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Songwriter

Ian Waugh examines a package for the PC that should please all who come into contact with musos from the "old school"


SongWright IV - a scorewriter program for the IBM-PC and compatibles.

The most common type of music programs are sequencers which allow you to record music in realtime and play it back. If you want to edit the notes it's usually a question of digging down into the system and altering either lists of MIDI event numbers or moving black bars around a grid.

That's fine, but there are musicians who like to like to work with the dots of traditional music notation. Even if you're not one of them, there's a lot of satisfaction to be had from seeing your latest masterpiece written out in music form. To do this you require a scorewriter.

SongWright is a scorewriter. It's first noteworthy (sorry!) feature is its price - £87. This is budget by both PC software and scorewriter standards but have corners been cut? Let's see.

Unlike many music programs, SongWright seems to be the work of one man, Michael Hulett, rather than a software house. As such it has a few quirks and idiosyncrasies but keep your eye on that price tag.

It will run on an IBM PC or compatible (we tried it on an Amstrad 1640) and you need 256K of RAM and a printer. The program basically offers a means of printing out music and although a MIDI interface is by no means essential it could prove useful. It supports the industry standard Roland MPU-401 and the Optronics interface and there is an "Other" option, too. More about MIDI in a moment.

The first screen you see is the Main Menu Screen which lists eight options. Control is through a system of menus and all options are selected from the computer keyboard. The program has its own way of doing things but after a short period of familiarisation you soon get the hang of it.

There are two ways to put music into the system. The first is called Record mode and is similar in operation to the sequencers found on some single keyboards, the ones with one finger chords and automatic drums and accompaniment features.

First you enter some pitches - forget about durations for the moment - either using a MIDI keyboard or the computer keyboard. Next you go to a music screen which shows a stave. Here you must tap out the rhythm you require using the function keys. A metronome keeps time but a value denoting its speed which is shown on the screen bears no relationship to musical tempo which is usually given in beats per minute.

When you press a key, a bar (ie. a solid horizontal line) appears on the stave and continues to grow as long as you hold the key down. Bars show the note durations.

If you don't get the piece quite right you can keep on trying until you're happy with the results. On this screen you can enter both notes and durations from a MIDI keyboard and this draws the bars directly onto the screen. Then you press a key and the bars turn into music notation. You can bring in a quantise function (which the program calls Precision) to help - you'll need it.

The idea sounds fine but it's somewhat awkward in practice. The metronome's default speed is given as 100 which turns out to be about 40 beats per minute. This is incredibly difficult to tap along to accurately (try it if you don't believe me). If you speed up the metronome it becomes irregular.

I think I've said enough about Record mode so let's move onto the Compose screen. This is much better. It's the musical equivalent of a word processor; in fact SongWright is subtitled the Music Processing System.

The staves are arranged in pages so when one page is filled you have to manually turn the page (by pressing a key) and move onto the next one. Some scorewriters scroll along a set of staves automatically.

You can link adjacent staves together to write a piano part or orchestral score and you can insert staves between other staves (to add an extra part).

As the program works in pages, however, you can't insert bars. If you realise you've missed a bar or two, copy and paste operations will save the day.

The program supports treble, bass and alto clefs. The range of notes is four octaves starting with the lowest C. The highest a note can be placed is four ledger lines above the stave. A stave can contain two music parts each of which can include chords.

Time and key signatures can be changed at will although you can't have different time signatures on separate staves (an item of musical exotica which is supported by few MIDI programs and which is unlikely to worry most people).

To place a note onto the stave you must enter its Name and whether it has an Accidental, its Value and a Link parameter. The first three set the pitch and duration and Link is used to tie or slur it to the next note and to make a chord. Oddly, you can't Link two notes of the same pitch into a chord even if one has been changed by an Accidental.

You can enter a series of notes from a MIDI keyboard and then step through them adding their Value and Link attributes. This can speed things up. The programs will remind you if you leave a bar incomplete.

The shortest available Values are sixteenth note and eighth note triplets. You can define your own symbols so it is possible to use shorter notes - if you define them. Several symbol definitions are supplied and you can create your own if you have a wordprocessor. Built-in symbols include repeat bars, accents and several music symbols such as fermata.

The spacing must be adjusted manually and if you are entering lots of notes with short durations you will need to ensure they don't squash up against the sides of the bar (effectively overlapping the bar line). Simple pieces, however, should cause no problem.

You can add text (lyrics) and chord symbols to your music. In this respect, SongWright would be ideal for writing busker book type arrangements. If you transpose the piece, the chord symbols will be adjusted automatically but watch out for a few chromatic faux pas.

In Sing mode, the program will play the tune and print out the lyrics beneath them. It plays the music lines through the PCs speaker (chords are played as arpeggios).

You can play the whole score via MIDI from the Perform screen. As a guide to what you've entered it's okay but MIDI playback is rather erratic. The tempo is set using SongWright's own system rather than beats per minute (BPM) and this carries idiosyncrasies with it, too. It's a shame as SongWright would have made a rather neat step-time MIDI sequencer. But then, there are many pro scorewriter programs on the market with no MIDI playback facility at all. And remember the price!

If parts of the music you are entering are repetitive, you may be able to save time by performing large scale edits in the Edit screen. This shows eight staves on screen and lets you cut, copy and paste individual bars from place to place. Sections can be saved and loaded.

Let's get to SongWright's raison d'etre - the printout. It supports IBM, Epson, Star and Proprinter printers and gives a choice of low, medium and high resolution printout. There are no confusing lists of parameters to worry about, thank goodness.

Although notes aren't beamed in the Composer they can be beamed for printout but you can't specify specific groups - you basically take what you're given.

The quality, however, is really quite excellent, especially at high resolution as you can see from the example.

The manual introduces you to SongWright's method of operation quite well (although a couple of illustrations would have been nice) and you should be able to pick up the basics reasonably quickly. A few more details in the reference section would have been nice, however. It seems the author jotted down a few summaries of function and then stopped.

Whether or not SongWright will be able to handle your music depends upon how complex your music is. If it looks like an average piece of pop sheet music, you and SongWright should be able to tackle it without much trouble. More complex scores are limited by the width problem (don't try filling a bar with 32nd notes!) and lack of a few frills.

If your main purpose is to write lead sheets for songs then SongWright is certainly worth looking at. If you discover the key is wrong for the singer, you can easily transpose it - chords and all.

SongWright could do with some tidying up in a few areas but as a simple scorewriter it works very well - as long as you realise its limitations and don't try to over stretch it. Perhaps version V will (Song)right a few wrongs.

The only conclusion you can come to is that it is very impressive for the price.

Product: SongWright
Price: £87.00
Supplier: Computer Music Systems, (Contact Details)


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Alesis HR16

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Doctors Orders


Micro Music - Copyright: Argus Specialist Publications

 

Micro Music - Apr/May 1989

Donated by: Colin Potter

Review by Ian Waugh

Previous article in this issue:

> Alesis HR16

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> Doctors Orders


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