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Topic: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

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  1. #1

    With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    I've been deep into Sibelius for a week, putting together a more detailed score than I usually need. Regulars here may know that I only work with notation when I absolutely have to. For me, black dots on a graph (a score) are only vaguely interesting. It's like having to stare at a blueprint instead of enjoying walking around the actual building the plans represent. Only when I have a specific need for a score do I put one together, and usually it's sketchier than what one sees in print. All the notes are there, but only a suggestion of dynamics, and I don't worry about the cosmetics, like, "OOooh dear, are all my hairpins EXACTLY the same length?"--Things like that.

    Well, I want this score to look as publisher-ready as possible, and I also had major re-writing to do, since I was adapting a piece for different instrumentation. Something that took me 2 days to write I've now worked on full time for a week trying to make the notation accurate, legible, beautiful. ARGH! What a pain!--I wouldn't be able to do it without the editing help of a notation expert who is scrutinizing the work to make sure I'm not overlooking things.

    This experience gives me a BIG surge of renewed respect for all you notation users on the Forum. Making professional
    looking scores is part of your daily routine, and I really don't know how you do it. I would get more facile at it if I did it more often, but right now I cannot imagine ever not being bored to tears with the repetitive tedium of it - move that hairpin a centimeter, move that dynamic marking Juuuust a little bit up. Before this, I have always let the program do the layout automatically, and what it did looked good enough to me. But my editor is a task master, and following his advice is making for a much tidier looking score, I have to admit.

    Before this, I've also pretty much let Sibelius spell the notes for me. I import MIDI, set more key signatures if I can see I didn't indicate all of them in Sonar. Sib adjusts the notes as per the key sigs--um--but not accurately. To my horror, I'm having to examine every note to see if it's really been notated properly. I'll be in the key of G, for instance. If I have an F natural, it's apt to be notated as E# instead of F natural--What the...?! And being a very literal program, Sib will also dutifully use lots of double sharps and double flats--yikes - who wants to deal with those? And so hours of more time have been added to the project, using Sib's "respell" function - but then still having to drag individual notes to more logical spellings. What a B - O - R - E - !

    But the fact that you guys spend all this time with notation is only part of why I admire you. How you manage to get presentable renderings from notation astonishes me. The average notation rendering is a bit flat in dynamics, tame, almost always low in volume, but still decent. But some of you manage to produce great sounding recordings, and I have no idea how you do that. I'm sure Sibelius is capable for the rendering task, but the sound I get is something I would NEVER share in public. I just use the sounds to keep me on track of where I am as I work in the score. I don't pay attention to the quality, and don't work at making it better. I'm just working as fast as I can so I get out of the program and back to the safety of Sonar!

    AND there's more I admire you for. How anyone manages to actually compose this way also blows my mind. This piece I'm notating was already written. I did it in Sonar. As usual, I used my MIDI keyboard, and let the creative juices flow. But once I brought the work into Sib--YIKES! Only then did I see how complicated the piece is. Much of it doesn't have a tone center, so figuring out the best key sigs to use throughout is a challenge. For the several "atonal" sections, I'm using the Atonal key sig which is what Finale calls the Chromatic key sig - No accidentals indicated, completely devoid of key. That way, all the accidentals can fall where they may and musicians don't have to think of being in a particular key while handling all the accidentals. Lines will weave in and out of sharps, flats, naturals - The tone center is constantly shifting, so basically I wrote something that has a different key sig for each measure, but of course that's crazed, and you can't notate anything that way. Using the Atonal key sig is the best thing to do.

    BUT - if I would have started writing this piece there in that godawful blank grid of sheet music - I know I would never have written the piece as I did, freely flowing from key to key, happy to be as chromatic as my little anti-diatonic soul would want. I am very sure I would have been more conservative, more conventional. I can't imagine thinking in terms of "Aaah, I need an F# now, and then a Db"--etc--I have to just let the music come, play it, record it. As I compose something like this, I don't care in the least how demanding it could be for musicians who might try to play it later. But there in the notation program, I can now see what a bitch of a piece I've written - and I'm saying, I couldn't have done the same thing if I had started in notation instead of Sonar. But I know people do it. Big round of applause to those capable of composing by inserting blobs on a white grid!

