Aimed at the professional scorewriter, this scorewriting program for the Atari ST goes a long way towards making complex scores easy to handle. Ian Waugh goes public.
Many sequencing programs offer music scoring facilities, but there's more to sheet music than notes and bar lines - as Music Publisher sets out to prove.
PRODUCING A SCOREWRITING program isn't easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.
It's not too difficult to convert real-time input via a MIDI instrument into notes on a stave (too being a relative term). C-Lab's Notator, Steinberg's Cubase, Comus' ProScore and EMR's Studio 24 Plus Version 2 to name but four programs, all do it in varying degrees of depth and detail.
But what these programs can't do is translate the nuances of performance into notation - details such as dynamics, articulation and phrasing. Sure, volume is there in the MIDI data but it is not turned automatically into pp and ff dynamic markings on the stave. The computer still has difficulty distinguishing between a staccato crotchet and a quaver followed by a quaver rest and I've yet to see a MIDI-based program which can insert phrase marks, grace notes and correctly interpret tempo and time signature changes and fermatas (you'll be lucky) from a performance.
I'm not being awkward. Music notation is much more than just notes on a stave - although we all know that most rock and pop material relies as much upon feel and the fact that rock musicians know what they're doing (don't they?) as on the dots.
If you just want the notes, then explore the types of program mentioned above. But if you want more, until the intelligence of such programs develops a little more you'll have to write a score by hand, with a music typewriter or with a dedicated scorewriting program - such as Take Control's Music Publisher (review version 1.00c).
THE MUSIC PUBLISHER package consists of four disks and a 66-page manual in a ring binder. One disk is the Program Disk, the others hold printer configurations for 9-pin/Epson FXs, 24-pin printers and the SLM804 laser printer. It should also operate with any GDOS printer driver, and a Postscript driver including font is currently being developed.
The system requires a hi-res monitor and a minimum of 1Meg of RAM. You'll also need a double-sided floppy disk drive.
The first step is to configure the disks to your system. They aren't copy-protected but they are marked with a serial number - 11/10 for this, TC and can be installed on a hard disk. The program will run on a single-floppy system, but two drives or a hard disk is recommended, as we shall see.
I've got to say that the one-page Installation Guide could be a little more informative. The final loading procedure I ended up with (for a single drive system) involved switching on the ST with the Printer Disk in the drive, inserting the Program Disk and double clicking on the Music program, re-inserting the Printer Disk and then re-inserting the Program Disk. If you want to use desk accessories, these must be installed on the Printer Disk. This sequence of events is not specifically mentioned in the Guide and I can't help but believe that a simpler start-up routine is possible. Anyway, once the program is in you're away.
Music Publisher uses a page-oriented layout - you simply fill a page with notes, add a new page and carry on. You can define your own page size and the number of staves it contains, but there are sensible defaults such as A5, A4, A3 and B5 with 12 staves per page. You can even choose portrait or landscape layout and select staves of one, three or four lines. You can add bar lines, brackets, name the staves and save the layout as a template. Two templates are provided to get you off to an easy start.
NOTES, MUSIC SYMBOLS and editing options are selected using a Control Box and a Tool Box which are present on the left of the screen. The type of symbol or action required is selected in the Control Box and the available options then appear in the Tool Box.
There are seven Control options: Notes; Rests; Symbols such as accidentals, clefs and bar lines; Dynamic markings including hairpins; Articulation markings including phrase marks, staccato marks and ornaments; Editing which includes beaming, moving and erasing objects, copying and so on; and Text insertion.
So let's begin. We'll be clever and construct our own set of staves. Nothing fancy to start with, just two piano staves.
"What many programs can't do is translate the nuances of performance into notation - details such as dynamics, articulation and phrasing."
First you must define a System. This is the number of staves which are grouped together. In our case we'll define just two Systems - staves 1 and 2 and staves 3 and 4. You can bracket them together with the Define Block option - a choice of square or curved brackets.
Next, click on Symbols in the Control Box and then on the clefs in the Tool Box. Several items in the Tool Box show two symbols: you switch between them by clicking the right button. The name of the currently selected symbol or option appears at the top of the stave window. You then position the cursor - "X" in shape - on the stave and click. You don't have to be too accurate with clefs as an option under the Options menu - where else - automatically places them to the left of the stave. Nice.
