notes from the shore

Adventures in Home Recording

Moving from the Technology to the Art

I’m not sure how many posts have promised a look at the actual rendering of the music. I admit that we’ve gotten a bit wrapped up in the technical end of things. However, that’s not unusual. As technology gets more and more powerful, it also gets more and more complex, with numerous (or even innumerable) options to set. When just one of those options is set wrong, it throws a wrench into everything. Continue reading


October 4, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , , | 1 Comment

Making Music

I’ve run into some interesting issues in rendering Praise to the Lord the Almighty. First, there are two ways of turning MIDI data into music. The first and more obvious way is to simply play the music with the software synthesizer and make a digital recording of it. The second, and more desirable way of doing it is to do the rendering internally, without audibly playing the music. This way the computer can do it’s work at it’s own pace (usually faster than playing directly) and also allows processing of effects that are too cpu-intensive to process in real time smoothly. Continue reading

October 1, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , , | 1 Comment

Render unto God that which is God’s

render (v) to cause to be or become; to represent or depict; to bring out the meaning of by performance or execution. Continue reading

September 21, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , | 2 Comments

How to Compose Music – Step 1, Compose some Music

As of last night, the writing of music is substantially complete! That is, all the parts are placed and in order, and I am reasonably happy with the way they are turning out. That’s not to say that there aren’t places where I’m still troubled – I just don’t know what to do with them. They will probably end up being buried in the mix. Last evening’s work consisted of adding in the final sprinklings of brass at the finale, tweaking the horns a little bit, and working out the conductor’s track. Continue reading

August 29, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , | Leave a comment

The Nitty Gritty

As promised, here are some of the technical details and what I’ve learned from using Finale to sequence this “mini-concerto.”

First, installing Finale from two CD-ROMs takes a little finesse. Namely, don’t tell the computer that you have placed the second CD into the drive until it autoruns and brings up a Windows Explorer window. Otherwise, the program will sit and do nothing until you cancel it. This one took several tries before I got it right.

Second, the Music Scan feature is pretty slick. I scanned 8 pages to .tiff files and all but one was brought in, and all but one of those were almost completely correct – I made a minimum of edits. The program even placed things on different layers where appropriate.

Third, you don’t see grouped staves in the Studio view. Where this is important is the grand staff for a piano part. In the studio view it is two totally separate staves with two separate volume, pan, etc. controls. In the scroll and page view, however, they are grouped with crossing bar lines etc.

Fourth, and finally for today, Human Playback (HP) is really cool, but a little buggy. Some of my woes might be due to starting from a scanned page. If I was starting over again, before I added any articulations or changed any clefs or anything, I would have set the left hand to a different channel, exported to a Standard Midi File, expunged all the controller data (there was a TON), and reimported the SMF into a brand new, clean, Finale file.

There are two ways to apply HP. One is to use the “Apply Human Playback” plug-in. This writes the MIDI data to the track, and you can edit it in a sequencer if you like. When I did this, all I got was a controller 7 (volume) = 0. That’s right, a big fat goose-egg. When you set your volume to zero, guess what? No sound! Never figured this one out.

The other method, and so far this is working for me, is to apply HP in the playback settings. This causes Finale to interpret the articulations, et. al. “on the fly”, and play them that way without writing any MIDI data to the file. Like I said, this is working so far, but I ran into a bug tonight. The string tracks executed a perfect fade-out that went to zero right before the final note of the passage. The down side is that I didn’t put a decrescendo anywhere near the passage. Actually, the passage is at a constant mp, and the next bar is marked f!

Unfortunately, I crashed the program before I remembered to save it, so tomorrow’s another day. My next entry will be more along the lines of craziness I’m using to orchestrate this piece. Nothing really traditional about it – I’m just trying to get what’s in my head onto the screen. Maybe a few readers (do I have any?) will chime in on the comments with what I’m doing wrong.

See you next time.

July 2, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , | 2 Comments

A New Project

So, you’re probably thinking that I should finish some of my other projects before I tackle a new one. Well, that’s not really the way I work. I tend to flit from one project to another as they take my fancy. Really finishing something generally involves a deadline. I do pretty good work under a deadline. I mean, I finished the backing track for my daughter’s solo in time – not that I’m thrilled with the way it turned out.

Actually, this work is prompted by a new software purchase. Back when I graduated with my engineering degree in 2000, I picked up a copy of Finale 2000 as a graduation present to myself. I’ve been using it since then strictly as a music notation program, which is of course what it was originally designed for. All of the lead sheets on my website were prepared with that copy of Finale 2000.

Lately I’ve been interested in more orchestral, or at least classically influenced, music. Two pieces I’m working on are going to be arranged for piano and string quartet. Then there’s the musical that I’ve been working on with a friend for years (most of those on hiatus), set in 1920’s Chicago and all of the music is Big band swing. I certainly can’t afford to hire a big band to cut the tracks, and since the target market is small to medium sized churches, they certainly won’t be able to swing live swing.

Enter Finale 2007. Sometime between Finale 2000 and Finale 2007 they added a feature called Human Playback. This allows Finale to interpret the symbols and markings on the score beyond just notes and rests. It can also duplicate styles of music from Baroque to Swing (Swing!). It is also bundled with Kontakt Player and a stripped down version of Garritan Personal Orchestra, which means very expressive possibilities. If and when I upgrade to Finale 2008, the instrument collection has been expanded to include much of Garritan’s Jazz and Big Band collection, and Garritan’s Marching Band collection.

My first project using Finale 2007, however, is none of these. I chose to start with something that is not an original composition at all, rather an orchestration. At the same event in Decatur where my daughter sang to the soundtrack I spent so much time on, she also played a piano solo. We found a book at a local music dealer with really nice contemporary arrangements of classic hymns and choruses. Last year she played Holy, Holy, Holy, and this year she played Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. While she was practicing this year, I could hear an orchestral accompaniment in my head – kind of a mini-concerto with the piano playing exactly what she played solo. I scanned in the piano part to jump start the process and began adding instruments this week.

For my next installment, I’ll start getting into the technical details of making Finale do what I wanted it to do. Until then, I’ll be trying to get this music out of my head and into the computer.

June 30, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , | 1 Comment