    AND one more thing - This might be hard to believe, but before this I have NEVER exported a file from notation in order to work it up into a good recording in DAW software. I know a lot of people do that on a routine basis. They want to get a better demo than they can squeeze out of Finale, Sib, etc., so they export the MIDI and work up all the MIDI data to get it sounding like music again. SO, wanting a demo of the new version of this piece, but not being able to stomach the way it sounds in Sib, I've exported the file and have gone to work making a recording.

    It Is A Total Bitch. After I first brought in the tracks - I couldn't believe how embarrassingly lame it sounded to me. Flat, robotic, awful. I knew the job would be big, but I was still horrified to realize the job would be so HUGE.

    OMG - all these crazy keyswitches Sibelius has inserted, MIDI controllers I don't need in Sonar, and the flat line velocity values, and the extremely limited dynamics mechanically turned out by the program reading pp to ff - all the notes the same predictable length, no notes overlapping - no natural sloppiness in the start times - the list goes on. It's a mammoth undertaking trying to massage this into actual music.-- Yet, I know you guys do that all the time too.

    Amazing - Hats off to the notation users. I admire what you do tremendously. ---And when I'm done with this project, I hope to high heaven I won't have to go back to Notation Hell again very soon!

    Randy

  2. #2

    Re: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    I think you've eloquently summed up the frustrations of many, Randy. Haha.

    As a proud pencil and paper composer, I relish the ability to create anything I need with just my hands and a brain. My recent expeditions into sequencing and DAWs have been immensely satisfying because I can simply take those handwritten scores and play them as if I were each player of a 100 piece orchestra. The few times that I have tried working with notation software, however, have been as nightmarish as you describe. I had once thought that it would be a nice resource with which to take my handwritten scores and transform them into finely engraved ones. But I now can not imagine having enough technological patience to ever do that.

    So, yes. One must have a great deal of respect for those of us who work that way!

  3. #3

    Re: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    Quote Originally Posted by TheGreyPilgrim View Post
    I think you've eloquently summed up the frustrations of many, Randy. Haha.

    As a proud pencil and paper composer, I relish the ability to create anything I need with just my hands and a brain. My recent expeditions into sequencing and DAWs have been immensely satisfying because I can simply take those handwritten scores and play them as if I were each player of a 100 piece orchestra. The few times that I have tried working with notation software, however, have been as nightmarish as you describe. I had once thought that it would be a nice resource with which to take my handwritten scores and transform them into finely engraved ones. But I now can not imagine having enough technological patience to ever do that.

    So, yes. One must have a great deal of respect for those of us who work that way!
    Thanks for the post, "TheGreyPilgrim" - I'm really glad to hear from someone who works with staff paper but who still has a hard time with notation programs. It makes me feel less alone.

    I think you're approach is super - Write your score, then perform the parts as you record them in your recording program. To me, that brings back the original point of DAW software existing - to record!--whether we're capturing a musician's performance with a microphone, or with a MIDI keyboard.

    I think there's something fundamentally at odds with my sensibilities when I think more about what a drag I think notation software is. I've always considered music a Hot art form. To me it's about being in a concentrated, alternate state of consciousness while creating music, and that involves sweat and muscles, with as few things as possible between me and what I'm using to express myself. When I'm confronted with that austere looking graph of blank measures and I'm supposed to consider the black blobs on them as something even remotely related to my music, and that page is demanding that everything that goes on it to be PERFECTLY PLACED BY GOD - it all feels Cool, no longer Hot - it's just too intellectualized and forces me to tap into the anal-retentive part of my personality that I don't care to access as I push those little elements around -- I'm breaking into a cold sweat talking about it!

    Randy

  4. #4

    Re: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser- View Post

    Amazing - Hats off to the notation users. I admire what you do tremendously. ---And when I'm done with this project, I hope to high heaven I won't have to go back to Notation Hell again very soon!

