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Topic: Sequencer/Notation software

  1. #1
    Senior Member June-Bug-Dan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Yeovil, Somerset

    Talking Sequencer/Notation software


    I wondered if anyone could tell me if its easyer to write music using a sequencer or a notation program?
    I would appreciate your comments.


  2. #2
    Senior Member Steve_Karl's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Pittsburgh, PA 15206 USA

    Re: Sequencer/Notation software

    I think it depends on ones personal preference.
    I get very different results with each method.

    My brother works exclusively in Sibelius and gets great results. He'd never consider a sequencer as an alternative. He doesn't even own one.

    I prefer Sonar because I get more immediate audio feedback. I also find it more sensual to control the samples from a keyboard as a player.

    I only use Sibelius for taking quick notes about what to do when I get to my Sequencer.

  3. #3

    Re: Sequencer/Notation software

    Hello Dan,

    If, by the term 'write', you mean to actually 'write' a score as in notes on paper, then no sequencer can beat a good notation editor. The score editing in sequencers such as Sonar are pretty dismal. However, it is fair to say that some members do manage to prepare scores in sequencers using a mix of the limited score editing facilities and the piano roll view. If by the term 'write' you mean to compose a piece of music then some people prefer to use a notation editor and some prefer to use a sequencer; this just depends on the way people prefer to work.

    I have both; Finale and Sonar Producer. I prepare my scores in Finale, ie notes on 'paper', then move this into Sonar to polish my performance. Some of our members, however, prepare and perform their works entirely in Finale.

    Hope this has been of some help.
    Patience is a virtue, sensitivity is a gift

  4. #4

    Re: Sequencer/Notation software

    Depends. If your planning on writing a straightforward score for standard instruments then a notation program is DEFINITELY better in my opinion (at least for me anyway) as you can see all thats going on. however if im going to be mixing effects, synths etc and am looking for more atmospheric music then occassionally i go straight to DAW (cubase or Reaper) with vague musical ideas in my head, and then keep playing with synths etc until i get it right.

    But as Michael said, if you want to actually write notes down, nothing beats a dedicated notation software like sibelius or finale. (sibelius is my prefered)


  5. #5

    Re: Sequencer/Notation software

    I prefer writing in piano-roll view on my sequencer. I like to be able to grab a whole hunk o' notes from an arbitrary set of instruments, and drag them every which way, flip them upside-down, etc.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  6. #6

    Re: Sequencer/Notation software

    Hi June-Bug-Dan,

    I'm sure you must know that there's no one "right" answer to your question. Whether or not someone prefers to work in a DAW or a notation program depends on many personal factors, including their end-result goal, their level of musical knowledge, their musicianship ability etc.

    Moderator DPDAN has an excellent post on this subject on a current thread here in the General Discussion Forum. 8 posts down is his informal chat about the differences between the two types of software:

    Speaking for myself, before I joined in here at Northern Sounds, I hadn't had very much interaction with notation users. I use a DAW, Sonar, and had been in discussion about computer music primarily with other DAW users.

    I'm still trying to fill in the blanks in my knowledge of how notation programs are used. My main understanding is that there are people who's main objective is to produce professional looking printed scores. Obviously, they need Finale, Sibelius, etc. in order to do that.

    But DAW users like me play keyboards and what's comfortable is a direct interaction with music - I need to Play it and record it, then do what I can to manipulate the results into a decent sounding recording.

    An analogy that occurs to me about notation programs, is that it's something like producing a paint-by-numbers canvas, with the outlines around all the patches which are to be painted in with colors corresponding to the numbers written inside those patches. That, as opposed to having a blank canvas where the paint is applied however one wishes.

    When a paint-by-numbers canvas is completed, the colors are all "quantized" in those blobs whch were outlined on the canvas before paint was applied. But in the canvas painted from scratch, the colors blend together in a more organic way. The two canvases may be of the same subject, and they'll look very similar seen from a distance, but one is a quantized, mechanical representation of the subject, while the other is a unique "imperfect" and organically created representation of that subject. One is a picture of the painting's plan, the other is the painting itself.

    We know from listening to music here on the Forums that some notation users over-come the inherent stiffness in notation music playback by inserting hundreds of invisible commands which humanize the sound more. But we also know that many users aren't interested in investing the amount of time all that massaging of the data calls for.

    When we're talking about Music as the thing we hear, the frequencies vibrating in the air - is our goal primarily a good recording or is it printed music? If our goal is the latter, then we are probably willing to suspend our judgement on a less-than-natural sounding playback.

    So - which is "easier"--? I'm not sure Ease needs to be part of what we're looking for. Which approach is the method we can most resonate with - I think that's the question you need to ask yourslef, Dan, regardless of the ease or difficulty involved.

