Jump to content

Eric Whitacre on Notation Software!


Recommended Posts

I think he makes some good points. I know firsthand about the dangers of Copy and Paste....

also, crappy playback can influence you... often something sounds bad in a playback that would be fine in a live performance, and vice versa.

I actually had tried using pencil and paper off and on again due to these reasons.

But I'm sure even Eric Whitacre eventually puts his final draft into some sort of software program.... or maybe he has someone do it for him?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest QcCowboy

There are a couple of issues brought up in this, which are, to my mind, non-starters.

There's the copy/paste thing. This is no more a problem with computer software than it is with paper and pencil. Anyone with a predisposition to copying and pasting will do it, whether it's with a notation programme, or simply by copying literally from one page of manuscript to another. There are far too many pre-computer composers who have succumbed to this (Vivaldi, anyone?).

I can say that for myself, I already know where my music is going, even as I enter it into Finale. I know what it will sound like, I know what the orchestration is as I'm advanding in the work, I have an already very firmly established idea of the structure.

Without a strong understanding of the tools of the trade, the "craft" of a composer, then whether you use paper and pencil or use the very latest in notation software, it will make no difference to the final output.

There is, too often, a great deal of misplaced snobbism involved in these discussions. And the examples put forward by the "paper and pencil" brigade to bolster their arguments are very weak examples. They point to people - and results - that would be just as weak were they using pencil and paper, as they are if they are using a computer and samples.

Learn your craft. Don't use the computer as a crutch. There's no reason to avoid the use of notation software if you have the proper craft and technique to START with.

Link to post
Share on other sites

My take:

I've used paper and pencil when I don't have my laptop available, which these days, is very rare. What Sibelius does for me is streamline the process of composition. There's several steps that can be combined into one with software.

When I have inspiration, I will play it on piano, improvise perhaps to develop it, or write it down without proper notation. Just a scribble to remind me about it later. Sometimes I write a theme right on the computer. This is how most of my stuff comes about. It's the same as writing it down, playing it back on piano, fixing it, then playing it again; all done on computer much faster and more efficiently. But wait, what if it's an orchestral piece? Well you can't reliably write the entire full score on paper when you just get a new theme. On computer you can, and within that instant, you can orchestrate it and put it in context with that is there before and after. You can see everything in context. Big paper can exist on a big screen. People should try it.

Cut and paste! Well, since when haven't composers been lazy? They invented those things called repeat marks for a reason. That's not a form of copy and paste? So what should be said is that an inexperienced composer will use the feature. One that is experienced and will train himself not to use it unless necessary (like me) will not use it that much. It takes too long to write everything down on paper, just far too long.

The Playback argument is moot for me too. I don't imagine it as if being played back by a computer. It's more like a mistake-checker. If there's a wrong note, I'll notice it instantly rather than later on revising it in drafts. Also, being that it plays all the parts together, I can orchestrate effectively without having a short score, thereby eliminating another step. I compose directly into full score, always. I ignore how the playback sounds, I listen to what it sounds like. A subtle difference. Often, I will even shut off the Kontakt player and just compose with MIDI. With the knowledge that MIDI is absolutely terrible, I put myself in a mental state that playback is NOT what it will sound like. In an example, when I composed my piece for the New York Philharmonic, I was simply blown away when they played it. Because of that ignorance of the playback sounds, I composed music and I was not discouraged.

So while I acknowledge the laurels of papers and pencil, it's just too slow for me. Computers streamline great amounts of work. An appropriate analogy would be writing a paper by hand or typing it in a word processor. The latter has become mainstream. Notation programs are finally catching on.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with Qc in that when it comes down to it, a good composer is just a good composer whether they use pencil or keyboard although I know that my speed at notating by hand is a lot slower than with computer which means I do make less mistakes and put more thought into it but I do think overall, with corrections, it is faster to type things in if you know the shortcuts than by pencil and paper.

As far as my total experience with everything, I do find that writing with paper does give you a bigger sense of satisfaction but hearing things, as crappy as they usually are, can have the same effect. I do agree that to really gain the ability to compose meaningful pieces that working with paper just a little bit does help you gain the ability to write down what you really hear rather than just searching with the keyboard which I fear will soon turn in to one of the downfalls of my generation if we aren't careful.

Great article though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with what Eric Whitacre has said regarding notation software.

It IS really easy to use notation software. When it's easy, you forget about it.

When you actually work to write it down, you're not on autopilot, waiting to continue working until you write something down. Rather, the opposite - you're thinking. When you take the time to write things down, you have the time to THINK about what you're doing, and thinking about what's next, how what you're writing fits, etc. etc.

