Dr T's Copyist Apprentice
Software for the Amiga
Dr T's programmers probably sieep as often as rust. Ian Waugh boots up the latest version of the successful Copyist scorewriting program - and finds that it's running on his Amiga.
Since its inception as Dr T's Copyist I, II and III, this scorewriting program has undergone many improvements - now it's available for the Commodore Amiga.
Dr T'S COPYIST SCOREWRITING program has been around for quite a while now. It began life on the Atari ST and IBM computers and was available in three versions - imaginatively christened Copyist I, II and III. Coming up to date, these have been updated, had a change of name to Copyist Apprentice, Copyist Professional and Copyist DTP and are now being ported to the Amiga. Copyist Apprentice (review version 1.62) is the baby of the bunch and although it doesn't cost an arm and a leg, it is still a feature-packed program.
Copyist Apprentice will run on an Amiga 500/1000/2000 but requires 1Meg of RAM. In common with most Amiga applications - as all Amiga owners know - you really need two disk drives, too.
APPRENTICE IS A music transcription and score editing program and does not support MIDI messages directly. It handles seven different file types (music files, backup files, print data files, font files, MIDI format files and various Dr T's sequencer files) and makes extensive use of disks for storing temporary workfiles as well as program modules. It does a conversion process on KCS (Dr T's Keyboard Controlled Sequencer) and MRS (Dr T's MIDI Recording Studio) files (to create a halfway-house stream file) and it can handle standard MIDI files and SMUS files. One-drive setups are for saints only.
On booting up you can specify the drive to be used for work files. (Be sensible and choose a RAM Disk.) You can also select the screen resolution. Medium is 640 x 200 and high is 640 x 400 pixels. You get to see more of the score in hi-res but it shook my Commodore 1084 monitor to bits. Practically it's unusable except for a very brief global picture although, helpfully, you can flip between resolutions from within the program. At least it made me quit drinking for a while.
THE MAIN SCREEN represents a blank sheet of paper onto which you write your score. It is arranged in a series of pages and each page can hold between 16 and 20 staves, although a sheet of 8" x 11" printer paper can only hold about two thirds of this number. Apprentice can only store a maximum of five pages (Copyist Professional can store 50 and DTP 100) which is probably quite enough for your latest single, if not for the 12-inch version.
There are two cursors: one is controlled by the mouse, the other is the edit cursor which is controlled by the cursor and function keys. It will jump to the position of the mouse cursor with a left click. The centre of the edit cursor is where most symbols appear. The top line of the screen gives an X-Y readout of the cursor position so you always know exactly where it is.
Drop down menus control many of the program's operations. Three symbol menus are used to select notes, rests, clefs, ornaments and so on - 47 symbols in all. These are placed on screen at the position of the edit cursor.
OTHER SIGNS AND symbols are placed using the Amiga's keyboard. For example, bar lines are inserted with three key presses: the first to tell the system you want to enter a bar line, the second to describe the line (brackets, regular, curly, end bar line and so on) and the third to say how many staves it crosses. Ties also require several key presses.
I can't really believe that it wouldn't be easier to use the mouse - many other scorewriters do - although I dare say this method was easier to program. (A full list of symbols was supposed to be in the appendix but these pages were blank. They didn't have "This page intentionally left blank" written on them, so I assume gremlins are to blame.)
As most symbols appear in the centre of the edit cursor, you'd imagine that clicking the mouse cursor exactly on a line or space would place the centre of the edit cursor on that point. But it doesn't. The centre appears a line or space higher. Still, you can adjust. Notes are usually entered in three stages - first the head, then the direction of the stem followed by the duration - although there are special entry modes to speed this up.
THE MANUAL CONTAINS a tutorial section which explains how to enter a simple three-bar phrase. It's clear and easy to follow, but musically it's grammatically incorrect. For example, the first note in a bar (including whole notes which last for the entire bar) should be placed near the beginning of the bar, not in the centre as the manual shows and directs. It also tells you to join eight quarter notes with a single beam. This is in 4/4 time and very non-standard. At best they would be beamed in two sets of four. An odd start for a notation program.
APPRENTICE USES FOUR modes for entering different symbols. In Standard mode, notes and symbols are entered at the cursor as described.
In Text mode, a variety of fonts are available, although these may not print the way they appear on screen (which slightly defeats the object of the exercise). You need to take care using different fonts if you want lyrics and notes to align.
In Keyboard mode, note heads are placed on the stave with the QWERTY keys and the cursor steps on after each entry. Chords can be entered by pressing two keys simultaneously or by pressing two keys in quick succession (so what if you want to think about it?). You can enter half notes (hollow heads) by pressing shift but the cursor doesn't step on two spaces, you have to do that yourself.
A stem can be attached to the current note head by pressing a direction key ("+" or on the numeric keypad) followed by a duration key (a numeric key on the QWERTY keyboard). The manual has this order the wrong way around.
Join mode is similar to Keyboard mode, but it has additional commands for joining stems and adding dots and flags. These aren't shown immediately but when the notes are finally beamed. Accidentals must be added in Standard mode. Beaming throughout, however, is very flexible with a choice of up or down stems and sloping or straight beams.
There are a number of block edit commands including insert, erase, move, join stems and cut and paste. A target area is highlighted by dragging a box around the screen and a pop up box appears with the options.
AS WELL AS a stand-alone score creator, Apprentice should be of interest to anyone looking for scorewriting facilities for their sequencer.
The conversion of a sequencer file to an Apprentice music file is a two-stage process - the sequencer file is converted to a stream file which is loaded into the program where it can be edited and saved as a music file.
