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Su Terry: BLOG

Why I Don't Use a Music Notation Program

Posted on December 3, 2014 with 0 comments
Why I don't use a music notation program

First off, I spend quite enough time in front of a computer as it is. E mail is most people's preferred mode of communication these days, not to mention all the superfluous communiques that have to be sifted through. I often write my articles and books at the computer, do editing work, make videos, make promotional material, and do research with it. And write blog posts. After all that, I'm done.
There is something about composing with pencil and manuscript paper that I enjoy. I even like how it looks. Everyone's hand is different. Computer music all looks the same.
When I'm presented with computer music in an ensemble, I have a trepidation that there will be mistakes. The notation program often doesn't transpose a note correctly. And it has no understanding of music, so it writes G# when it should write Ab. It puts an eighth note and eighth rest on a downbeat, instead of a short quarter note. It spaces everything the same, whereas in hand written manuscript, you space things in a natural way. (Because space also has meaning.)
Here's another problem, perhaps philosophical but relevant nonetheless: a hand-written manuscript, like the ones my generation and previous generations used, had a human quality of "asking to be interpreted." Do you know what I mean? Notation is not the music. It's only a representation of the music. The music has to be created by the player. When players in an ensemble look at computer-written music, instead of this notation asking to be interpreted, it is presenting a rigid form. It is saying, "play it like this."
In reality, you can never "play it like this" because "this" can only exist as music is played, not when it is notated. So I resent the ERSATZ AUTHORITY of computer notation. Especially when it makes mistakes and then I no longer trust what I'm reading so I'm always second-guessing it.
I do recognize the usefulness of notation programs. But it's a trade-off, and it's one I'm not willing to make so readily. That said, when one of my colleagues wants to put my lead sheets or parts into Sibelius or Finale, I don't say no. It's 2014 after all.
Finally, let's put things in perspective. Mozart had over 600 Köchel numbers by the time he died at age 35. Advice to young composers: learn how to write your music. (Let's see...quarter rest: backwards and down to the right, then to the left, then to the right again, and finish it off with a little semi-circle...and don't take up more than 2 1/2 spaces.) Practice. When the power grid goes down, you'll be grateful for this skill.