    Randy
    Ah, to para-phrase Randy:

    Amazing - Hats off to the DAW users. I admire what you do tremendously. ---And when I'm done with this project, I hope to high heaven I won't have to go back to DAW Hell again very soon!

    Different strokes for different folks. I am in utter AW of you DAW users. To me that is the 'tedious boring' task. But, then, I've been notating one way or the other for over 40 years. (Back in the day when I used draftsman pens on onion skin paper sent to a blue printer to be printed for a performance.) Anyone else remember those days? And, oh yeah, the blue print couldn't play your music, you needed live players. Alas I miss the good old days ---> NOT!!!

    best regards
    Bill
    We dream to write and we write to dream.

    Challenge #10 Winner

  5. #5

    Re: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    I have very little "formal" musical training. 80-90 percent of what I have learned has been purely "hands-on". As a result, I am probably generationally behind most folks here when it comes to the technical details of notation.

    I have always had music in my head. 150 years ago, I probably would have been locked up for this "quirk`. Fully-arranged compositions (usually waltzes, oddly enough), including strings, horns, reeds, and sometimes solo bits, but the problem for the majority of my life was that I could not get what was in my head onto paper. When I did -often with much help from books, etc- the results were seriously disheartening the moment someone else took my scribbles and tried to play them back for me.

    In the 80's I discovered MIDI sequencers, in particular the Roland Micro-Composer series and within just a few months the notes in my head were being played back in a form that sounded very close to how I envisioned them. I was in MIDI heaven. In fact, the two "claims to fame" in my CV are both entire the result of being able to sequence up to 32 tracks, add vocals and 'voila!' a regional hit of sorts. But I still could not hand that same arrangement over to a live orchestra or combo and get the same result. It was frustration all over again, but for a different reason.

    Then I discovered notation software. Crude at first (i was into an early version of Musicator in 1993), it has allowed my scribblings to become more legible as both the software and my abilities expanded.

    Now I have all but abandoned sequencers, and use Finale products/Garritan sounds for nearly everything. If a more polished final product is needed, the audio tracks from the notation s/w can be easily exported into my DAW where live vocals, real guitars, etc may be added and the final product mixed down to an acceptable medium.

    Life is finally catching up to those songs in my head from so long ago...
    Cheers,

    Kevin F..

    KM Frye- (SOCAN)
    Music Director- Four Seasons Musical Theatre- 2016

    Bella Vista Studios
    Canada

    GPO4, JABB3, Garritan World Inst, REAPER, Roland VS2480 DAW

  6. #6

    Question Re: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    Well actually maybe because I started on a Mac Plus with Finale 1.0, down in 1990, using Notation today seems to me heaven and not the hell.

    In the glorious time of my starting, it was really adventurous using a micro screen with few bars... and make a professional layout of a whole page, taking up to several minutes to redraw in hi res... LOL then print it with a dot-matrix printer forcing the resolution to see something acceptable of your draft...ahahahah such a Jurassic music time...

    What you can do today is simply amazing, fast and effective, instant draw, lot of automation, giant screens, cheap hi res laser printers on your desk... a dream come true.

    And what about Finale Human playback with Garritan instruments? You had to listen my MT32 playing the plain midi... it was like the Space Invaders soundtrack... worse than today's phone ringtone...

    Come-on guys ... IT'S HEAVEN!!! and let's technology advance, innovation didn't stop yet :P

  7. #7

    Re: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    I started my computer composing using Finale 2011. Pretty much learning the ropes of orchestration and overjoyed at being able to work with an orchestral score sheet that I could fill with my ideas and of course hear them come to life through GPO4 plugged into it. My first posts on this forum are from this.

    But alas, as natural it felt to have the score in front of me, the frustrating limits of the notation program and clumsy MIDI implementation pushed me towards a DAW.

    Working with a DAW at first felt alien and weird, and at times I resented the idea of having had a good solid workflow in Finale, only to find I was back to fumbling around trying to get a good sound in a DAW. Tempted to go back a few times to Finale in the early days.