If you want a key signature, this must be entered a sharp or flat at a time. It's up to you to line up and space them correctly. An auto key signature function would have been handy.
Next, click on the time signature/bar line in the Tool Box, make sure time signature is current (right click if it isn't), position the cursor - accurately this time - and click. A dialogue box pops up offering Common and Alla Breve symbols and Other time signatures - it will accept any values from 0/0 to 99/99. Then you put the music in.
ALL NOTES AND most symbols are positioned using the "X" cursor. Changing from a note to a rest or selecting a bar line or accidental requires a click in the Control Box and one in the Tool Box. It's no big deal but a couple of clicks could be saved if, say, bar lines and accidentals were in the same Tool Box as the notes. The large Turn Page icon beneath the Tool Box could be made smaller or relegated to a menu.
To help enter notes above or below the stave you can switch on the Show ledger lines option which draws three dotted lines above and below the stave. Perhaps it would have been a tad more helpful if the lines appeared automatically when moving the cursor into a ledger line area, or why not show the note name as you move the cursor up and down the stave?
There are standard-size notes and small notes (ideal for grace notes, appoggiatura and acciaccatura), diamond and cross-head notes and crossed note stems to indicate tremolando. You can define your own chord symbols. Rests can be made to snap into the centre of the stave. There are accents and staccato marks aplenty, and a goodly complement of mordents and turns. Phrase marks and ties are entered by clicking on the start, end, and middle points - easy.
The system is ultimately flexible as you can stick anything just about anywhere. Complex double note groupings (see the JS Bach example - Screen 2) can be entered with relative ease.
The only trouble with giving a human complete control is that they can't always handle the responsibility. Tight lining up jobs require split-pixel precision. Positioning would have been a little easier if you were given the actual symbol to move around.
One of the main problems facing scorewriters is note and bar spacing - an ideal job for the computer, I would have thought. When entering notes it could space them out automatically or step the cursor on according to their duration. Lining up notes and spacing bars is something I don't really want to do by hand when using a computer. Unfortunately the review version of Music Publisher doesn't help in this way, although it will draw lines down the page to help align notes vertically.
To help get the spacing right you can insert and remove space both horizontally and vertically at any point on the page. To assist in this, you can view the page actual size, double size, 2/3 or 1/3 size. But you're still relying on your eye for the layout of the final product and I reckon another useful option would have been auto spacing to spread bars evenly across the stave. However, Take Control assure me that the next version (1.00e), which should be available by the time this review is in print will contain a snap-to-grid system which, while it is not an automatic spacing function, will make placement and spacing of notes easier.
While we're on the subject, what about an auto bar checker to make sure the notes in the bars add up to the correct duration - and if it can check durations, what about an auto bar insert facility? Just a thought.
"To help enter notes above or below the stave you can switch on the Show Ledger Lines option which draws three dotted lines above and below the stave."
TEXT ENTRY IS extremely flexible. Text can be placed anywhere on the page and justified left, right or centre. Four fonts are supplied (with provision for four more) in a wide range of sizes, and bold, light, italic, underline and outline effects are available. When entering words beneath music, pressing the TAB key will step you on automatically to the next note. This is excellent.
EDIT IN THE Control Box offers a number of tidying-up and manipulatory functions.
Block Edit allows you to click a window around a section of music which you can then Erase or perform Copy and Paste operations on. However, the program hung in Block Edit mode a couple of times. The first time it refused to Paste and the second time it left me with a flat hand and nothing to move.
Music can be copied from one stave to another. The original pitch of the notes can be preserved or you can transpose them by Clef. For example, you can move them from Treble to Bass clef and offset them by one or two octaves. I wonder if a transpose by semitone option would be useful here to permit easy scoring in thirds or fourths - or whatever - and to allow for transposing instruments. An Undo button would come in handy, too, for those times when you erase something when you didn't have oughta.
There is also a symbol Erase function which requires you to click on a precise spot on the symbol you want to erase. On notes this is easy, but on large symbols the spot isn't always obvious and it's often less frustrating to revert to Block Edit.
There's also a Move Object function which is useful if a note lands on the wrong line or space.