Also, you'll NEVER run into technical issues while composing by hand. If you just think ahead and alwyas have an extra pencil, stash of blank paper, and eraser, you're set. I've often run into issues in Sibelius, and I'm pretty good at it. What this does is stop the composition process from being fluid.

It's good to use the computer along the process, especially for contrapuntal passages or passages of large intervals, etc. However, a computer should just be used as a checkpoint until the final stages. I used to use it all the time, and I didn't realize how it was ultimately damaging my compositions.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's interesting that Justin brought up speed as a deciding factor - because for me it's one too, but in favour of writing with pencil and paper. I'm just so much quicker writing most stuff on paper than in a notation program, particularly since I'm not required to stick to standard notation, whereas Finale is the faster, the more "traditional" and the less complex the music is. I can easily write stuff without time signatures, with very complex rhythms, with graphical elements, with extended techniques, with aleatoric passages etc. on paper, without having to worry about "how to do it". I can just write down what actually matters to me in a certain sketch, a rhythm, a gesture, a series of pitches, a certain instrumental combination, without having to enter any other parameter, whereas Finale always defaults to requiring complete sets of notes with rhythm, pitch, instrumentation, etc. and anything apart from that requires you to take extra steps that take up time.

The other factor is size. Yes, it's true that you can use a big computer monitor. But unless you use a beamer and a cinema screen it will never be as big as a long table or floor on which you can spread out your sheets. And if you zoom out too much you can't read the notes anymore. When I'm working on paper I can have structural plans, sketches, scores, graph paper, or whatever else I need next to each other on a table, arrange it very quickly and keep an overview of everything, while still seeing the details.

I'm certainly not dismissing composition directly in a computer though. I've done that too a couple of times, especially when orchestrating, and it can be very useful and efficient. I think everyone has to find their own method to work with comfortably and efficiently there, and this method may even change depending on what kind of piece you're writing. Some pieces, as I said, I wrote directly in the computer, many I wrote first by hand and then in a computer, and many I never even entered into the computer but wrote the final clean version by hand too (the more graphically oriented or unconventional the notation is, the more I tend towards the latter).

P.S. I don't quite agree with the comparison to writing text by hand or with a word processor. I think notation programs aren't yet so advanced as word processors are and make certain tasks more complicated than they need to be. I'm faster writing text on a computer than by hand, but that doesn't apply to writing music, for me. (It depends a lot on the kind of music of course.) I think notation programs have still a long way to go.

Link to post
Share on other sites
There are a couple of issues brought up in this, which are, to my mind, non-starters.

There's the copy/paste thing. This is no more a problem with computer software than it is with paper and pencil. Anyone with a predisposition to copying and pasting will do it, whether it's with a notation programme, or simply by copying literally from one page of manuscript to another. There are far too many pre-computer composers who have succumbed to this (Vivaldi, anyone?).

I can say that for myself, I already know where my music is going, even as I enter it into Finale. I know what it will sound like, I know what the orchestration is as I'm advanding in the work, I have an already very firmly established idea of the structure.

Without a strong understanding of the tools of the trade, the "craft" of a composer, then whether you use paper and pencil or use the very latest in notation software, it will make no difference to the final output.

There is, too often, a great deal of misplaced snobbism involved in these discussions. And the examples put forward by the "paper and pencil" brigade to bolster their arguments are very weak examples. They point to people - and results - that would be just as weak were they using pencil and paper, as they are if they are using a computer and samples.

Learn your craft. Don't use the computer as a crutch. There's no reason to avoid the use of notation software if you have the proper craft and technique to START with.

You seem to ignore the fact that he's referring to beginning composers, not professionals of your level.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I compose directly into Finale (in full score) because that is the way to which I am accustomed to working, and it is the most efficient and error-free way for me to write. By the time I am actually 'writing' notes, measures, etc., I've already done extensive planning and research on my piece. I don't need to see the "larger picture" because I've already 'done' that part.

Simply put, my brain is faster than my penmanship, so I prefer using tools that are more up to that speed. I went through very many years of writing things by hand because there were no other tools to use. I was a very early adopter of music notation software (Professional Composer, then Encore, and finally Finale) and I am lucky enough to be so skilled in their use that I don't have to "slow down" or figure out how to notate even very complicated music; it's second-nature to me.

I tossed my jars of India ink, straight edges, calligraphy pens, and nibs after buying Encore back in '93(-ish), and I'll never go back to what I consider an inefficient and physically tiring way of writing.

I don't begrudge anyone else their preference to write on paper; I just don't share it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest QcCowboy
You seem to ignore the fact that he's referring to beginning composers, not professionals of your level.

he refers to "composers my age" at the end of the article.

