Computerizing Your Musical Staff

By: Nick Tarlson

It’s Thursday afternoon, and the choir rehearses tonight. Your choir director is working on a piece for Sunday. Wouldn’t it be great if the director could:

*Quickly arrange numerous voices – and even instruments?

*Play back the composition immediately?

*Print it in professional form before tonight’s rehearsal?

Good News: It’s possible, and you can be the one to drop the good news. All your choir director needs is scoring software for your church’s personal computer. Cost: Less than $100 for starter software.


Customized scoring can be useful with a choir whose size and balance of voices does not match printed music. Reasons: You can:

*Exchange or combine voices.

*Simplify or enhance scores.

*Change dynamics and meter.

*Transpose to another key.

Worth considering: Scoring software is especially useful for congregational singing. Reasons: The software lets you:

*Change lyrics to modernize, eliminate, or add verses.

*Easily produce customized hymnals and service books.

*Incorporate musical themes in religious education materials.

Caution: All of this assumes the music is in the public domain. Important: If the music is copyrighted, be sure to obtain permission from whoever holds the copyright and give credit on your copies.


Arranging has been done by hand for centuries, but there are many advantages to producing printed music through a computer.


*Ease of reading by performers and consistency of notation, leading to fewer mistakes.

*The ability to reprint high-quality copies at any time, eliminating those barely legible tenth-generation photocopies.

*The ability to modify a section of your score without having to recopy the entire manuscript.

*Quick and easy key-signature and clef changes minus the burdensome task of manual recopying.


Scoring software is popular because it is user friendly. Reason: Software developers have learned from easy-to-use software, such as Macintosh programs. Result: You can now drop a note into a position on a music staff as easily as touching pen to paper.

Worth considering: Advances in MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) make it increasingly easier to play your music directly onto the score from a keyboard. Advice: MIDI significantly increases the cost of a system, but it makes it more useful to a keyboard-oriented musician.


Your choice of a software package will depend on factors such as:

*Hardware. If you already have a computer, you will probably be able to find software that runs on it. The two main alternatives are:

*Apple’s Macintosh. Mac packages capitalize on that computer’s consistent, user-friendly interface and excellent graphics.

*IBM computers (or compatibles.) These systems that run on MS-DOS are generally a little less expensive, but may be harder to use.

In addition: Other systems particularly suited to music include:

*The Atari ST, which includes built-in MIDI and a Macintosh-like user interface.

*The Commodore Amiga, also with an interface similar to a Mac.

*Ease of use. Whoever tries out a package should consider carefully the method of entering music the input device and interface.

Options: The three principle input devices are:

*A computer keyboard.

*A mouse. Also: Other mouse-like tactile input devices, such as roller-balls and touch-screens.

*A MIDI synthesizer keyboard.

Note: Mouse-based systems are the closest to hand-written scoring.

Methods: You can drop notes into a score, click keys on a graphic piano keyboard, or click onto notes in a benchmark staff on the screen.

Suggestion: Since music directors will spend most of their time entering music, they should try out the input system with the kind of music they use, to see how comfortable they are working with it. Reason: They will quickly learn the limitations of the system, and get valuable, hands-on experience.


*Low-end programs.

*Macintosh: Two of the least expensive Mac packages-Great Wave Software’s Concertware + MIDI ($189.95) and Electronic Arts’s Deluxe Music Construction Set($99.95) – are excellent values in easy-to-use, entry level systems.

*IBM: Song Wright V from Optronics Technology provides basic scoring capabilities for $99.00. Entry is performed on the keyboard or with their optional MIDI interface. Output can be on a variety of dot-matrix or laser printers.

Midrange programs: One of the best-established packages is Jim Miller’s Personal Composer System ($345.00). The programmers solicited participation from music ministers and have bundled a library of public-domain hymns-Inspiration-with the system at no cost to those who request it.

Also: Look into Music Printer Plus 4.0 ($595), which has a wide range of features. Advantage: This product does not require advanced graphics capabilities, as some of the other products do.

Upper-end programs. Two companies have emerged as leaders in the medium to high-end market, and they offer families of products.

*Coda Software recently released its Macintosh product, Finale, in an IBM version called Finale Windows. At $749, these products provide nearly every feature possible. Note: Early problems with the use-ability of this program have been improved through upgrades.

*Passport System just released the third revision of its high-end IBM product, Score ($995). It has also adapted its popular Macintosh product, Encore 2.1 ($595), to operate on IBM-compatibles.


Now is a good time to step into the world of computer scoring. Reasons:

*Although advanced music processing requires more than a basic computer configuration, scoring can begin on your bare-bones system. Note: Most computers include an internal speaker, which is needed for scoring software.

*Competition and technology have brought hardware prices to all-time low levels.

*The price of scoring software has decreased-and features have increased-as a result of the same competitive forces. Example: Several midrange packages have cut prices 40 to 60 percent this year. Plus: Several packages in this range recently introduced revisions that incorporate all but the most sophisticated features.

*Vendors at all levels are introducing new packages intended to compete at different price points.

Result: Nearly anyone can justify buying a starter scoring-software system at less than a hundred dollars, and the upper-end systems have fantastic capabilities your musicians will soon grow to love.


A local computer-software dealer can demonstrate a package’s capabilities efficiently-and answer your questions after you take the product home and get stuck! Note: If your local dealer doesn’t stock a
particular package, contact the vendor directly for a distributor.