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Composing on Paper or Notation Program


Maarten Bauer
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Hi all,

After my secondary school I want to study either Classical Saxophone or Composition. 
When I am chatting with Composition professors, it seems to me that they prefer composing on paper and then they notate in a notation program.

I have tried it several times to compose on paper, but I find it really hard. Not because I don't know what the music will really sound like, but because I make so many notation mistakes. Actually, when writing music on paper, my scores look like Beethoven's (see picture) and I cannot even read in myself. . .

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor beethovens handwriting

My question:

''Do you compose your music first on paper and then in a notation program? Or do you directly notate in a program, such as Sibelius or MuseScore?
Why?''

I think the ''Why'' is the most important part of the question.

Please let me know your opinions, experiences etc.

 

Kind regards,

Maarten

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Depends where I am and how complicated the idea is.  If I'm at home, and it's fairly short and memorable, I get my laptop and put it straight into the composition software.  If I'm driving, walking the dog, or it's long/complicated enough that I'm worried I'll lose it before I can get it down, I sing or hum it, and record the audio using the "voice memo" feature on my phone, so I have a record to listen back to as I input it later.  If I'm sitting in the middle of a bunch of people and public singing is not an option (waiting for the train, waiting for a concert...), I'll write it out by hand.  Even if the all intervals and rhythms aren't perfect, it will be enough to remind me later so the idea doesn't get away.  

It's probably a good exercise to write things out by hand anyway...  If you're bad at it, you could put it on your schedule to write out melodies you already know by ear (but haven't seen the sheet music to) once a week.  If you get frustrated by your own messiness doing it by hand, you could use composition software, but turn the sound off on your computer until you think you have it right and then use the playback to check and grade yourself.  Keep the crappy results in a file somewhere so you can see how you improve, week to week.  

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I would guess that for your teachers, writing it out by hand gives them more room to write additional information as they go.  If they are thinking about the music theory, and not just what it sounds like, then it makes sense that they might want to write out chord progressions as the appropriate symbols first, and then decide on chord voicings and doublings and write out the actual notes.  They are moving from the general to the specific, and narrowing down to the details as they go.  Like doing a sudoku puzzle, where you write all the possible numbers very small in certain square and then eliminate them, one by one, until you have the actual answer.  I am personally pretty weak at theory still, so I tend to write by ear, and then go back after the fact and try to analyze what I have done, and why it felt like a good idea, and then look up some rules that might apply and decide if there is something else that might be even better that I haven't thought about. So I generally get it all in the composition software, then print a copy, and write in all the I, ii, V, etc. and little notes to myself about other possibilities, and then go back and edit in the composition software again.  

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I sketch themes and important harmonic progressions on paper when I'm away from my notation software (e.g. when stuff comes to me while at work) but 95% of the time, I compose directly into notation software.  If it weren't for notation software, there is no way I could compose music, at least of the same quality of what I do now.

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I typically sketch out my main ideas and the first page or so of a piece out on paper, but I write most of the development after that in notation software. I do tend to work out most of it in my head or on the piano before I write anything down though. Sometimes, I write everything out on paper though, and I would like to move towards more of that. The only reason being that working on the computer causes me to get easily distracted, while I can be a lot more focused if I'm just working with paper at the piano (I say as I procrastinate by writing this instead of the music I'm working on).

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I use paper only for avant-garde, aleatoric (experiential or process), or synthetic music. All other systems I generally keep ideas in my mind, then put them directly into my program and quickly harmonize them, normally in the form of one of my sketches.
As a teacher, though, not a composer, I'd say it's necessary. Teaching orchestration is really useful for having it on paper so it can easily be compared to another section of the orchestra. For theory, it can be helpful, but only when doing a direct comparison.

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Personally, I really recommend using pencil. I know some people prefer pen, but I it would never work for me considering how frequently I have to erase. My penmanship is far from the best so i can hardly offer advice, but as long as it's readable for you, I think it's fine. Obviously, that's less true if you are a teacher writing on paper for instruction. Here's an example of my musical handwriting.

 

mvt2p1.jpg

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I agree with these comments. If an idea is fully formed or delicate in that it will be ruined if I allow myself to be distracted by what-if's, I use pencil and paper. And eraser. That's very important, the eraser. If not, I go into a improv mode with my computer. And when it's more or less solidified, I use Sibelius. But pateceramics makes a good point that writing things out is essential practice. And it's fun!

 

 

sassy pants.jpg

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I've talked about this a few times around here, and am a huge advocate of pencil / paper. I don't like synthesizing and sequencing pieces as part of the composition process; I consider them an aspect of performance, which should come after the music is written.

I sketch, refine, morph, revise, destroy, mould and edit on paper. When the thing has solidified into something, only then do I put it into a notation program. 

When transcribing or re-orchestrating (most of my work lately) I'll work directly in the software - the playback is helpful in finding wrong notes and confirming things.

