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Hello Composers!

My daughter, Kay (14), is interested in composing and working with software that produces instrumental sounds. She has composed several pieces for the school ensemble she plays with. She is self-taught with regard to composition although her music teacher gives her (a little bit) of feedback. She has also found internet resources.

My job is to figure out the computer and software. Right now she only has a very old laptop (it's Windows XP...). It is time to buy her a laptop and, given her interest in composition, I wanted to get advice on what is best for running a DAW and whatever other software she will need.

Where do I find information about different DAWs and what they do? How do we choose one? This may also influence what sort of laptop we get for her. Is it better to get an iOS or Windows operating system?

She has learned to write music notation by hand. Is there a DAW that can read music notation?

She thinks that she should write music notation in a software program, then feed it to the DAW, then use the DAW to work on expression by adjusting speed and volume locally to each instrument. Then she would get a sound file from playing the DAW. Does this make sense? Or is it better for some reason to use the DAW directly without first writing in music notation? She wants to have a score at the end. If she uses the DAW directly will she then write the score herself or can the DAW help her write the score for what’s been entered into it?

So here’s my questions to you if you don't mind:

  1. What DAW software(s) should she use? (I don't mind spending some money if that means lasting longer as she improves her skills - she's a fast learner!)
  2. Should we get an Apple or MS Windows operating system?
  3. Internet resources on how to make use of different instruments to create the sounds you want?
  4. What should I be asking you?

Her style is classical though very unique and in a way very modern sounding. She has so far used string instruments (violins and cellos), piano, trumpet, trombone, some kind of flute, and percussion. She is essentially isolated as a composer but not as a performer, and the pieces she came up with so far are appreciated within her circle of friends, school and family.

Thanks for your time and trouble!

Shine

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Depending on the sample library, virtual instruments will have a number of different parameters you can control underneath the notes themselves. There's a 0-127 gradient, so a great deal more than pppp-ffff (I personally would avoid writing to such a fine degree of dynamic range - pppp-ffff isn't actually louder or softer than p-f). This information can be input from a keyboard or midi controller during playing, or by hand:
That's 7 bars of a C; the green line is a hand-drawn set of information that can be linked to whatever quality you wish in the sample. In this case it could be vibrato, volume, expression etc. That's the basic key to making virtual instruments realistic. Obviously, or perhaps not, real and experienced musicians don't need to be told the dynamic level and expression of each note. Tell them to crescendo through four bars from mp to f and they'll do it. It's only in midi you have to simulate human expressiveness like this.

Logic Pro can certainly produce a score. It's not even a case of producing it afterwards; it's simply another way of interpreting the information you input, and it's done automatically (though some work is needed to turn it into legible score). You can compose within the score editor if Kay's more used to that, then just switch to a different view that allows you to edit the midi information as seen above. It's very flexible and very powerful. There's very few things I've come across that a dedicated scoring program can do but Logic can't.

Sinead Morrison said:

One more thing. Kay has used notation software at school and one problem is that there is a finite number of volume intensity settings. Ranging from pppp, to ffff or something like that. Something in the order of 10 or 20 volume intervals. So that it is difficult to get decent expression from a line of music. She'd need many more intervals and also a more intuitive way of entering the intensity of each note. Even worse is varying the speed from note to note. It's not impossible but completely non-intuitive to mark it from note to note.

Here's how she dreams of doing it:  She'd like to be able to play a line of music on a keyboard and get the volume of each note and speed of each note (time lapse from one note to the next) registered, and she thinks that's what a DAW can do. She thinks that what she plays on the keyboard can be "recorded" by the DAW, but not as just as a sound file but as "data" that she can then readjust with knobs of some kind on the screen. Is that right?

Dave, What you describe sounds exactly like what Kay needs. Of special interest to her are the following points:

This information [on each note's volume] can be input from a keyboard or midi controller during playing, or by hand.

Fantastic!

Logic Pro can certainly produce a score. It's not even a case of producing it afterwards; it's simply another way of interpreting the information you input, and it's done automatically (though some work is needed to turn it into legible score). You can compose within the score editor if Kay's more used to that, then just switch to a different view that allows you to edit the midi information as seen above. 

Excellent!!!

I think this is what we need. Kay is going to research Logic Pro online.

Thank you for your generosity. This must have taken some time from you. It was very useful to us.

Bob M.,

I thank you also for your generosity. I think what Dave suggests (a DAW that works together with a score) is the best choice for Kay's purposes. But thank you very much for your thoughts also.

Youre very welcome Sinead--my only concern is that in my experience, with an old version of Digital Performer, the written score that was displayed was a very much quantised or corrected version of what you were actually hearing, making everything snap to a grid, which didnt always match what the file really sounded like --you got to hear your file, but see their score which didnt play back..Its equivalent to what SIbelius has with having Live Playback off or on.

This may have changed since I last used it, (and Id welcome knowing this!:) and if so, then it does sound like a good solution--ie being able to hear the score alone, and the sound file alone and a/b them if necessary.

Thanks and best of luck with this! Bob https://soundcloud.com/bob-morabito

Sinead Morrison said:

Bob M.,

I thank you also for your generosity. I think what Dave suggests (a DAW that works together with a score) is the best choice for Kay's purposes. But thank you very much for your thoughts also.

Shine,
The gentlemen have this covered so I will leave it to them and back out...good luck and may I say your daughter is in good hands

If it's helpful, here's an example of a quartet score written in Logic, with midi instruments, then recorded by musicians:



That's small-scale but I've just done the same thing for orchestra, and the same concept applies. If Kay is going to composing for school they'll probably be smaller ensembles in any case.

