Steinberg Masterscore II
Atari ST Software
The ST's final score?
Though forming a virtual duopoly when it comes to sequencing on the ST, even the most ardent supporters of Cubase and Notator wouldn't make any great claims about the scorewriting capabilities of either of these programs. As musical desktop publishing packages they simply don't have the necessary facilities to allow you to be able to score a piece of music of any real complexity. Such a program would allow you to place anything you wish onto a score - even in 'illegal' situations such as using five crotchets in a 4/4 bar - and dictate exactly what will be shown on the printout.
The Apple Macintosh and PC under the Windows environment both have such programs in the form of Encore and Finale from Coda - and Mark Of The Unicorn have just released Mosaic for the Mac. But on the ST front there has only really been Music DTP (which has undergone many changes over the last few years). Steinberg have previously released Masterscore, but for various reasons, it was never fully realised and they have now replaced it with a new program - Masterscore II - designed to allow you to produce a finished, professionally laid-out score.
Input for Masterscore II may be derived from Cubase/Cubeat files, MIDI Files, MIDI input or Quickstep and ASCII inputs from the ST's keyboard. A graphic toolbox, similar to that used in Cubase, gives you access to various implements and musical symbols which can then be directly placed on the score. Edit mode is used for altering musical details while Layout mode is used for the general graphic enhancement of the score. Printing to 9- and 24-pin - as well as HP Laser-compatible - printers is supported.
The program comes complete with the mandatory Steinberg dongle and three disks which include various printer drivers and fonts. Incidentally, it should be pointed out now that you'll be hard pushed to run Masterscore II on a standard 1 Meg ST. It will load, but you'll get that all-too-familiar 'Out of Memory' message the first time you try to load a file of any real size. This might be a good time to opt for that memory upgrade you've been promising yourself...
One immediate black mark against the program is the lack of any examples of scores on the disks. This certainly isn't due to lack of space - disk 3 only has a folder of fonts ( ...and this must have been an afterthought as only two disks are mentioned in the manual). The inclusion of a finished score would have made it possible for the newcomer to see exactly what could be achieved with the program.
On screen, Masterscore II looks much like any other GEM-based program - menu options along the top, the area beneath available as workspace. The right-hand mouse button is used to access the toolbox, in which is contained most of the incidentals for positioning on page. Also, there are graphic tools for inverting the tails of notes, changing key signatures and clef symbols - and the instantly recognisable (for Cubase/beat users) glue and eraser symbols.
As mentioned earlier, Masterscore II will accept input from the various Steinberg sequencing programs as well as MIDI Files. The setting-up procedure is the same: select the leads to the Configuration page where the tracks from the file are shown. Steinberg refer to these as 'voices' which seems rather misleading, but anyway... If a track has been derived from a Steinberg sequencer, the data can be viewed 'per part' and a split point and note on and off quantise set.
You have to remember that this is not a sequencer; all parts for a track have to be used and tracks cannot be merged - such things have to be done on the sequencer and saved as an arrangement. Before exiting the configuration, Edit Grand Staff is used. From here you can hide tracks which you do not wish to score - though you have the option of recalling them later.
Two files were used for testing MIDI File input; a set of five Guitar Quartet pieces, and a movement from a major ( ...and extremely complex) work-in-progress referred to as Mirrors 3. In both cases the results were on a par with any other notation program and in some aspects better. Even Finale (for the Mac) got the time signatures wrong in the guitar quartet. One particularly impressive feature is the absence of any stipulations about setting a number of bars per line beforehand - Masterscore works that out for itself. It also allots different amounts of space to each bar depending on the time signature and how 'busy' the music is.
There are a couple of omissions. If the music is fairly simple, 'Guess Durations' (much like Encore for the Mac) can be used to good effect and save some time. If, however, the piece is very complex with plenty of short duration notes, having a 'No Quantize' option would have been useful. With Finale, if the notes are too short to be given a time value, they are automatically turned into grace-notes rather than piling them together into chords. Masterscore does have a Micromove tool which lets you move notes sideways to separate them out, but if they've been placed simultaneously you need to know which way to move them, and you don't get a stem on the note you've moved.
