You are here

Improve Your Sequencer's Notation Facilities

Amiga Notes
Published April 1995

Paul Overaa advises on how to improve your sequencer's notation facilities, gives some more tracker tips, and rounds up some current Amiga news...

Like most people, I firmly believe that it doesn't pay to chop and change your sequencing software at the drop of a hat as new products arrive. In the long run it's far more important to acquire an in‑depth understanding of, a sympathy with, your favourite sequencer than it is to have, say, three or four different packages around, none of which you have any real familiarity with. All sequencers have their good and bad points but, as you gain experience in using a particular piece of software, it is inevitable that you'll discover tricks that allow you to do things that might initially have seemed impossible.

As far as one specific sequencer is concerned (Music‑X), I'm pretty certain that those of you who were already users of this package would have taken quite an interest in the reviews of the new Music‑X2/Notator‑X version that arrived last summer. Understandably, those of you who use other sequencers, such as Dr T's KCS, Software Technology's Sequencer One Plus and so on, might have taken slightly less interest. The reason I'm mentioning this is that it is just possible that some of you missed an important point about the Notator‑X score editor, namely that it is essentially a totally separate program which can be used with other sequencers!

X Marks The Spot

Notator‑X was in fact programmed by Desert software (a company who, you may remember, entered the Amiga's music scene a few years ago with a notation based sequencer called Overture). The important thing about Notator‑X is that it is capable of saving and loading files in one of three ways. Firstly, it has its own Notator‑X file format; secondly, it can save data as Music‑X performance files; and lastly, it supports MIDI file import and export. Needless to say it's the MIDI file connection which is the important one, because this means that Notator‑X can be used with any sequencer that provides MIDI file import and export facilities. For example, I use it with Dr T's KCS because the QuickScore notation module supplied with the KCS package does not allow score editing. In my opinion Notator‑X is rather easier to use than the perhaps more established Dr T's Copyist program, and the print quality obtainable, even on what might be called mediocre matrix printers, is surprisingly good.

If you have not yet seen Notator‑X in action, you should. Right from the moment it loads, the program makes a good impression because the display is excellent. Scores can be displayed in one of three sizes, with the smallest useful for viewing of the overall current page contents and the largest handy for detailed editing. Four clefs are available (treble, bass, alto and tenor), and you should, incidentally, set the required clefs before entering any note data. The program supports all common symbols, such as repeats, first, second and third time endings, dynamics, accidentals, beams, trills, pedals, octave, Segno and Coda marks, and so on, and in the main the score editing and printing facilities are straightforward to understand and use. There is a very flexible 'transcribe requester' used when loading a Music‑X or MIDI file to determine the destination tracks, clef, key signature, and quantise value. You can also define split points for splitting track data onto two staves and filter out specific MIDI channels from tracks containing multi‑channel data. During score editing, you move around the page using either the cursor keys or a large two‑dimensional scroll button located in the right‑hand corner of the palette window. It's easy and effective, and likewise there are two ways (Amiga keyboard or mouse) of entering notes into the score.

I'll be the first to agree that the Notator‑X arrangements aren't perfect. You cannot, for example, directly enter notes into Notator‑X using a MIDI keyboard (which would make entering both chords and fast, evenly spaced, note passages much easier). Another obvious potential difficulty is that when you are editing scores you usually want to be able to play the corresponding sequence whilst you're in the process of editing it. Having to explicitly copy data between your sequencer and Notator‑X in order to do this might seem an irritatingly slow way of doing things.

In actual fact, because the software is running on a multitasking Amiga, these things are considerably less of a problem than they would be on other machines. Notator‑X and Music‑X, or a sequencer like Dr T's KCS or Software Technology's Sequencer One Plus, for example, will run perfectly happily together, and in practice you can easily switch between screens very quickly, using either the left‑Amiga‑M left‑Amiga‑N key shortcuts or by pulling the Notator‑X screen down to reveal the sequencer display.

It's becoming increasingly clear that quite a few non‑Music‑X users have now purchased the full Music‑X2/Notator‑X package just in order to get the score editing facilities, and that fact does, of course, say quite a lot about Notator‑X in itself. Another thing that might also have boosted sales is some recent price cuts — the original price of the package was £149 but Silica (0181 309 1111) for example, are currently selling it for just £99.99!

Easy Life

Whilst talking about tracker programs in last month's column, I probably ought to have mentioned that there are a variety of tricks that can be used to make song module creation a little easier. One particular favourite shortcut of mine involves using sampled chords, rather than building up chords using individual notes. This is particularly effective for string‑synth style backing tracks, for example, and in many cases you may only need to sample two, three or four beats of a C major and a C minor chord in order to produce all major and minor chords required for the whole track.

Obviously, it helps to get the sample length and loop characteristics right, and usually a little sample editing is needed. Nevertheless the benefit is that you can built up the associated chord track by inserting single notes — if, for example, you want a C///|Am///|Dm///|G//// progression and you have chord samples that last for one bar then you only have to enter the four notes C, A, D, and G in conjunction with the respective C major and C minor sample voices in order to do it. Depending on how much sample space you're planning to use, there is, of course, nothing to stop you being more adventurous and throwing in more complex chord samples. Track creation would still use exactly the same 'one note per chord' approach.

OK £ it may be a little restrictive musically, as far as choice of chord inversions and so on is concerned, but this method has two distinct advantages: firstly, it keeps the number of samples required to a reasonable size (which saves both memory and disk space), and it also makes the creation of the chord track very quick and easy, because you only have to enter the root note of any chord you want to play.

You can, incidentally, do a similar thing with percussion patterns sampled from a drum machine. The interesting point here is that if you sample one bar of a drum part and use that sample in your tracker module, altering the note value used in the track will alter the tempo of the drum sample. The bad news with this sort of application is that it is not quite so straightforward and a bit of experimentation is normally required to match the tempo of your sampled drums to the tracker song's tempo settings. Nevertheless, it's something worth experimenting with because, coupled with the above‑mentioned sampled chords trick, you can, with practice, add full percussion and chord backing to an arrangement by using just two tracker tracks containing one or two notes per bar!

Amiga News In Brief

    As the sale of Commodore reaches its closing stages, it now appears to be common knowledge that the bid by Amiga International (ie. the Commodore UK management buy‑out bid) has been accepted by the creditors' committee. All that is needed now is the final seal of approval by the liquidator appointed by the Bahamian Court and this is expected to come quite quickly. One thing is certain now — the Amiga is going to survive and this is good news for all concerned. Doubtless there are many developers, retailers and end‑users breathing huge sighs of relief that this particular saga is now coming to an end!
    This new Intuition extension for AMOS has just been announced. The package features over 120 commands for utilising the Amiga's Intuition library facilities, and these give AMOS coders access to the same gadgets, windows, screens, menus and so on that C and assembler coders use. IntOS needs Kickstart 2 or greater, 1Mb of memory, and of course you also need to have AMOS or AMOS Professional. The price of the new IntOS offering is £29.95 and this includes manual and example programs. Further details from OTM Publications and Promotions on 01827 312302.