Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

Said the DAW to the Notation Software.
Isn’t it interesting that anyone with a computer can compose music. They can also produce a movie. Communicate with anyone ( who also has a computer) anywhere in the world. My wife just got the new iPad Pro on which to do art work. She can draw or paint in most any medium with professional results. She’s a professional, so she’s hard to please in that respect. The arts used to be the perveance of a select few with the right skillset. Not any more.
But, I digress. There is no question that the output of a DAW will be better than that of notation software. The two have opposite goals. Notation is not a play back system. A DAW is not meant to produce a score. Both can (with great difficulty) do the other’s job. But, so far, the twain have not meant (to totally corrupt a phrase).
I’d like to start the ball rolling on this topic by dealing with two statements that have been made that I think need to be addressed.
1. Notation playback is flat, dull, and lifeless. I think that’s the gist of it, anyway. This is all too often true. Let’s look at why that is. I use Sibelius, so I can’t talk for Finale. Up through version six, the sound library for Sibelius was about 1.2 GBs. Not much. As much as I liked Sibelius, some projects languished for lack of excitement. When version 7 came out. A whole new sound library came out that was some 36 GB’s. Still low, but enough to allow for many more articulations and effects. Including mic placement for percussion, though oddly, not other instruments. Also, it is possible to place instruments upstage or downstage, though not in-between. And the pan control, of course. It is also possible to control the velocity of each note of each instrument. Minutely define the length of a hold and the gap afterward. The same goes for rit and accel. Adjust from 0 to 100% four different reverbs. Though not more than one per piece. For string sections, it is possible to control normal and legato attack and release (four controls). I believe all the standard string articulations are possible. I don’t use them, so I don’t know for sure. I have a hard-enough time just getting my string players to show up. All too often, users load default instruments and go for it. No wonder things sound dull. For example, let’s take default trumpet. What we really want in most cases is vibrato, or legato vibrato. Neither load as default trumpet. Most instruments have a similar story. Why aren’t all these things used more? I suspect that there are two reasons. First, I think many users don’t know they are there. Second, even if they do know, all they really want to do is get the notes down.
2. Notation play back gives novice composers a false sense of how instruments fit together. As a result, they will write what sounds good in the software and not at all what might really sound good. That thinking seems to be baloney to me. The only reason recorded sounds are included in notation software is so that the composer can get an idea of how their music sounds. What occurs to me also, is that if a beginner were to compose at the piano, they would have no sense at all how instruments fit together. Though they would see how notes fit together. What a novel idea. At least if a novice uses notation, they have to learn ….. notation. If they learn to use a DAW, they don’t need to know anything about music. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.
More to come, I’m sure. What’s more important is learning to use whatever your weapon of choice is to its fullest.
I once belonged to a song writers’ forum. Monthly, people submitted songs they had written and recorded for a small prize. One time some guy submitted a growly country-rock song he’d made on a 4 track cassette deck (no Dolby) and a $40 dollar mic. It was awesome, sounded totally professional, and easily won that month over the much more polished offerings. He knew his equipment and what he could do with it.

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I'm writing this on an iPad Pro but..........I digress :)

Im hoping that my reply will be applicable to this topic, and others that are related.

IMHO there  SHOULDNT be such as large a gap as many think in the audible results between using a Notation program with a decent sound library, or using a DAW (possibly with some form of notation) exclusively--except for the HUGE bonus of having a correct professional score for the work to be performed from the notation program.

Of course this entails learning how to use each of these correctly, depending on what your end result is--but again in my opinion you will get a much better score with decent playback from a notation program using a good sound library, compared with better than good playback with a not so decent score (again depending on the complexity of the score) from your DAW. Choose the right tool for your intended result.

The Sound library that comes with Sibelius is for my money pretty much a bloated poor sounding disappointment  ( I also feel Sib 8 is a huge disappointment also with its bugs, questionable added features breaking OTHER stuff,  lack of sticking to its promised update schedule, high cost,its subscription plan, AVID, and poor Sib staff developers and programmers etc), though the earlier versions of Sib are really good --6.2, 7.1.3, 7.5.1. Again just my opinions but also those of many others.