I KNOW it's aimed at students, but my criticism of his remarks remains the same.

And my comments apply to students as well.

learn your craft.

learn how what you write sounds DIFFERENT with samples than it will in real life.

learn to anticpate those differences.

I really wish I'd had samples all those years ago when I started composing. I probably wouldn't have made the mistakes I made along the way. I also probably wouldn't have been as frustrated.

it's awfully easy to say "you have to hear it in your mind's ear", but most student composers haven't developed that capacity fully yet. I say use the tools, but use ALL the tools, and LEARN to use the tools properly.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with Qc, no notation program is going to make you a lesser or a better composer. You bring to composition with what is in your head, sure there are "compositional" plug-ins in both sibelius and finale that will orchestrate or trim down, etc. but if you find yourself using those than you should question the validity of your composition.

I think that most students who want to write music that is their head are unable to write an exact copy of what they hear but can come close. I believe this is where pencil and paper come in handy. It is almost impossible to write "chicken scratch" ideas so you know what direction you are headed.

After this you can start inputting into a notation program and start to listen to a sampled playback, however, when listening you can never forget what the piece sounded like in head and you must rely on training.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Nice to see Whitacre is in touch with the web, and didn't just dismiss our wee forum.

Pertaining to the topic: I think that writing with pencil and paper has its own pitfalls. The danger on computer of using copy and paste is equalled by the danger on paper of not writing something because it takes too long or is too hard to write out.

This may sound trivial, but I find it happening a lot. I'm not saying it should, but neither should a composer mindlessly copy and paste on the computer.

Personally, I find both methods useful, but with the computer method being much more efficient and speedy. Seeing as I will almost invariably put a handwritten score into Sibelius or Finale for playback anyway, I find that writing out by hand just doubles the time taken. Also, I feel that having a continuous playback at any point in the creative process is very important. Playing out bits of an orchestral piece at the piano is never satisfactory, and only gives a fragmented impression at best. With Sibelius or Finale, despite sound quality and issues of balance etc., at least you hear the notes in the right order, in their exact place.

Anyway, each to his own. I consider both useful, with pros and cons in different areas.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's possible that I advocate the pen and paper method because I've been taught in similar fashion as Whitacre. Everything he mentioned in his article is stuff that I do,a nd because I do it, I advocate it. I dig the 'every composer for himself' thing that everyone's saying. I don't do things exactly the same as Dr. Knight, but the differences are often in little things - the overall processes and methods work.

Link to post
Share on other sites

We've had tons of threads on this before, and as I've said there already numerous times, I don't care with what you're actually writing so long as you get stuff out of it. There are many reasons to use both methods (graphical notation on the computer is horrendous, I use PHOTOSHOP to do it!) Sure you can try all sorts of things, but I get the feeling that there's a certain "gawd daaamn dem computars an' ther fancy shiz!" when people start giving arguments like that copy paste thing. Honestly what's so wrong with copy pasting? I personally almost never even use the feature, but if you do is that so terrible? Obviously these are two different subjects.

That Mr Whitacre doesn't like copy-pasta is irrelevant to the point and in the end it's not about the feature being available or not or how easy it is to use it, but what is being done with it and THAT is up to the composer.

Otherwise, I don't really see a problem with everyone using the PC to write their music, or any other given method. The argument that X method has its downfalls is applicable to ANY method. Writing by good'ol pencil & paper has it's share of problems to some which are just too great to ignore, plus one can also argue that it can "trap" beginning composers in whatever which way (say, because they probably won't have the ability to imagine how their music sounds like on paper so they'll go to a piano, which is arguably not as great as samples!) The argument from "samples give false impressions" is also applicable to working without them, if you actually know anything about what you're doing it shouldn't matter if you're using a piano or any given sample library, or none of this at all.

I'm not a fan of treating composers, specially beginning composers like idiots. If they want to copy pasta their way simply because it's "easier" that way, then fine by me if they think it sounds good, and likewise they'll learn by experience that imagining sound with X aids and actually hearing the real thing are always going to be two different things. I don't think it's necessary to give "warning" that using X method is "dangerous," because honestly it isn't. A better advice would be to try different things because informed decisions are always better than flying in the dark, but goes for just about everything, don't it? Yet, it's such a logical argument I don't think it really needs explaining.

So yeah, fine, people should try things out. Judging by the responses to this thread a bunch of us already have and that's great, yay, but likewise the diversity of answers shows that neither method is fantastically infallible and each one gives their own usage to it depending on what they actually need to get out of it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I started on Sibelius, and now I've moved to pencil and paper. It was a good progression for me, since, at first, when I was still new to music and couldn't hear how a piece should sound, it enabled me to compose regardless of that. Now that I'm developing that to a substantial level, I find it faster and more convenient to write it with pencil and paper.