Beaming is selected from the Edit Box, too, and Music Publisher makes this a simple operation by beaming the notes automatically. You just click a window around them and it will beam those with their stems up or those with their stems down. You can also beam notes which are split over two staves - neat.
The program finds a line of best fit which is what you'd want nine times out of ten. Just occasionally, however, you may prefer a beam to be drawn horizontally rather than sloping, perhaps for no other reason than to remove the stepped effect (should you not have a laser printer). A horizontal or sloping toggle, therefore, would be useful, although you can fudge a horizontal line by entering a dummy note at one end of the group, the same pitch as the note at the other end, beaming the group, then removing the dummy.
There's no stem-flip function - in mad bursts of note entry I often enter notes with their stems the wrong way around. An option to remove beams may be useful (although you can do this to individual groups with erase).
IF YOU'RE WRITING a score you will also need individual parts for the musicians. These can be extracted from the conductor's score and copied into a separate file.
Music Publisher lets you work on up to four manuscripts at once. These appear in GEM windows and can be repositioned and resized like any other GEM window - in fact you can make a window fill the entire screen but you'd not then have access to the Control or Tool Boxes.
"One of the main problems facing scorewriters is note and bar spacing - an ideal job for the computer, I would have thought."
By placing two windows side by side you can copy parts from a conductor score to a part score (see Screen 5). This is a nice idea but it only copies notes, not their beaming, bar lines or articulation marks. Some sort of auto part extraction would be helpful.
Another useful function, perhaps, would be the ability to make a stave smaller such as you find on piano accompaniment parts for solo instruments sonatas - violin, flute and so on.
AS YOU'VE ALREADY selected the printer type, the print options are simply the range of pages, the number of copies and the margin offsets. If you've a single drive system, however, you have to insert the Printer Disk and then the Program Disk again after printing. If I inserted the wrong disk I ended up back at the desktop - a problem that I'm told was due to incorrect program installation. Take Control say they will supply disks configured to your system should you encounter a similar problem.
About half the time the program sent me back to the desktop anyway and then bombed out so I had to go through the whole boot procedure again.
The print quality is excellent (as you can see), even using a 9-pin dot matrix printer, but I did come across a few bugs. One piece I entered contained chords made up of three minims (half notes). Two were easily entered as normal notes but as the third was on the other side of the stem it was entered just as a note head - what the program calls a "Hollow Blob". It looked OK on the screen but it printed as a solid blob (see Screens 1 and 4).
Also, the thin line which is part of the "double" End Bar line and Repeat Bar lines didn't print and the second half of a line of text which was entered in two sections overlapped the start of the second section (see Screen 1 and the second part of Screen 4).
THE MANUAL IS quite well written and well illustrated and includes a tutorial section - the program really is very easy to use. However, the rings in the binder are just a bit too small and the edges of the pages have a tendency to get caught under them. Also, there are no pockets in the binder in which to keep the disks. Niggles, I know, and perhaps inconsequential, but it's all part of the package and I reckon it should be right.
Finally, the manual asks you to return your User Registration form in order to be informed of future releases and improvements which will be provided at preferential rates. This sounds like the "optional" upgrade fee system at work although no specific amount is mentioned. I tend to frown on this, especially when the original software costs almost as most as the computer it runs on. If I was buying this program I'd at least expect the bugs to be fixed for free.
MUSIC PUBLISHER HAS lots of excellent facilities and for a program which can produce complex output it's easy to use. But I feel there are several areas in which it could, indeed should, be of even greater help to the user. In particular, the process of note and bar placement and spacing. I'd like the computer to make a few decisions here instead of sitting there waiting for me to make the wrong one or watching while I squint at the screen trying to line symbols up to the nearest pixel - although, as mentioned earlier, some improvements have been made in this area. The whole point of having a computer in the first place is to make life easier, isn't it?
As there is no playback via MIDI and considering the cost of the program, Music Publisher must be aimed squarely at the professional composer and copyist.
If you do a lot of copying, and are already adept at lining up and spacing notes and bars, then the wide range of page sizes and layouts will appeal and the quality of the output is indeed superb. However, it's still a program you should try before you buy.
Price £333.50 including VAT.
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Review by Ian Waugh
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