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For composers who notate their music, what is your workflow?   Since notation can be a painstaking process (especially for pieces involving multiple instruments), I'm trying to figure out the most efficient way to work (I compose in Sibelius). 

I've heard others talk about a variety of methods, whether it be starting with pencil/paper and then moving to Sibelius/Finale once the piece is more developed, or recording MIDI into a DAW and then importing it into a notation program, or working exclusively in a notation program.  What works for you?

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Yeah, all these are fair points and well observed. Not going back though to Sib 4, let's see what the future holds.

hi Bob,

Apologies, I thought you were happy with notation software playback.

I agree about the spark of course and the proof is all the fantastic music written by people who don't read music. The skills are needed though for orchestral music and regarding that spark, there is no point in having a great musical idea if you can't present it properly - that is where the skill and technique are needed to dress it up and make it presentable.


I feel your pain but still laughed out loud at your Sibelius mandolin. At least NP approaches the timbre of a mandolin.

This leads to another interesting point of discussion perhaps. Maybe what it is more important than range limitation is a decent facsimile of an instruments' colour throughout its range and therefore a more representative sound of how instruments' individual timbres relate to one another. The best samples allied with in depth programming and knowledgeable mixing can get a good way along the road to convincing playback in this regard, but notation software is woefully misleading in this respect. This is another reason why for me, notation playback is merely a note checker. I have no doubt things will improve over time, but until then, I'd advise all composers to take what they are hearing in their music to be nothing but a very crude approximation which is also to the detriment of your notes and way of thinking.

Bob Porter said:


Of course the aspiring young composer needs to learn their craft. They need to know what each instrument they write for is capable of. They need to know how they can fit together.They need to study scores and listen to live groups. They need to know theory as it applies to what they are trying to do. Of course. The composers of the pieces you mentioned learned all that stuff. But all that knowledge is not what led to good music (sure helps, though). It's that spark. If someone has it, they will write good music even if all they have is an out of tune piano, a guitar, a broken recorder, or GM. We can be taught the skills of composition, but that doesn't mean we will write good music. We will write acceptable music, but we need that spark.

You assume, incorrectly, that I am satisfied with playback. 

I am writing music for a play my daughter is directing. It will use Sib. 7.5 playback, played through a mid level sound system in a room that is absolute crap for sound. So I have to tweak playback not for a recording, nor live musicians, but for a particular room and equipment. I'd say that will require as much skill as any other composing.

You might be surprised what notation software is capable of. Surely not as good as a DAW, but still...:) 

"This is another reason why for me, notation playback is merely a note checker. I have no doubt things will improve over time, but until then, I'd advise all composers to take what they are hearing in their music to be nothing but a very crude approximation which is also to the detriment of your notes and way of thinking."

That's it in a nutshell Mike. Perhaps we should put a permanent header in all our scores as a warning that they are addressed to human players only and have done. I also agree that even if it sounds like shit, what is presented may be a good musical idea, and I would expect people in a forum like this to understand that… well, here we are again, talking about samples and quality of recordings, etc, things that are very secondary to the art of composition as such imo, and don’t come under its "compulsory" body of knowledge.


Anyway, I still strive for as good a sound as I can get with what I've got, and I'm still impressed (sometimes dazzled) with some mock ups from VSL for example, but apart from their very prohibitive prices, I always wonder how much time and programming effort it takes to come up with something like that. I really don’t have any idea, but I suspect a lot of time, which I personally, even if I had the complete set of VSL, could not devote just to come up with such a mock up however fantastic it may sound, cause again my priority would be to carry on with the next piece I want to compose.

Karl Marx used to call this sort of thing division of labour and I’d agree if it means composers should compose, conductors should conduct, performers should perform, and sound engineers, programmers and all these other specialists should have their appropriate placements in the music industry. One man cannot do everything alone.


Of course composers can also be very good conductors or performers sometimes but that is as far as it goes and it is not a pre-requisite anyway. As for the other professions that I mentioned, they are with us really only since the advent of midi, in the sense that they have assumed the role of a composer also, and I still remember the warnings of academics only 30 years ago, that in the next "season" coming, music is for the first time in history going to be written by non-musicians.

Well, as in every other aspect of post-modernity, we have to survive in the new dark ages that are upon us, but if we have learnt the lesson of history, we must not believe again its post-modern monks (they don’t know really any Latin, they are just making it up, exploiting again the  naivety of the masses).

In both cases no Dave. One of my best romantic composers is Hector Berlioz who could only play (very badly) guitar.

On the other hand, some of the composers I really admire and consider my mentors were just folk musicians without any "technical" knowledge (well, that should be justified, cause I believe that a lot of knowledge comes from intuition and they certainly had a lot of that), but had other main professions in their lifes.

So, what I wrote does not apply to you. As for any non acoustic instrument, i really dont have any serious objection. My only difficulty is that I cannot take it with me on the beach to impress the girls, and cannot do anything with it if the batteries go flat and there is a a power failure at the same timε.


Here is one of my musical mentors, Markos Vamvakaris (1905-1972), a butcher by profession, left of the picture standing. He has been called later by scholars the patriarch of rebetiko music.

song: Your Jealows Eyes (recording of 1936, I believe)

Currently with MuseScore it's mostly by mouse input and a ton of keyboard shortcuts. I do have my trusty old Yamaha DGX-200 which offers a shortcut (via MIDI IN) for certain big chords for example. But usually the MIDI link is not connected. I play and turn around in my chair to input the notes. 

I used to work with a DAW but I can't hear sounds higher than 10 Hz (it has been like that since childhood) so I feel like I cannot get my full potential there. So concentrating working on a notation program and learn to write down what I hear inside my head is the way to go. And it's a good plan B in case I lose my sense of hearing completely one day.

I have been using Presonus' Notion now for about 2 years...and I use it everyday...just like a job.
I do a lot of studying, trying out ideas, etc. as well as actually composing a piece. Notion fits my needs as a composer very well. VERY easy to learn and use and output can be extremely good

I've tried both Sibelius and Cuebase. Too much work. I am able to use three orchestral libraries (Notion's native instruments, VSL SE, and Miroslav). All respond predictably with regard to dynamics and articulations.

Notion is a bargain and you won't spend 40 hr. trying to get a grip on it.


I always start out with pencil and manuscript paper and sketch and endlessly revise until the piece I'm working on starts to gain form before I even think of notating it with a program. I use Finale BTW.

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