way to enter lyrics. As I mentioned earlier, most of the editing commands are duplicated on the ST keyboard, including access to the symbols. The up/down arrows move the mouse vertically by diatonic intervals (octaves if the shift key is held down). The left/right arrows move the mouse horizontally by a variable amount. The arrow keys can also be used to scroll through the score. Once you have mastered the key commands, this can be the easiest method of entering a score.
"Printing: If you Re-Format the screen at any time, the information is hidden, not deleted, so you can print out separate parts."
A MIDI keyboard is great for entering a lot of data quickly, and because you can map the controls of your keyboard to do various editing commands, it is the most flexible method. Not all commands are available from the MIDI keyboard, however, so you still need to use the mouse and/or the keyboard. Basically, I found that using a combination of these is best, and in any case, thanks to the flexibility of the program, you should be able to find a combination that suits you.
I'VE BEEN SAVING the best for last, as there is another option open to you. Imagine being able to sit down at your MIDI keyboard during one of those rare moments of divine inspiration and playing what is, in all probability, the best song you'll ever write. Then imagine having your computer score it for you and print out a copy in the amount of time that it would have taken Beethoven to ink up his favourite quill. Well, the Auto-Score function isn't quite that fast, but having the ability to convert song files from one of Hybrid Arts' sequencing programs is a real time-saver. If you prefer to arrange songs at the keyboard first, then write out the score and parts later, this program could well be worth the investment.
Assuming you have already recorded a song and saved it to disk, the first step in using Auto-Score would be to create your "score paper" as described earlier. The Auto-Score dialogue box will appear, allowing you to assign one track from the song to one of the staves on the screen.
Provision is made for MIDI channel selection (up to 16), high and low note limits, auto-beams, minimise ties and/or rests and five levels of quantisation. If you haven't already done so, it's a good idea to quantise the score so you don't end up with an overabundance of ties and rests. After you have made your selections and clicked on OK, the program will read the song from the disk, do some massive number crunching for a short while, then the score will appear with the proper beams, ties, and bar lines. The rest is up to you.
"Playback: So that you can check your progress, EZ-Score Plus will playback the score over MIDI or through the ST's internal sound system."
THE TRUE TEST of a scoring program is in its editing features. Even though EZ-Score Plus is Hybrid Arts' "entry level" program, it's certainly no lightweight in this category. With over 140 symbols available and a host of editing features, you shouldn't fall short of preparing a perfectly acceptable score. If you've used the Auto-Score feature to convert a sequencer/song file into notation, then all that may be needed is to add dynamic markings, articulations, chord symbols, and lyrics. Unless, of course, you've made some mistakes while recording the song. If that's the case, here's what you do: select a region of the score (only one staff can be selected at a time), then select one of the editing options from the menu, such as Beam, Tie, Flip Stems and Delete notes. I should mention that the EZ-Score program is based on traditional music theory and follows the rules of standard notation, so even if you are not adept in the art of scoring you will end up with a "musically legal" score.
From the Section menu you can cut or copy a section of the score (all staves) to the clipboard, create endings (up to 8), expand or compress the score to show greater or fewer measures per screen, and clear any staff. When you choose any of these functions you are presented with a dialogue box that allows you to set the range to be affected by the operation.
If you plan things out well before you start to enter the data, you can use an old trick that professional copyists use. That is, you can create a template of a section that includes the bar layout, repeat signs, notes, rests, chord symbols and/or anything else that may be repeated in another section, make one or more copies of it, and then go back and make only the changes that are needed. If you're writing out parts for a string or horn section, this is particularly useful. Two limitations of the program that I found are its inability to handle enharmonic transpositions and the lack of cut-and-paste from one staff to another, two real time-savers when scoring parts.
From the Insert menu you can locate to any rehearsal mark or any measure instantly. You can also insert time and key signatures, clefs (treble and bass only), rehearsal and metronome marks, blank measures, or you can paste the contents of the clipboard to the cursor position. When building a score from scratch, the cut-and-paste features are a real time-saver. Inserting blank measures or the contents of the clipboard will push the rest of the score forward so you don't have to make room first. From the Options menu you can select the chord symbol and guitar symbol editors. You can have up to 20 of each defined in memory and the chord symbols are completely variable, thus permitting you to have complex chords (Major, minor, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, suspended, augmented, diminished, no 3rd, no 5th and so on) in your lead sheets. MIDI input and Thru are selected here and a dialogue box is provided for setting up the MIDI Step-Entry Map. By now you should be beginning to see the power of this program.
So that you can check your progress as you enter a score, EZ-Score Plus will playback the score over MIDI or through the STs internal sound system. If you select Options from the Sound menu you will be presented with a dialogue box in which you can set the MIDI channel (1-16) for each stave individually. You can also set different MIDI channels for stems up and stems down notes. So, for example, if you're in the trio or piano/vocal score format you can send out MIDI data on up to six different MIDI channels. The play range can be set and if Screen Chase is on, the screen will automatically scroll to the next "screenful" of music. I found that at faster tempos on a score with a lot of notes the screen chase will pause the music to allow time for the screen to be re-drawn. You can, however, choose to disable the screen chase function or lower the tempo to alleviate this problem.
"Printing: I was surprised at how quickly the score printed out - five minutes for each page in final mode and a little over two minutes in draft mode."
The final touch is to add lyrics to your song and EZ-Score Plus will be glad to accommodate you. One typestyle is supplied on the disk in upper/lower case (others can be added). Don't look for any fancy word-processing functions though as you can enter and delete lyrics only. The program does auto-centre the words under the notes, which is a nice touch - except for the fact that you can't insert words where there aren't any notes. Consequently, this eliminates the possibility of having verse numbers, instructions to change instruments or patches, and those funny little Italian words that we musicians have grown to love.
You will, of course, want to print out the score and it is from the Print menu that you can set the output options, for print quality (draft/fast or final/slow) and the page layout - which includes among other things, title size and location (up to five lines), copyright notice (up to two lines), and number of systems per page. You can choose the following to be shown or hidden: Titles & Copyrights, Page Numbers, Measure Numbers, and Rehearsal Marks. I was surprised at how quickly the score printed out - about five minutes for each page in final mode and a little over two minutes in draft mode. I used a Star SG10 printer (9-pin) and the quality was quite acceptable. There are, however, a few things I should mention: the beams do not slant in the direction of the notes, and there isn't a page preview option. The font is a bit primitive, round note heads and thin flags, but I am told that a more stylistic font is in the workings. Otherwise, the score is perfectly readable.
I WAS IMPRESSED with the level of professionalism of this program. EZ-Score Plus does everything that its makers claim it will do. The manual takes you through a tutorial that is clearly written, complete with examples and suggestions for efficient use of the program. Hybrid Arts are committed to supporting their products, so any updates are made available to registered owners as well at the chance to upgrade to MIDI-Score. With Hybrid's upcoming program, HybriSwitch, you an set up a RAM disk and load up to 10 programs into memory at the same time depending on the amount of memory your computer has. With a 1040ST you should at least be able to run your sequencer and EZ-Score Plus side by side.
If you already own one of Hybrid Arts' sequencers and a printer, it would be a shame not to have EZ-Score Plus. If you own a modem, and can stand the cost of a trans-Atlantic phone call, you an download a demo version from MIDI World Music Network BBS at (213) 826-4288.
I think the company's challenge has been met.
Price £84.95 including VAT