If you actually have a choice and are looking for a notation program I would avoid Sib and look into Dorico, Finale, Notion, Musecore, Lilypond etc. I am writing about Sib as its the one Im most familiar with.






The secret to using a good sound library with Sib is having good soundset, which is, according to Sib: "A sound set is an XML file that tells Sibelius how to use a given MIDI device or virtual instrument (for example, Native Instruments Kontakt, or East West Play)".

The best provider of soundsets for Sib is : The SoundSet Project which defines a soundset as: "A sound set is a map of sample library or hardware MIDI device that instructs Sibelius where to find the sounds that library or device contains and how to access them. This includes keyswitches, MIDI CC's, program/bank changes, drum sound mapping, etc.. This additional programming is designed to be used with sample libraries or devices you already own."

(You can also use a manual sound set in Sibelius--ie one that you construct yourself. but I would caution greatly against doing so)

Sibelius also has something called a Playback dictionary-- which along with a soundset and decent sound library all work together to get the very best results from your notation program. This is taken from a few sources:

"just about anything you type into Sibelius as a text object…can affect the playback of your score.…This is an incredible feature that allows you to create a score…as if you would if you were writing it out on paper…while being able to hear everything play back appropriately"

"Sibelius reads, understands and plays back all standard markings – including trills, repeats, cresc./dim. hairpins, 8vas, glissandos, percussion and drum sets, guitar tab, and even quarter-tones.

Sibelius understands musical words and phrases such as: rit., pizz., Allegro, mute, swing, and change to Piccolo. Musical terms in various languages are already defined in a built-in dictionary – and you can add new words to it, too."

You can change the level of dynamic markings that are there or even interpolate others to get more control of your dynamics--I use for example a + sign to give me more control of the dynamics used: eg, mf+, f, f+..etc

Articulations will only be heard if your Sound library contains samples for it--for example sampled overpressure on solo strings (here a cello) can be found but wont more than likely be found in a more basic sound library.

In view of keeping this short, I'll end with this--I have mixed thoughts about (over)tweaking playback from a notation program in a DAW, as I feel the more accurately the playback reflects the score to me is the desired goal, but of course others may disagree with this. Doing things to an mp3 for example that are NOT reflected in the score makes no sense to me. Better to include them as best as possible in the score itself.

Finally though if your end goal is to make the best sounding piece you can with little or no regard to producing a score, than by all means go strictly DAW, again with a decent library.

And if playback ISNT important to you, but the best notation you can get is, then simply use a notation program with the somewhat adequate sound library provided, or none at all.

Thanks Bob

I agree that the sounds included are just a note checker and in fact have said so elswehere. That does not mean to say that ears don't get used to the way a thing sounds, especially if one has no access to real performance. It'd be a fine and determined set of ears that were not tarnished and influenced by the playback after a few years. I once did an arrangement for a ford commercial of a well known classical piece. The. Demo was on samples and once approved went live. The track that went on air was the sampled version because the clients preffered that sound to the live one because they had gotten used to it over a few weeks. The ability to mislead ones' ears is there and very real to a less than permanently vigilant composer.
Regarding articulation, dynamics and mixing ( and even phrasing, bowing etc.) what can one say, try programming a few bars from Daphnis and Chloe. Use all the power of mixing and velocity etc. you can muster in your notation software, weep for Ravel and then tell me why you are defending such playback. Actually Bob I'd find that a useful exercise and it might add weight to your argument, so why not give it a try and post the results here.
As a training resource and a necessary pro tool, of course NS ( notation software) is brilliant. The comparison with the piano is specious- a piano has no ambition to sound orchestral and a compser cannot be fooled into thinking he is playing a flute.