    And - so forth!

    Randy B.

  7. #7

    Re: Sequencer/Notation software

    Speaking from my own experience, I can only work from a notation environment.

    However, to make one thing perfectly clear: no notation programme, no matter how powerful, can make music if you are not notating properly. I've seen many people complain, for example, that Finale was not playing back their scores expressively. When I finally get to see their score I notice that it contains notes. Period. Nothing else. No slurs, no dynamics, no expressions. Even a talented musician would have trouble with a score that contains no performance information except the notes.

    If you go the route of a notation programme, then you have to be ready to WORK at it... hard. Your scores will have to be very detailed and very clearly indicated for any "humanizing" effect to work as designed.

    I'd like to address a point brought up by Randy in the previous post: I am never "inserting hundreds of invisible commands which humanize the sound more". I only need to notate the score as it SHOULD be notated for publication. Finale's HumanPlayback plugin does the rest quite capably.

    Read the next paragraph for further information.

    Add to that the need every once in a while to "cheat" on notation. For example, in Finale I DO have a few expressions and articulations that are for playback only - they are designed to not appear in print. Luckily, this works perfectly well for the sort of music I write. I rarely resort to these tricks, and under normal circumstances may insert no more than 2-3 of these invisible markings in any given score. This is no more arduous than the ceaseless tweaking of minor details of performance that are necessary in a sequencer.

    I think if your final end product is to be the recording, however, and not simply a very good demo in preparation for a live performance, then a notation programme is probably NOT the way to go.

    Finale, with Robert P's HumanPlayback plugin does some truly miraculous things with my music. I've actually tricked some people into thinking that a recording of mine was performed by live musicians (this was using GPO). So in some cases, it really works.

    On the other hand, nothing I can do so far has gotten the results of a sequencer as far as writing string parts with portamento was concerned. I just can't get Finale to come anywhere NEAR a result I'd consider acceptable. So, sadly, no portamento in my string parts.

  8. #8

    Lightbulb Re: Sequencer/Notation software

    I use Finale (just switched from Sibelius) when I will need a score. Given human playback in Finale I will probably use it to a degree even when a score is not required but could be cool to have. Otherwise, I just play parts into a sequencer and tweak.

    Unlike others here I start a piece at a piano or synth and use paper and pencil to hammer out a basic structure, then I move into the computer environment.

    Last thought, if you are going into the sequencer world you want to make sure that the sequencer has really good MIDI features. Cubase is the best I've seen in the Windows world, though Sonar is also very good. In the Mac world (and overall in my opinion) Digital Performer is king for MIDI. I'm still trying to figure out how to get my setup from Windows/Cubase to Mac/DP. Technically there are some challenges, but the cost is the main issue.

    Ok, really the last thought. There are demos of most of the software you may want to use. I highly recommend you download and try before you buy.

    Good luck!

    We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams …
    24" 2.4 Ghz iMac, OSX 10.4.10, MOTU 828 MKII, 2 Glyph 250 Gig external drives, Logic 9, Finale 2008 GPO, JABB, Strad, Gro, Reason 4, EWQL Storm Drum, Adrenaline, Symphonic Choirs, SO Gold,All Arturia Synths, Many NI Synths, Spectrasonics Synths, KH Strings, VEPro on a Windows 7 4x 2.8 Ghz 12 gig of RAM

  9. #9
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Re: Sequencer/Notation software

    I use neither. I prefer virgin parchment, quill, ink and five
    Franciscan Monks writing every note franticly. Those boys have some of the best script out there!

  10. #10

    Re: Sequencer/Notation software

    I am from the Dark Ages (pre-music software - gasp!) so I began with paper and pencil and finished with ink hand copying.

    I then discovered Passport Designs PolyWriter hoping it would alleviate my copying woes. I found it inadequate. Then Finale came along and I have used it ever since in conjunction with paper and pencil.

    I then tried Cakewalk (now Sonar) and found that if I played in my lines (written or not), with my own expression (even though I am not a keyboardist, I am a trumpet player), the audio that resulted made a good "demo" in conjunction with my score, but Sonar's notation I found inadequate. I still use Sonar to work out special problems and produce audio demos, but use Finale (in conjunction with pencil and paper) to produce the actual parts and score. I have found each to be a separate discipline with each one having its own unique learning curve.

    Your question about the relative difficulty of sequencer vs. notation program reminds me of what I used to hear from beginning students, "is the (insert instrument here) easier to learn that the (insert other instrument here)?" My answer was that, depending on physical limits, all instruments are equally easy and difficult to learn. Which one are you drawn to? Good luck in your quest!

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