That's for my draft, anyway. Nowadays, I'll write my draft for a piece on paper, then put it into Sibelius (unless it can't be notated conventionally). I think it works quite well like that, since it means that I can find little errors in my score when I'm putting it into the notation program. Then, after I put it in, I have the playback to make sure I haven't misheard any of parts. So it's a nice way of proof-reading my own work.

Anyway, that's my process as of late. I'm not going to pretend I'll always work like that, but that's just what works best for me at the moment. It really comes down to personal preference.

Link to post
Share on other sites

This topic has been visited time and time again, and always the same viewpoints crop up: one being that computers limit our creativity, the other that they streamline it. I happen to fall along the lines of the latter. What Whitacre and others warn about cut & paste tools in programmes and the availability of playback at any point can all be avoided as long as the composer is aware of his actions. I personally have a very difficult time writing on physical paper, it's too tedious and I'm too much of a perfectionist in my hand-written notation to be wasting time on noteheads and clarity of my ideas on paper when I'll just forget where the idea was supposed to go. If I have an ostinato or a repeating oopah pattern or alberti bass or anything of that regard, I'll just scribble a little repeat indication instead of writing it out, and I might scribble any chord or note changes to the pattern without written it all out. That's just as bad as cut-paste in Finale, I think. Also, I found the you can learn to live without the computer playback. I just unplug my speakers sometimes and resist the urge to hit Play and listen through MIDI. If I can't hear what's on the screen, it's almost as good to me as having it on paper in ink (or graphite, for that matter.)

I think peoples' preference in this matter is highly dependent on how they learned - I taught myself to compose better through punching notes into NoteWorthy Composer and seeing how it sounded together. Now I'm punching notes into Finale and by this time I'm good at imagining what I'm going for in my head without the aide of playback so much. If you use software to compose, you have to be smart, you can avoid the traps and it's not hard, you just need to be aware that they are there.

Link to post
Share on other sites
If I have an ostinato or a repeating oopah pattern or alberti bass or anything of that regard, I'll just scribble a little repeat indication instead of writing it out, and I might scribble any chord or note changes to the pattern without written it all out. That's just as bad as cut-paste in Finale, I think.
I was a copyist long before I ever actually started composing... and let me tell you, the pen(cil) and paper brigade does just as much short-cutting as any computer user. Repeat signs used ad infinitum (lazy things like instead of writing out a bar of a 16th note rhythm, they write out 1 beat and use repeat signs throughout the bar), rhythm notation on background figures instead of actual playable parts with notes (half the time it's just a chord symbol... no voicing indicated, no notes suggested, just a flat out slash chord), entire sections marked "col vln 1", "col strings", etc. (which means "this instrument plays the same part as the 1st violins" - and how does that differ from copy+paste?)

Oh, and don't even get me started on 1st/2nd/3rd endings. I hate repeat endings SOOOOOO much... flames, flames on the side of my face... breathing... heaving breaths. (extra points if you know where that's from...)

Link to post
Share on other sites

I write all sketches w/ paper and pencil and then enter a first draft in the computer. If, the first draft requires very little compositional edits then I do the notational corrections in the computer. More common is I do further composition edits by hand -- however one advantage of computer software is it can be easier to get a better idea of the large picture of the piece - nice legible score which you can blow up the size and then easily print pages out. Also, I find the playback very quick way to get an idea of what needs to be done structurally to the piece as i listen to it not for the timbre/blend or articulation but rather for the comprehension of the musical arguement, as if you were reading aloud a working essay for coherence and flow of sentences/paragraph structure. And if I get of a recording of a good reading w/ live musicians - fantastic experience.

I will say I curse Sib out MANY times - as SSC say the graphics stuff is such a pain in the butt!

Strangely, I do not write pieces with a rigid pre-planned form --- maybe a general idea. Reason? The majority of my musical ideas inform ME what to do with it rather than the other way around. I enjoy this approach very much. It is like exploring a new world.

Nevertheless, some of the posts here and Whitacre's article give me some great ideas to make this process more disciplined.

And YEAH for publicity -- now be sure to work hard y'all on your choral pieces. May catch Eric's ear.

Link to post
Share on other sites

LOOOOOL - Now you know the torture I went through inputting those mph markings ...... In Sibelius had to hit Z for a symbol, find the symbol or closest thing to it and then input text next and make sure ALL the symbols were aligned etc .... and if I switched from transposed and concert pitch score the symbols would be all over the place .... NIGHTMARE. The only consolation was I could cut and paste the text and symbols for other mph markings.

By the way are you going to get the clarinet piece played?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...