The beauty of using the ASCII keyboard for inputting characters (see side-bar) is that you can type in really complex music that would be very hard to produce in any other way - such as nested tuplets. No-one really expects a notation program to interpret things like quintuplets correctly - most sequencers create tuplets (beyond triplets) by approximation. Inevitably, the scoring software reads some combination of quavers and semiquavers, with or without rests.
This is fair enough, and ASCII input is a beautiful way to replace these with the correct notation: you press Control-K to get into the ASCII window, select Replace mode, position the cursor and retype your quintuplet by putting R5:S before the five quavers (or whatever), and an R-S after. And if you want two of those five notes to be replaced by a triplet (or septuplet, for example) inside the quintuplet - you can. There is an example of this printed in the manual, and I managed to reproduce it almost perfectly.
There are two ways you can type in the notes: the European way, by using upper and lower case and tick marks or numbers; or the US way, using octave numbers with C4 as middle C. This is my only real quibble about this system: many people using it will be MIDI users who are used to middle C being C3 (with the notable exception of Roland users). Perhaps this should have been included as an option.
The other direct input mode on offer is known as Quickstep and is used in conjunction with either the MIDI keyboard or using the Atari itself as a quasi-music keyboard. In reality, 'Slowstep' would be a better name for it as it seemed to take about three times as long as ASCII. That said, it might suit some users, especially those whose lives revolve around a MIDI keyboard. It should be pointed out that use of Quickstep did result in a crash when something illogical was performed with the arrow keys. However, this prompts one of Steinberg's 'Internal Error' alerts to appear and this seems to prevent a full program crash - the files can be saved to disk and reloaded without problem.
"You have to remember that this is not a sequencer; all parts for a track have to be used and tracks cannot be merged - such things have to be done on the sequencer and saved as an arrangement"
Having entered the raw data in one form or another, on-screen manipulation can then begin. Many of the articulations and ornaments have 'hot-points' at their start and an end which you can grab and move by using the micromove tool; some also have a hot-point in the middle - such as the slur - with which you can change the height and slant.
The toolbox is pretty comprehensive, though it does lack a glissando tool (a straight line). You can more or less get away with using a slur and carefully straightening it out with the micromove tool, but it's not exactly ideal.
The 'Hairpin' tool (for crescendi and diminuendi) is nice, and you can vary the angle of 'openness' to give some impression of molto or poco. Unfortunately, hairpins can only be put in horizontally: in some circumstances it can save a lot of space if you can squeeze these in at an angle between staves. Another set of tools that might have been usefully included are independent note values (crotchets, quavers, etc) for metronome marks. Still, perhaps on the next upgrade...
In Layout mode, three kinds of frames (or boxes), can be placed on-screen via the Page Edit tool. Score frames contain the various Grand Staffs, Blank frames hide parts of the screen and Text boxes allow for free-flowing text. Clicking on a box makes it active, and box sizes can be easily altered. If lyrics need to be included with the score, these can be entered in either mode and various facilities are on offer, including, for instance, the ability to split beams to allow each syllable of a word to have its own note - and the syllables themselves to be split up and spread across several notes.
Several tool functions, including beaming and unbeaming of groups and changing stem direction, can be used either by the point-and-click method for a single change, or by dragging a box round contiguous events (like a rubber band) - even across several parts. Enharmonic changes could have been included in this so that, for example, every sharp found in the box is changed and all other notes left alone. As it is, a lot of fiddly shift-clicking is required. This is also true of the beaming tool where you have to select 'Force' or 'Split' every time - why not have a toggle facility?
Also lacking is an Undo function and this is rather more difficult to live without in a program of this nature. The alternative is to save to disk after every change, which is clearly unacceptable. It may be that such a facility would depend on the ST's RAM - but even so it really has to be considered essential.
Editing can take place in one of three ways; globally, block or individual notes; the only global parameters available are for the input of rehearsal marks and bar numbers which are both part of the Edit Grand Staff configuration.
When the Grand Staff is set up, you can choose how many staves are used for a particular part; in the case of the piano this would usually be two, but other possibilities also exist. Steinberg refer to this as a polyphonic system and any area can be marked as a block and edited in various ways: copied, moved, deleted, saved and imported. Parts can also be extracted; a block (ie, the part you wish to extract) is marked in the score and then saved re-opened as a separate item. The trouble is that if you have done a thorough job on the score, putting in all the dynamics, staccato dots, accents etc, many of these do not get transferred, thus necessitating a lot of extra work. The alternative is to keep the whole file and 'hide' all but the part you want which is highly impractical in a large score.