You have said in another thread that "For those who live and breath notation, a Daw is a foreign language" Well that is baloney Bob unless I am the exception to the rule, but I'm doubting that.
A DAW is a foreign language to those saying they can't use one. I prefer to believe that in most cases someone who says they can't actually mean they can't be bothered.
Inputting notes and markings in notation apps can never be solely responsible for producing a reasonably accurate performance of an instrument. The best score is still an abbreviation of what we should expect a performance to produce. An experienced DAW user however has many more variables to play with when creating a realistic performance.

Spot on! That's me alright... I consider it not a musicians job. I have to practise, 5-6 different instruments, write music, edit it (minimally), review, read and learn more about music, earn a living as a musician, go holidays, and devil knows how many other things I've got to do (those are all things under "musicians" job description... so yes, I can't be bothered, as I said elsewhere, there's more to life than that...

MuseScore is completely free, why can't Sibelius be free also (what the hell more does it offer anyway-no much imo), so that we can give the same amount of money, to Avid again, let it be, if we see it to try honestly to integrate a DAW with best quality samples into Sibelius?

 And making it really-really musician friendly while they are at it. I mean friendly for musicians, not for computer buffs, cause I know a hell of a lot of very fine musicians/Avid potential customers who still can't be bothered with their score writer, cause they think like me that there's more to music and life than plink-plonking on a qwerty keyboard.

Very recently I posted the example with the Vivaldi mandolin concerto, that was funny indeed, do these people know what a mandolin is? Or even a tin whistle? I very much doubt it. And they have the audacity to ask money for their lack of knowledge on musical matters which they have eventually turned into a virtue!

It's a fools game, as long as we as customers don't give them the thumbs down and we don't hurt them where it really hurts (in the pocket), they are going to continue treating as fools, and I'm not going to play their game and buy a DAW again to "enhance my score writer" and start learning again about how and why they do things the way they do them. The DAW should be there in the first place for the money I originally forked out to them.

I posted the Vivaldi example on face book (the solo mandolin part and ordinary people including many musicians loved it and had good fun listening to that ridiculous rendering), but one chap from Avid asked me what I was trying to prove, since I know that there is not a mandolin sample in Sibelius Library, why was I writing a part for mandolin. Why indeed(?). He could not even realize my argument that the guitar sample could not go beyond the 7th fret of a mandolin. (That is how knowledgeable they are in general). I told him just that I was expecting Sibelius to have something better for the money I paid them, and if it’s impossible to score the Vivaldi mandolin concerto in their bloody score writer, then what the hell can I do with it? I told him that their commercial success had started and was still depended very much on people like me, performers, composers, educationalists, etc, I called AVID unethical merchants and that was that. He shut up and disappeared again. Do I have to fork more money out for a DAW and sound libraries just because AVID did not provide Sibelius with samples for something as universal as a mandolin?


It is a slave-master relationship and unless I am always the master and the machine (and the company selling it) always the slave, and because I've got more serious things to do of my own with music and life in general, yes, you are very correct Ray, I just can't be bothered anymore. (Don’t get me wrong please, I know these things don’t work the way I expect them in a capitalist world), but I admire people like you with knowledge and patience to do all these things, I can't be bothered with!

Ray said:

A DAW is a foreign language to those saying they can't use one. I prefer to believe that in most cases someone who says they can't actually mean they can't be bothered.

Excellent, everyone. Thanks for the discussion.

Yes, a DAW is a foreign language to me. So is PhotoShop, Excel, and a host of others. But of course, a foreign language can be learned. That is not the question here. I have pointed out several things Sibelius can do to make playback better. I never said that it would begin to match a DAW.

In the end, both are not real performances. We all have our favorite recordings of real orchestras that we listen to. And therein lies the problem. There are plenty of recordings of real orchestras that are crap. Poor performance, poor recording, poor everything. Yet there they are. 

