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Topic: The Shifting Role of Music Notation

  1. #1

    The Shifting Role of Music Notation

    I would like to pose a question to those musicians who've worked with the virtual orchestra and have a lot of experience with it, but who got their musical training in playing music, composition and orchestration first.

    I have been thinking about the use and role of standard music notation (and perhaps not-so-standard) in this young medium. Besides the practical uses, such as having to have a score because the piece is going to be played and/or sung by other musicians, or be published in written form, does anyone have any thoughts about the role of notation in creating the piece? Since we can get immediate feedback with our computer-based musical instruments, does this feedback impact why we notate music? Is notation even necessary in the virtual orchestra world (assuming no singers or soloists)? Or does notation serve a deeper purpose, such as helping the composer to clarify compositional issues, structural and formal elements? After all, by visually representing the music we do bring another part of the brain to the creative process.

    For example, I have two movements of a set of variations. I sequenced the piece, and, instead of writing out the music with all its dynamic markings, hairpins, articulations, bowings, and phrasing, I sequence those details into the MIDI file and by choosing the best timbre/articulation for the musical passage. In other words, the details are there, but not in notation form. Another way to say it is that I composed, orchestrated and sequenced at the same time. I am now in the process of preparing the score, but a part of myself says "why?", while another part sees it as an opportunity to learn more about the piece.

    What are the experiences of others in this area? Do you find it "better" to compose first, finish the composition and orchestration, and then sequence, mix and pre-master it? I am not sure, there may be distinct advantages to both methods. I have done plenty of both, but am starting to wonder if I want to go back to composing with pencil, paper, piano and metronome, give my full energies and attention to composition, and then produce and record it. It seems that by not dividing my attention (composing/sequencing) I may be able to do each better, but sequentially rather than together.

    Again, I am not speaking about the commercial or public demands of why we notate our music, that's a given. It's more of a question about the art itself.

    Any comments?


  2. #2

    Re: The Shifting Role of Music Notation

    I used to just fire up the sequencer and start from there, but eventually I realized that my best stuff came from when I would write it out either by hand or in Finale first. I can sketch on paper disturbingly fast via my own musical shorthand, and so I often wake up in the middle of the night, jot something down, then the next morning (or weeks later, or never) I can actually sequence the thing.

    The advantage to all this is that when sketching on paper, I'm still working with idealized sounds and not compromising to MIDI yet; it's sort of the same principle as working in 24/96 even if the final product will be 16/44 . More significantly, I can worry about largescale dramatic issues more readily, instead of being distracted by details. This way I don't run into the trap of having something that sounds good 5 seconds at a time, but is ineffective when you put it all together. We (as composers, and especially as ones who use virtual ensembles) have a tendency to get wrapped up in details that 99% of listeners don't notice or care much about, which is okay only as long as we don't lose sight of the big picture.
    Wilbert Roget, II

  3. #3

    Re: The Shifting Role of Music Notation

    I'm pretty much in agreement with neoTypic and Will here.

    The origins of my learning about music was through scores and writing things out. First reading them in the boychoir, then writing them on my own in highschool. In college, we've been strongly encouraged to write for live players, so writing by notation has really stuck with me.

    Now, with using my sequencer and samples, it's almost a dual process, but one that can be done pretty quickly depending on if I know what I want to accomplish. Notation doubles for my midi entry, and then in the sequencer it's all about fine-tuning velocities, note entrances and exits, dynamics and mixing or bringing in non-standard (notationally) elements such as drones or additional percussion.

    I find that if I start in notation, I'll always come up with a much more interesting piece. If I just doodle around on my keyboard, it'll most likely be restricted to what I can logistically play well. Since my main instrument is voice, going by ear into notation just works the best for me.

  4. #4

    Re: The Shifting Role of Music Notation

    I'm still very notation oriented and relatively new to sequencing, but my workflow has changed over time.

    I started using Finale in 1993. Before that, I'd sketched everything in a pencil short score, fleshed it out in a pencil orchestral draft, then wrote out my final MS in ink. When I started using Finale, for the first several years, it was just a replacement for the final ink MS. I still wrote out one or two pencil drafts. At some point, though, I started gravitating toward doing more and more work in Finale. Today I use Finale almost exclusively at every stage. I might jot down a couple of ideas on paper if my computer isn't on, or if I'm trying to work out a problem, but for the most part, it's Finale from start to finish.

    I started getting serious about sequencing and virtual orchestration two or three years ago. For now, I still work out a score in Finale, then save it as a MIDI file which I import into Sonar for final editing. That may change, though. I've done a couple of short pieces which I basically improvised into Sonar without any kind of written score at all. I've been thinking that I might go back to working out a pencil draft, then working from that in Sonar, bypassing Finale. But who knows what's going to happen?
    Dan Powers

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  5. #5

    Re: The Shifting Role of Music Notation

    It's back and forth for me. I've always scribbled on paper a little to work things out (and to write them down so I remember then when I'm playing them in), but mostly played things in - and then repaired, copied, pasted, transposed, edited, etc. etc. etc.

    As I think everyone here is saying, notation is an important means for conceptualizing music as well as a way of conveying it to other people.

    I'm happy to see the notation-sample library connection that Garritan is doing with Sibelius and Finale, that Overture 4 has built in, and that Notion uses as its foundation. This goes way beyond the simple notation editing and "MIDI meaning" features in most sequencers.

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