"Apprentice isn't the most helpful of programs, but then many more-expensive notation programs could do with a few lessons in user friendliness too."
The manual runs through an example using a KCS file. A conversions options window lists the tracks in the file (up to a maximum of 12 tracks) and is used to select one or two staves and their types for each track. You can adjust the key signature, the time signature and the number of bars per line and staves per page.
Next, you import the stream file and up pops a transcription options window which lets you decide whether or not to use rests, page and bar numbers, stems and beams, joined stems and so on. You can also set note start and note duration quantise values.
The demo piece turned out perfect in practice. Very impressive indeed. But if you examine the source file in KCS you'll find that it's a perfect piece of music. For example, all notes are exactly the correct length and fall exactly where they're supposed to; there are no spurious rests and no double notes. It's been entered in step time.
But musicians aren't perfect (at least none of the musicians I know) and therein lies the rub. You need a note-perfect recording (or one pretty close to it) in order to get a note-perfect score. If your timing is particularly sloppy you could have a major rewrite job on your hands. It all depends on how accurate - and complex - your original sequence is.
As the program is graphic-based rather than music-based, you can't perform "musical" alterations on the score. For example, if a music line changes clef the score doesn't change with it - it uses leger lines, lots of 'em. There is no transpose function and inserting a new clef does simply that - it does not transpose the notes following it.
You can transcribe drum parts, although the notes are expected to conform to the assignment used by Apprentice and you may have to make alterations in the sequencer file. The moral of this story simply reflects the old computer adage - garbage in equals garbage out. The accuracy of the score you get out depends on the accuracy of the data you put in. This applies to any sequencer-to-notation conversion program, not just Apprentice. If you want sequencing and scorewriting facilities, you really can't beat an all-in-one system which contains both the MIDI data and the score (such as C-Lab's Notator, and Steinberg's Cubase on the ST). On the Amiga, a notation module is promised soon for Music-X, and for the muso on a budget, Dr T's Tiger Cub with score edit facilities is due for release on the Amiga soon.
No, I don't reckon I'm being picky. If you want a scorewriter to transcribe your sequencer files you must be aware of the problems you could face (there's more about this in the printout section). But having said that, Apprentice probably handles the vagaries of sequencer file conversion as well as they can be handled.
THREE PRINTER DRIVERS are supplied - one for printers supported directly by the Amiga, one for 9-pin Epsons and one for the HP Deskjet printer - and executed from the workbench. The generic Amiga driver doesn't support alternative text fonts, and the other drivers use special music characters.
It took about 15 minutes to print a page on an Epson FX80 but the printout is neat and dense and altogether very impressive. However, some of the notes in the demo file (the one converted from a KCS file) printed rather too close together (using the manual's parameters). You can stipulate how many bars there will be on each line during conversion and decreasing this value spaces out the notes rather more, but you can't alter this once the score is in the machine. Really dense passages, however, still may not space out satisfactorily even with only two bars per line. Also, if busy and quiet passages occur in the same part, some "wide" bars may only have a couple of notes in them.
This demonstrates the desirability of a more flexible system of note spacing both for converted files and for pieces entered manually. As each note won't always be entered with its duration (it's generally easier to enter note heads as a group and then beam them), an auto spacing facility would be useful. A facility to expand or compress a run of notes into a given area could be a asset, too. It's all very well being able to place symbols anywhere on the page but, generally, you'll want the notes spaced proportionally according to their duration. This is an area which could be improved on many graphic-based notation programs.
IN OPERATION, APPRENTICE requires use of both the mouse and the Amiga's keyboard. To help with the keyboard commands an overlay is supplied which, after cutting bits out, fits over the keyboard. It reminded me of the controls for a flight simulator. A pop up help facility is also available within the program.
Sorry, but I'm going to moan again. Mice and WIMP environments have been around long enough now for designers, surely, to produce relatively intuitive programs without the need for such an aide-memoire. You might expect this for a PC program, but not for one which runs on a computer which comes with a mouse and graphic environment as standard. But then Dr T's programs do have something of a reputation for "numeracy" (although new programs and updates are becoming more graphical and icon-based).
I may be a bit of a philistine, but I don't really want to learn a list of keystroke commands. At the very least, during multiple key entries the program should let you know what key you've pressed and what further key(s) it is expecting.
I must also report that the program crashed several times, usually when I was working from the Workbench, but I'm quite prepared to concede that this is probably more a result of the Amiga's "fragile" operating system than the program.
OK, Copyist and I have our differences of opinion but it's still a powerful piece of software. If you want a program to convert your sequencer files to notation, Apprentice will do the job - just remember the caveat (and again, I make it clear this applies to any file conversion program with no inherent MIDI facilities or music intelligence of its own).
As a stand-alone music entry system Apprentice fares very well, and even though I think it could be more helpful, it's not alone in eliciting this opinion from me - I reckon many more-expensive notation programs could do with a few lessons in user friendliness.
But then we come to the price. Apprentice is certainly one of the cheapest notation programs for any micro, and you have to do a balancing act between price and performance. Once upon a time all programs were command-driven - it just requires a little time to become familiar with them. Perhaps we've all been spoilt by mice.
If you have the time and you're on a budget - fine, it's well worth looking at. But if you've really become addicted to your mouse and reckon it should earn its cheese, and you want something a bit more plug-in-and-go, you may find Apprentice has too long a learning curve to satisfy your demand for instant gratification.
Review by Ian Waugh
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