Mike, that the client preferred the sampled version does not surprise me. In the initial examples you posted in your contest thread, your version is much clearer and broader sound spectrum-wise. Perhaps too perfect! I think the problem lies not in lowering our hearing abilities to accept sampled sounds, but in listening almost exclusively to recordings and much less to live music. Yes, conductors and musicians get to listen to live music often. They are a minority. There is nothing like playing in a live group. Nothing else comes close. You are inside music as it happens. 

Again, I'm not defending notation play-back. Only that it is not the bane of play-back that you profess. There is good and bad that comes from most everything.

I don't think it's much to do with capitalism, Socrates. No-one is obliged to make an excellent product that combines a great DAW with great notation software. You're not "playing their game" by buying a DAW any more than I'm playing Fender's game by buying a telecaster and then buying an amp; I may as well lambast them for not adding extra frets.

It sounds like you've got some bad associations and experiences with the whole thing, but I can assure you it doesn't have to be like that . . . however, as for being busy and not being bothered, I get that. :)

I certainly cannot argue with the premise that there is nothing quite live music Bob. I believe that historically the whole of humanity lost that battle since the discovery of the gramophone or even slightly earlier with the phonograph.

I often say that once I write the music down my job is finished as a composer, but still I like to listen to it. Please tell me your opinion on this, because I often don’t know the correct answer.

3-4 years ago I wrote a song (in Greek) and I involved all the instrumentation that I had in mind, i.e. voice, guitar, bouzouki, violin, viola, cello. I finished the song and published a video of the score in my site which you can view/listen in the 1st example done with Sibelius 6 sounds and without any fuss, just scoring and recording an mp3 of it.


One very early morning the same summer at about two o' clock a friend of mine who cannot read music but he is a fantastic bouzouki player and quite good singer came to my house half-drunk in an isolated hillside in Crete, woke me up and said he wanted to record this song strait away because he liked it and he had no other free time to do it (which was true). I said that we don’t have available any of the bowed string players and he said, so what, aren't we two enough for a song? So we recorded it straight away, it took him about quarter of an hour to learn the bouzouki part listening to Sibelius and add his own embellishments and come up with his own version. the whole process took about half an hour. Next day he published the video in the you tube, it is just him on bouzouki and voice and me on guitar. see 2nd video.


Do you think that the live recording misses much out of my composition although the bowed strings are absent? I am into minds about it, but I certainly like the live recording much more, although all my music ideas are not there.

example 1

example 2

If I have made folk aware that the illusion of NS is misleading then all well and good. I have already said that DAW renditions are not perfect either, but they are the lesser of two evils.
The Britten example was only a quick job and I paid no real heed to the original recording. I could have got a bit closer to the recording, but frankly life is too short and so it seems unfair and a little mean spirited to point out deficiencies as such , because there are real educational benefits for those with the right inclination to hear their music programmed with good samples by somebody with real life experience.
I know that NS playback is an audible nightmare and the shock of listening to a piece rendered profciently will be a paradigm shift for the winner simply because he ( or even she) will not have guessed how good, bad or indifferent their work really is. That is the raison d'etre of the competition, one that I hope gives the winner pause for thought and perhaps a new perspective.
Your rendition will certainly be better. No argument there. But paradigm shift.....

Also, if you have used Sibelius 7, then you already know about all the ways you can tweak playback. Yes? If you only know 6 or lower, that's totally different.

I have Sib.8 and yes I know about the tweaking. But Bob, who else does and uses it convincingly? Folks here either don't know how to do it or don't have the time, or both. That is fine by me and perfectly understandable, as they are not pros. and have busy lives. The competition is motivated by these circumstances. I have apologised if I caused any offence with my views on NS playback and you are doubtless keeping up to speed with my thread, but I cannot in all good conscience retract said comments until somebody proves otherwise. I am perfectly willing to be gob-smacked and almost hope to be as it'd make some realise that they could get a more musical result with NS playback.

Perhaps you or someone should produce some tutorials on how things can be improved within NS playback to help people realise their musical intent in a more convincing way. Until then, folks will not realise  the musical potential of their work and that is painful to me, especially as some here have a real  talent.

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