    Glad I didn't. The power of the DAW is unmistakable. The lure of notation though is understandably strong - still miss it, but will not go back.
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  8. #8

    Re: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    I have gone from notation to hybrid. I need the notation environment. It's how I conceive music, whether I am writing down what I am hearing or whether I am simply conceiving something out of whole cloth. I love the intellectual aspect of it and that's what drives me more than anything. But hanging around here I have been exposed to the beauty of the DAW and the renderings that bring the music alive in a way that my notation software can not. I am in kind of a between world. I still work with pencil and paper and/or then Notation and then Midi editing. When I am working with the computer I am writing my notes on a staff as is much more natural for me but am almost immediately switching to DAW mode for midi expression and editing. I learned that here.

  9. #9

    Re: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    I love each reply on this thread - Really fun-to-read stuff, Richard, Graham, Fabio, Kevin, Bill, and "TheGreyPilgrim." Thanks for joining in.

    I'm hoping everyone who sees this thread understands I had no intention of it being a "notation versus DAW software" thread. It was just a blog-like thing I wanted to write, describing my own current, clumsy foray into using a notation program, and poking some fun at my own aggravation and ineptitude with it.

    Reading between the lines of what I've written, if you deduct that I've probably never cared for music notation, you would be correct. I've always rebelled against it. Scores have always looked dull and boring to me, and I have spent virtually no time in playing anyone else's music - ! So, with someone like me who already has a problem with music notation, it's pretty predictable that the software version won't be any more attractive.

    But it's my own personal Hell I was talking about. I'm not pronouncing notation software to be a product of The Devil, it just is to me! Too "fiddly," too left-brained, and too intellectualized for my tastes.

    What Graham colorfully expressed in his reply coincides with the relationship I also have with my music. I'm working with sound-waves, colors of different sizes traveling at different speeds in the air, and I need to be directly involved in pushing them around into "compositions."

    All I need is a program to record in that has plenty of tools for me to do the most possible with the MIDI and audio that result from me playing with the sound-waves. Like when I was a pre-schooler sitting at the piano, I'm an adult sitting at the analogous MIDI keyboard. The fewer things that come between me and my music play, the happier I am, the better my music.

    And I'm very concerned with producing recordings of what I write. That's of much more importance to me than getting it written out for other people to play it.

    So, me Sonar does me well. My grumpy, mean task-master Sibelius is always there, ruler in hand, ready to rap me over the knuckles and bark rude things at me whenever I absolutely have to stop my play long enough to get the darned stuff written out into a score.

    Randy

  10. #10

    Re: With Renewed Respect for Notation Users

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser- View Post

    I think there's something fundamentally at odds with my sensibilities when I think more about what a drag I think notation software is. I've always considered music a Hot art form. To me it's about being in a concentrated, alternate state of consciousness while creating music, and that involves sweat and muscles, with as few things as possible between me and what I'm using to express myself. When I'm confronted with that austere looking graph of blank measures and I'm supposed to consider the black blobs on them as something even remotely related to my music, and that page is demanding that everything that goes on it to be PERFECTLY PLACED BY GOD - it all feels Cool, no longer Hot - it's just too intellectualized and forces me to tap into the anal-retentive part of my personality that I don't care to access as I push those little elements around -- I'm breaking into a cold sweat talking about it!

    Randy
    I can certainly understand what you mean there Randy. I experience music in a somewhat visual way, and having been around scores for so long, they've become a part of that. Right now I am looking at a page of Holst, and it's all there for me: I can hear it, even feel it, clearly. The shimmering flutes and harps, pulsing horns, broad and majestic strings - it's just second nature to me at this point. The sounds, shapes and colors of the music are one and the same with those dots on the page, so there is no gap for me in the creative process between what my brain is doing and what my hand should do to capture that.

    The gap begins for me, however, when my hand doesn't hold a pencil capable of instantly providing the oddest notation I might need, but a mouse which needs to find a certain menu within another menu. Dealing with a computer while composing - now THAT I find to be completely distracting to creativity.

    Obviously, it comes down to what we have spent the most time with. And as with most things, we all have a different groove.

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