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Mark of the Unicorn Professional Composer

Software for Apple Macintosh

Our resident Mac user Martin Russ steps his way enthusiastically through two of the best written software packages for the Apple Macintosh computer [in this part] - 'Professional Composer', a music transcription program.

Martin Russ reviews the Professional Composer package for the Apple Macintosh computer.

The second Mark Of The Unicorn package under review. Professional Composer, comprises a truly excellent 200 page ring-bound manual (great for updates! - full marks) and a 3.5 inch disk containing the music transcription program.

Once loaded, to use the software you double-click or open the icon as usual, which gives you a title page stating the version etc - the review copy was version 2.0. If it's a new piece of work you are then automatically launched into a dialogue page asking you what option of adding a staff of music you wish to use. Having chosen a staff, the program then opens up on the manuscript window display, which is where all subsequent work is carried out. The staff you have chosen appears near the top of the display, empty so far, and there is the normal menu bar at the top of the screen. Scroll bars at the side and bottom of the window allow you to move the on-screen viewing area around as in other Macintosh application programs.


This particular software has so many options in its menus that it would be pointless trying to run through all of them, so in order to give you an impression of what you can do I will describe some of the facilities for entering a few bars of music and printing them out.

So far then we have an empty staff (the five lines on which notes are hung) with a treble clef on the far left, so let's choose a Key Signature from the appropriate dialogue box, either by nudging with the mouse and the two up/down arrows, or by scrolling through the choices. Once chosen by clicking on the 'OK' button, the dialogue box disappears leaving a staff with treble clef and a key signature. In a similar way you can choose a Time Signature, all the normal symbolism is provided and you can also define your own time signatures eg. 13/16 or 31/32. (Wow - instant jazz-rock!!)

Now that the staff is set up, we can set about entering notes and other symbols. There are several ways of doing this, leaving you free to choose the way which suits you best. The basic procedure is the same for almost all the notes, rests and other standard symbols - you select a place to put the symbol on the staff and then select a symbol. The position on the staff is determined, time-wise and pitch-wise, by moving a vertical insertion bar and small horizontal cross-bar to the required place with the mouse or by using keys on the Mac's QWERTY keyboard (function key overlay diagrams are printed in the manual to assist you).

Once in the right place, you choose your required symbol from one of several palette bars which are selected from a Symbols menu and appear to the left of the staff. To select the symbol you can either click on it or use the Mac's QWERTY keyboard, the chosen symbol then appears where you specified and the insertion pointer moves automatically to the right ready for the next symbol.

You can use either method of symbol entry or a combination of the two, and it is amazing how quickly you become used to the system - I found that using the mouse to control position with my right hand, leaving my left hand to peck at note or rest values, seemed to suit me and rapidly became almost as quick, if not quicker than my normal illegible scribbling on manuscript paper. Bar lines and other symbols can also be added in this way, giving a resulting single staff of music. Saving of the work so far, always a good idea on any computer, is easily accomplished from the File menu.


Once saved, we can set about tidying up the rather plain piece of music we have so far created. Several notes will probably need to be beamed, tied, slurred or turned into grace notes etc, and so we need to do some editing.

Using the insertion cursor and dragging it along to select a highlighted (inverse video) area for editing, you just choose the required grouping from the Groupings menu. (Most of the common methods like beaming or tying can be selected from the QWERTY keyboard by pressing the Option key and a letter eg. Option/B for beaming.) The Undo command enables you to rectify inadvertent finger errors and the Backspace key deletes the highlighted region as expected.

Once the pitch and duration information is acceptable we can set about adding some of the 'little Italian bits' - moving the insertion pointer to the start of the staff, just after the time signature, we can add a Tempo marking like 'moderato' by scrolling through the contents of a dialogue box or by adding our own text. In the same way we can add a metronome marking, the default beat being 'quarter note = 60' values.

Now that the piece of music looks a bit tidier, let's add a bass clef staff and call the combined staff 'Piano' - a couple more clicks of the mouse in the appropriate menus and dialogue boxes and we have a piano part neatly written out. Let's add a few lyrics - set the insertion pointer to where you'd like the text to start and choose Insert Text. You can now type in the text in a variety of typefaces and point-sizes so that it follows the bar markings. While doing this you can also add measure markings to specify what bar you are in.

To save tedious duplication of effort, parts may be easily transposed either by Key, by Interval or by Diatonic Interval. Having transposed and copied something onto another staff, it is even possible to merge the results together onto the same staff - useful for creating a piano arrangement from a standard score for example. If you use orchestral instruments in your piece, Composer even allows you to check to see if they are still in a playable range - yet another neat touch.


Once the music is finalised you can then edit the layout of the piece on the finished page in one of two ways: you can use the facilities within Professional Composer or you can save the music and use it as input to another graphics program, MacPaint, thus enabling very sophisticated and artistic pages to be created. Printouts can be made on a low-cost Imagewriter (dot-matrix printer) or on a LaserWriter, the quality of which really has to be seen to be believed - wow! The manual gives lots of hints and help on all of this, and seems to have been written by 'someone who knows his Mac' - it is all very sound and timely advice - full marks!


If you don't wish to type in music directly you can always use a previously generated sequence file from Performer and print that out or edit it using Professional Composer. As with all transcriber programs, you can use Composer to print out unquantised Performer files, in which case you get amazing scrawls full of extremely unlikely looking groups of tiny rests and notes, with ties etc all over the place.

Serious use includes using Composer to enable you to harmonise parts by eye rather than by ear, or editing fiddly or confusing sections where you cannot follow Performer's Edit window contents. I also used Composer as an alternative to the Performer Step Record input method - I typed in the two parts from Bach's Crab Canon and then used Performer to double them up and harmonise them into several parts, as well as reverse them in time. I even transferred that back into Composer and added a few turns and other fiddly bits before sending it back to Performer for final playback. (You can use the Mac's internal loudspeaker with Composer to listen to up to four parts, but it isn't really hi-fi - more a check of rhythm and pitches.)


Mark Of The Unicorn's Performer program is a very good emulation of an idealised multitrack tape recorder, with added features and very precise editing of material, which makes the recording of music via MIDI a very pleasurable creative process, with lots of useful and musically appropriate facilities at your fingertips. Professional Composer offers facilities to write, edit and printout music from scratch or from Performer files, with wonderful results, and has many more facilities than I have covered.

Separately, these are both very good pieces of software, and together they form a very comprehensive and thoroughly professional package for producing music. Highly recommended.

'Performer' costs £260 and 'Professional Composer' costs £369.57. MIDI interfaces are also available at £113.04 for the 512K Mac and £160.87 for the Mac Plus. All prices exclusive of VAT.

(Contact Details)

I would like to thank Lindsay and everyone at Argent's for all their help.

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Mark of the Unicorn Performer

Next article in this issue

Triangle Studio

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Nov 1986

Review by Martin Russ

Previous article in this issue:

> Mark of the Unicorn Performe...

Next article in this issue:

> Triangle Studio

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