In terms of what can be achieved in Logic with good samples, this - whilst I'm not the master of midi - is a fair example:



Sinead Morrison said:

Dave, What you describe sounds exactly like what Kay needs. Of special interest to her are the following points:

This information [on each note's volume] can be input from a keyboard or midi controller during playing, or by hand.

Fantastic!

Logic Pro can certainly produce a score. It's not even a case of producing it afterwards; it's simply another way of interpreting the information you input, and it's done automatically (though some work is needed to turn it into legible score). You can compose within the score editor if Kay's more used to that, then just switch to a different view that allows you to edit the midi information as seen above. 

Excellent!!!

I think this is what we need. Kay is going to research Logic Pro online.

Thank you for your generosity. This must have taken some time from you. It was very useful to us.

@Bob, I see. Thank you very much for that. Would that problem be solved by working on the score first, or at least keep correcting it iteratively?

@Dave, I will watch these with Kay tonight!  Thank you SO MUCH!!!  So useful!

@Mike, I think you are right. Thanks for checking that all is well :) 

@Bob, I see. Thank you very much for that. Would that problem be solved by working on the score first, or at least keep correcting it iteratively?

Hi SInead--that sounds logical, but again Im not familiar with how Logic, etc does things nowadays. In the past DP's Quickscribe wasnt able to be scored into, and was only a very much screen quantised version of your midi file.

You werent able to hear it, or how different it was from your file.

So I ended up teaching myself to compose in a notation program, so that I didnt have to export midi from DP, and try to then notate it in the notation program. It never came out quite right, but composing in the notation program assured me the score completely and most accurately reflected my composition.

I imagine its possible that things may have changed since, and Id welcome all knowledge on the subject, though I doubt Id stop doing it the way I do it--most then take the score from the notation program, and either export it as a Midi file or XML and import into a DAW to tweak the performance if desired. To me this seems the very best way of doing things, at least until hopefully Dorico will one day be merged with Cubase to have the best of both worlds.

Again good luck with this and  whatever way works best for you is most definitely the way to go:)

Thanks Bob https://soundcloud.com/bob-morabito

PS Id be very much surprised if Logic or any DAW score editor can match what a dedicated notation program can do--Finale, Sibelius, etc--while tweaking a performance is definitely much easier in a DAW, than a notation program. I guess it depends where ones priorities lie :)

Hi Sinead,

I think, regarding the priority, you can have it both ways. Use DAW to get the sound first, then export the score and MusicXML to a notation software to make score readable and professional looking, similar to when you work on a document by word processor then work on the layout for the presentation purpose. I personally have used Cakewalk on Windows and Logic Pro on Mac. Both are very capable of getting input by traditional notation using mouse click note by note or by midi keyboard. You can finely adjust dynamics and other parameters of each notes. You can choose sounds from many virtual instruments available, and mix them to adjust loudness, panning, and other parameters good enough for a production album.

I found that through DAW, it expanded my knowledge and skills as composer because it gave so much possibility to hear whatever you want to try. Then at the last step once you get the notations and sounds, you export the score as MusicXML to a dedicated notation software. I use Finale which is very capable because you can adjust almost any visual objects on the score to make it looks great and easy for performers to follow. If you don't use a music notation software, it is almost sure that score produced by DAW like Logic will have some unpleasant or confusing visual elements.

So would I! Those programs are the standard for a reason, but at least a good part of that reason is industry/professional application. They're more streamlined and dedicated to the purpose of handling huge projects. It's not that Logic's scorer can't do most of it, it just will require more messing around.

Bob Morabito said:

PS Id be very much surprised if Logic or any DAW score editor can match what a dedicated notation program can do--Finale, Sibelius, etc--while tweaking a performance is definitely much easier in a DAW, than a notation program. I guess it depends where ones priorities lie :)

It's like most software really; you can produce a confusing score in Sibelius just as you can produce a clear, accurate one in Logic. You see scores posted here produced in dedicated programs, and they have mistakes; all the software can do is work with your knowledge.

Chitpong Kittinaradorn said:

 If you don't use a music notation software, it is almost sure that score produced by DAW like Logic will have some unpleasant or confusing visual elements.

Bob, Chitpong, and Dave, We took it all in and ‘are processing the data…’

I am a bit afraid of stretching your time too much at this point. Don’t feel bad if you need to wave us ‘bye bye’ at this point. We got great information from you already that helped us get moving with our own research last night, so THANK YOU!!!

We have some difficulties because we’ve never seen any of these DAWs in person, and their online descriptions assume we know the terminology. I can’t quite figure out what a midi even is. I think we will only understand what is being talked about once we use it.

I’m looking for something that does what Logic Pro does but is not Mac based. Having Windows seems best because Kay will be needing MS Office in highschool. I know that a Mac can run Word and Excel and that it can even run Windows, but Dave said that Logic Pro doesn’t operate well in the newer Macs, and if I buy an older, refurbished Mac, then who knows whether it will run Windows. The learning curve on those hardware aspects are a bit intimidating.

So we were looking for a DAW that would be Windows based, but would do what Logic Pro does in terms of working with a score as either the input or its output. It looks like Studio One works together with Notion (both are sold by Presonus). They cost $100 and $150, respectively, which seems okay, though I don’t know how much we will need to add for sound libraries. (The more advanced Studio One costs $400).

Kay had used Notion at school before, where everyone said its orchestral sounds (playing the score) are the best, even compared against Sibelius. So we’re leaning in the Presonus direction right now.

Gotta get the kid a summer job! 

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