The Masterpage option lets you set up elements of the score which are the same throughout - but it is rather quirky. There is an option to define a left Masterpage and copy it (optionally mirrored) to the right Masterpage. Similarly, you can select whether the music starts on the left or right page, (with left as the default).
There are two ways to view the score within Edit and Layout modes - the latter having various resolutions which effectively allow you to zoom in and out. However, there is no full-page view and so no way to get a general overview of the appearance of the page. The so-called Mini-Resolution (rather quaint terminology this) is not really particularly 'mini' at all; it shows the same amount horizontally and a little more vertically, but it is faster to redraw.
Generally, you have to restrict the use of Edit mode to only the rawest musical data (such as that initially imported from a sequencer file) and do everything else in Layout mode. The reason for this is that marks and symbols added in Edit mode tend to be either out of position or missing altogether when you transfer to Layout, so they all have to be moved or re-inserted. The use of the arrow keys has been well thought out. Each of the four scrolls half a screen's worth in the direction of the arrow. To get to the next or previous page in Layout mode, you click on the left or right arrow in the horizontal scroll bar; to get to a more remote page there's the usual Find page command.
"Masterscore II will accept input from the various Steinberg sequencing programs as well as MIDI Files"
The manual offers some very sensible advice about sequencer files for use in a notation program. It points out that you should make two different files: one to be played by the sequencer (for the ears) and one for the scoring program (for the eyes). It's a matter of requantising to the values you want notated. For example, staccato quavers are much easier to read than semiquavers with semiquaver rests between. It's also worth deleting any extraneous (non-note) data which the notation program will ignore anyway. This makes for a more compact file and so speeds things up considerably - particularly with a good sequencer.
When it comes to printing, two qualities of printout are available; Test and Maximum - the former being quicker than the latter, but of a lower resolution. There is a choice of three different drivers for each printer supported, giving different sizes of staves suitable for various kinds of scores or parts. However, the driver and page layout must be selected before going into Layout mode, otherwise all score boxes, masterpages, etc, have to be redone. Page size, margins and direction (portrait or landscape) can be selected, and you also have the option of mirror image pages (for left and right).
Steinberg have not provided a driver for the HP DeskJet 500, but there is one for the HP LaserJet series, with which the DeskJet is on the whole compatible. A page containing three systems of the guitar quartet piece, with wide spaces between systems, came out looking reasonably acceptable, but took about ten minutes to print. That said, anyone using a desktop publishing program on the ST will be used to such slowness. Printouts on an HP LaserJet III were very good and faster than a standard page of graphics with very smooth sloping beams but slightly jagged larger letters. Masterscore does not currently support PostScript or professional printers such as a Linotronics - which must be considered essential if optimum quality is to be achieved.
One nice feature is Batch Print which lets you break large scores (which cannot be loaded into the ST's memory) into segments, and then print the entire score by selecting the files that it is spread across.
The tone of this review has been intentionally practical; to gain full knowledge of all facilities offered in the program would take months of work. While Steinberg products have generally been very intuitive in nature, this cannot really be said of Masterscore II. However, despite its quirks, it is undoubtedly very powerful.
The main competitor to Masterscore II on the ST is Take Control's Music DTP which though not as comprehensive is rather easier to use and covers some of the shortcomings such as graphics tools etc. If it has one particular advantage over Steinberg's product it's that the data on the screen is not so inextricably locked into the logic of music theory, thus giving the user a greater degree of freedom in the way unorthodox scores are presented. However, for 95% of people working on scores, Masterscore II will provide excellent results in the minimum of time.
It is impossible to examine Masterscore II without considering Encore and Finale for the Mac, but really such comparisons are unfair. The restrictions of programming on the ST play a great part in the relative lack of user-friendliness. The functionality of the program shows up in the way it handles a basic layout direct from a MIDI File or Steinberg Arrangement which, on the whole, is very good. Masterscore is not cheap but it should certainly be given your careful consideration in what is a very limited market.
Price: £325 inc VAT
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