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Passport MusicTime

PC Scoring Software


Looking for affordable notation software for the PC? Brian Heywood investigates Passport's answer to the problem — MusicTime.


There's nothing new about scoring packages on the PC — Dr T and others have been selling these for a number of years. However, since the advent of Windows 3.x, a number of companies that produce music notation packages for other computers have either converted their software to run under Windows or produced 'cut down' versions to appeal to this rapidly developing mass market for music software on the PC.

One such company is Passport Designs, who are perhaps best known for their Master Tracks Pro sequencer and their Alchemy sample editor. Passport also produce a high end scoring package called Encore which was originally released for the Mac, and latterly on the PC running Windows — MusicTime is essentially a cut down version of this package.

Weighing in at just under £230 (the price currently includes a bundled copy of Trax), MusicTime is aimed at the musician rather than the professional copyist, as it doesn't have all of the features required to produce a 'publishable' score. While MusicTime is not exactly a budget package, it does fall into the price range of the serious musician (or composer) who wants a comprehensive scoring capability, but doesn't need to do full orchestral arrangements. MusicTime also falls within the ambit of educational institutions, although the educational version of Finale is probably better value for money despite its higher cost.

WHAT IS IT?



MusicTime is designed to be a complete scoring and composing system that can use MIDI both to input the music and to audition the score after it's been entered into the computer. Although the software has some of the features that you would expect to find in a MIDI sequencer, it doesn't really measure up for this task. However it can act as a good first stage if you prefer to work with stave notation when you're creating your music, since it can export standard MIDI files which can then be read by virtually any modern sequencing software.

You can also import type 1 standard MIDI files, so the package can be used to document any performances or compositions that you have created on your sequencer. Since Passport also produce the sequencing packages Master Tracks Pro and Trax, MusicTime can import the 'native' file formats of these programs, which makes it slightly more convenient to use with these than with non-Passport software.

WHAT YOU GET



The software comes on two diskettes (both 3.5" and 5.25") and there is a 150 page wire-bound manual. The first disk contains the MusicTime software and the Sonata and Frets music fonts. The second disk contains Adobe Type Manager (ATM) which is needed by MusicTime to display and print both the stave notation and the guitar chord diagrams. You also get four popular text fonts with ATM, which will become available to any other text based Windows applications — a bit of a bonus!

Like most Windows software, the package comes with a set-up program that does most of the work of installing the software. All you need to do is select the elements that you wish to use. Windows 3.0 users are catered for by the inclusion of a number of MIDI drivers for common interfaces and sound cards, and there is also a driver for the Miracle keyboard.

USING MUSICTIME



There are four ways to enter notation into the software; using the mouse, step time entry, real-time entry and importing from a file. In the first method, you use a combination of mouse and keyboard actions to place notes on the stave 'by hand'. This is the nearest you'll get to traditional scoring, a sort of electronic pencil. The note values can be either selected from a 'palette' or by using the numeric keys; the key layout is actually quite logical (unlike some scoring packages I could mention!).

Step time entry is similar to using the mouse except that you select the note pitches on a MIDI keyboard. Each time you hit a key a note is placed on the stave and the entry cursor is moved on to the next location on the stave. Chords are entered by holding down more than one key at the same time. You can also replace notes already on the stave by placing the entry cursor on the note and then playing in the new values. You have to be a bit careful when you're using a MIDI keyboard, since if you accidentally lean on the keys, you can make unwelcome changes to your score. As the 'undo' feature only affects the last event, you either have to redo the section or revert to the last saved version of the score.

Real-time recording is very straight forward; you simply place the note entry cursor at the beginning of the bar you want to start and then click on record. MusicTime allows you to set up a metronome, either via MIDI or using the PC's internal speaker, and there is a fixed one bar 'count-in'. As you play you can see the note heads being placed on the stave. When you've finished recording the program tries to 'guess' the correct note values according to what you've played and the transcription options. At this point the display doesn't actually represent what is stored as the sequence; this gives you a chance to correct the score to what you intended to play rather than what you actually played. When you are happy with the score you can force the sequence to match the notation by using the Align Playback option.

Importing a MIDI file is the quickest way to enter a score and — like the real-time entry — the program will try to guess the note values with reference to the transcription options. Only type 1 standard MIDI files are supported, with each track being placed on a separate stave. The program can also directly import sequence files created by Master Tracks Pro and Trax.

ADDING SYMBOLS AND TEXT



Once you've entered the notes, you need to add titles, markings and any lyrics to get a completed score, for which the application provides a number of 'palettes'. The palettes are small floating windows that allow you to select the symbols or note values that you want to place on the score using the mouse. You can have all seven palettes active if you want, although this makes the screen very cluttered. There are some very nice features available from the palettes, such as the ability of the program to interpret chords played on your MIDI keyboard when entering chord names or guitar chord diagrams above the stave.

One thing I found slightly disappointing is the fact that the MIDI playback doesn't take any notice of repeat markings or dynamics. However if you consider that the MIDI playback feature is just a convenient way of checking the accuracy of the score then this is quite reasonable.

CONCLUSION



This package is an extremely useful tool for the computer musician. I found some parts of the program slightly non-intuitive, but the comprehensive manual means that you can usually find out what you're doing wrong. The extensive use of tool palettes, whilst sometimes making the screen appeared cluttered, is a good way of organising the multitude of symbols available to you. The use of MIDI is well integrated into the package and can considerably speed the entry of the notes and allow you to detect notation errors 'by ear'.

Personally, I feel that when it comes to creating any kind of MIDI sequence meant for listening you must use a good sequencing package. However a scoring package such as MusicTime is a worthwhile addition to your music environment. If you need to produce a printed copy of your music, or are happiest working on the stave, give MusicTime a try. You never know — you might find out what those tadpoles have been trying to tell you all these years!

Further information

£229 inc VAT.

MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).



Previous Article in this issue

SOS On-line - Your Letters

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Tascam MM200


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - May 1993

Gear in this article:

Software: Scorewriter > Passport Designs > MusicTime


Gear Tags:

PC Platform

Review by Brian Heywood

Previous article in this issue:

> SOS On-line - Your Letters

Next article in this issue:

> Tascam MM200


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