Eddy Roberts takes a look at this notation package
Eddy Roberts takes a look at the new Music Publisher for the Atari ST
With the advent of MIDI and computer control, many musicians have a dream, that one day they will be able to play music on a keyboard into a system which will produce a score-perfect print-out. That dream may become a reality one day but present-day technology is still some way short of the mark, although there are several programs on the market which go some way towards music-to-notation conversion. To produce a note-perfect score complete with dynamics, articulation, phrase marks, ornaments, words, guitar symbols et al requires a dedicated scorewriter, the musical equivalent of a wordprocessor or Desk Top Publishing program. Music Publisher is one of the latest such programs in a comparatively small field. It shuns MIDI completely in favour of a page-oriented layout which gives enormous control over the presentation of your music.
The review copy of Music Publisher was a pre-release version of 1.01 and it has already benefitted from several updates over the launch version. To run it you'll need a hi res monitor, 1 Meg of RAM and a double-sided disk drive. After booting the program you are prompted to insert a printer disk. Three are supplied configured for a 9-pin/Epson FX printer, a 24-pin printer and the SLM804 laser printer. The disks are not copy-protected although they are marked with a serial number so they can be copied to hard disk. In operation, Music Publisher is very easy to use. The most tricky part is probably defining the page and stave layout (and it's not that tricky) which you must do before you start entering music. A couple of formats are supplied with the program so you can boot up and go! You can create and save formats of your own, ones you use regularly. You can select a variety of page sizes including A5, A4, A3 and B5, you can select portrait or landscape orientation and you can select the number of staves which appear on a page. Other options allow you to select one, three or five lines per stave (useful for some types of drum part), name the staves, alter the vertical spacing between the staves and you can bracket staves together for piano or ensemble parts. Normally, staves must be defined as a System, which simply means they act as a unit. The need for this will become clear in a moment.
The program is controlled mainly from two menu blocks on the left of the screen called the Control Box and the Tool Box. The Control Box is used to select the type of symbol you want to use or action you want to perform and the Tool Box is used to make a specific selection.
The Control Box icons are Notes, Rests, Accidentals (this also includes bar lines, clefs, guitar symbols and some other musical signs), Dynamics (including hairpins for crescendo and diminuendo markings), Phrase and Articulation marks. Text entry and Edit functions. Many items in the Tool Box have two symbols or actions and you toggle between them with the right mouse button. The selected option is shown at the top of the stave window so you always know what the current option is.
To place a note, for example, on the stave, click on Notes in the Control Box then click on the required note duration in the Tool Box (durations can also be selected from the numeric keypad). The cursor becomes that note when you move it into the stave window. Position it and click it into place with the left mouse button. Ledger lines automatically appear if you move the note outside the stave and the notes click automatically onto line or space - very friendly. You can select normal-size or small notes, also notes with standard, diamond or cross heads or notes without any heads at all. You can select crossed stems for tremolando scoring. Most of the music symbols 'become the cursor' when selected which makes them very easy to place, although some options give you an 'X' cursor which makes them a little more difficult to position accurately.
Several symbols have helpful placement options. For example, rests can be made to click onto the centre of the stave automatically, and clefs can be made to click to the left and to the centre of the stave. Phrase marks are positioned by clicking on start, end and middle points and a curve is drawn accordingly. To position a Pedal Point, click on the start position and drag the 'pedal line' along to the end position. Glissandos are drawn by clicking and holding on the start position and then dragging.
There is a wide range of text options. Four fonts are supplied with room for another four in up to eight sizes. There are bold, light, italic and underline styles and text can be centred or justified to the left or right. If entering words, pressing the Tab key will step on automatically to the next note.
The Edit functions in the Control Box allow you to erase and move objects. You get an 'X' cursor to do this and you need to hit the object at the right spot to accomplish the edit. With some symbols it's easier to use Block Edit. This lets you click and drag a window around a section of music and perform Copy, Cut, Paste and Erase operations on it. This will copy entire staves but to copy the bar lines the stave(s) on the receiving end must be defined as a System. If the staves are undefined it would make sense for them to be defined automatically when they are copied to. Perhaps in an update. You can transpose a section during copying, too.
Music Publisher lets you work on up to four scores at the same time. These appear in GEM windows and can be resized and repositioned as normal. Using Block Edit Copy you can copy parts from one score to another, allowing you to create separate files of individual instrument parts from a conductor score.
Note beaming is selected from the Edit menu, too. To beam a group of notes you simply drag a window around them and the program does the rest. It will beam notes with stems up, stems down or notes split across two staves with their stems up and down. Beams are drawn along a line of best fit bit if you want to straighten a sloping line (these look staggered on 9-pin printouts) or vice versa, you can use the Move Object option to raise or lower a beam end.
While you get help with the vertical placement of notes and symbols, there is not the same amount of help for horizontal placement. In a program dedicated to music layout I would have expected some kind of auto-spacing facility whereby the notes would click into a horizontal alignment depending upon the duration of the previous note.
While this isn't yet implemented (and I don't know whether it will be or not), Music Publisher does allow you to insert and delete both horizontal and vertical spaces. To help eye-up the score you can view the page in 1/3, 2/3 or double size. With a little practice this should be sufficient to enable you to produce a well-spaced layout. One very helpful option, however, is the Justify Right command which spaces the notes and symbols on a stave evenly across the page.
The print-out is beautiful. A laser printer, obviously, produces the best results but even the humble 9-pin printer produces very good results for its pins. Print options are simply the range of pages and a left margin and top line offset. You can adjust the line thickness for beams, phrase marks and bar lines. This can be used with any printer but is most useful with a laser where the changes are most noticeable. To print, you have to insert the printer disk again and then the file disk (this isn't made quite clear - the program asks for the 'original Disk A' which one assumes to be the program disk) and then the printer disk (after printing!) and then the file disk (original Disk A) again! It's a bit of a faff if you've only one drive. The manual is ring bound (no pockets for the numerous disks, though) and contains lots of screen dumps. The program is fairly easy to use anyway and once you master the basics you shouldn't need to refer to it very often.
At the moment, Music Publisher still seems to be developing. Version 1.01 will be the next release version and existing owners can upgrade for a nominal £10 to cover handling and postage. Other developments in the pipeline include a Postscript driver and Take Note are taking notes from users about facilities they could include in future versions.
Apart from auto horizontal spacing, my suggestions would be small staves for solo instrument parts, a flip stem function, a remove beam option and an Undo function (pretty please).
At the price, Music Publisher seems to be aimed at users who have a definite need for music scoring and printing facilities. However, even if you're an amateur composer, it's nice to see your music realised in a full-blooded score, a possibility you will have to debate with your piggy bank.
The program contains most of the features you are likely to want in a scorewriter and, what's just as important, it's easy to use. Pros, semi-pros and amateurs will be able to use it equally well. The results speak for themselves. The quality is excellent whatever printer you use. If it looks good to you I can certainly recommend you check it out.
Product: Music Publisher
Price: £333.50 including VAT.
Supplier: Take Control, (Contact Details).
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Review by Eddy Roberts