*shrug* 

rj-process.pdf

PDF
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For me it depends on the phase of the piece. If I'm in the idea generating phase, I'll work out things at the keyboard (or with a horn or just singing to myself) and jot them down on paper. Managing ideas in notation software is still really clumsy. If I'm working on developmental material in a piece, I'll generally work directly in Finale as I'm usually hearing the development strongly in my head.

Occasionally, my mind will come up with a whackadoodle idea that I'll see instead of hear. In that case, I'll throw it in Finale just to see what happens.

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So in my orchestration class, they must use pencil for the "explosion" process.  That is, take a hymn and set it for a saxophone quartet.  the process of using the hand forces them to think about the transpositions and it's making them faster about it.  After one has a grasp, the computer is fine.   Think about it, how many phone numbers do you have memorized? Probably only yours, significant other, and grandma's!

Still, either way is OKAY; I just want proficiency!

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  • 1 month later...

Ok. For the past year I have been composing hours of solo piano music so I can give a thorough, and I hope helpful, answer. 

I use Finale. Sibelius is better but I can not stand its GUI interface. I never touch a physical piano. In fact I cannot physically play any instrument. Instead I type my notes into Finale and form my piano tunes. Then I export the file as a midi, and import the midi into FL Studio for a VST virtual instrument such as the Kontakt grand piano. That is my broad workflow. Why don't I do it all in FL Studio? Because I taught myself theory from textbooks [I have no musical training or qualifications] so I need to see the notes. I also compose complex music with a lot of sus chords and slash chords and I need proper notation for that. 

Anyway, with Finale I can move mountains. What would take ages on paper with certain mistakes can be done quickly and correctly with Finale. For instance I want to transpose a whole bar, copy and paste a page, copy a bar and transpose it down a minor third, put in a trill, accent, mordent or other articulation? It is all doable easily. In fact it's almost too easy; you could use such digital tools as a crutch and I try to avoid that. So that is the great bit of Finale. 

But there is also what I call the "controversial" aspect: checking your chords with the Finale chord check tool. There is a lot wrong with this tool. One, it won't check arpeggios, two, it does not recognise a lot of 1st and 5th chords [e.g CG missing out the E]  and it doesn't recognise inversions of a chord. So it's not a magic bullet; you still have to think for yourself. Then there is in my opinion the most horrid part of Finale: it's note label system. Finale can label the notes A etc but the letters are so small as to be useless. Thus Finale is a nasty program for complete beginners trying to learn note names. Indeed, I would not recommend Finale for musical beginners at all. Finale also has an instrument set but it sounds awful. 

I do  not like Finale. But it's the lesser of evils for the way I compose; I hate Sibelius more and Musescore lacks features. Dorico I don't know much about. Finale also has horrible default layout settings where notes run into each other in really ugly ways. I wish that I could speak to the developers and smash their heads together. 

But I would not dream of writing scores by hand. That is masochism with a capital M. 

 

 

Edited by inkyscape
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On 21/02/2017 at 9:07 AM, fishyfry said:

Personally, I really recommend using pencil. I know some people prefer pen, but I it would never work for me considering how frequently I have to erase. My penmanship is far from the best so i can hardly offer advice, but as long as it's readable for you, I think it's fine. Obviously, that's less true if you are a teacher writing on paper for instruction. Here's an example of my musical handwriting.

 

mvt2p1.jpg

 

I have the deepest admiration for anyone who ever composes by hand. Because I can not. I have composed some small ensemble music [ about 6 instruments] in Finale and things get complicated quickly. Say you do a barber shop quartet style chord using the 6 instruments, and then you do a complex tie construction with some delay and composite chords, if you can do that on paper you are a genius because I can't. Then add a passing note construct too over many bars. I would on paper by then be totally lost, have thrown the paper against a wall, and be about to give up composing to take up bricklaying. 

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@Ken320 That's an interesting video! Thanks for sharing!
_________________________________________________

I promised to take pictures of my saxophone quartet, but it failed completely. 
I namely started composing for solo alto saxophone and during this process I decided to compose a saxophone quartet on it.
So I did not change the partiture, but just wrote all the instruments apart on paper.

Anyway, I keep my promise and I have attached the files.
Any feedback on my writing skills would be appreciated!

Maarten

S+T.JPG

A+T(2).JPG

B.JPG

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2 minutes ago, Monarcheon said:

I have ways to develop your writing shorthand, but not your actual writing, unfortunately.

 

Could you please explain ''writing shorthand'' to me? Can you tell me these ways and what means shorthand?

I have searched it in my Dutch dictionary, but I do not understand the Stenografie explanation either.

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28 minutes ago, inkyscape said:

My handwriting is so bad that it makes a doctor's scrawl legible. If I scored anything by hand it would be a cross between Klingon and Elvish. For the sake of my sanity and world sanity I vow to be a software composer, forever, and always. 

 

Long live the computer!

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