As I said in my previous post, Electronic Instruments & MIDI, these essays are part of TI:ME Level 1 Certification and answer specific questions posed for certification.
This essay goes a little further as it address the concept of music literacy. Before purists vote to lynch me, let me say that I think teaching students to read traditional music notation is important. However, I don’t think it’s of primary importance and that becomes clearer in this article. Reading music notation is crucial for recreating music but is not urgent, given today’s tools, to create music. I think we spend far to much time emphasizing music notation as THE tool for music literacy.
Notation software is sophisticated graphics manipulation program made specifically for the needs of musicians. The top notation software is Finale and Sibelius. Fans of each could tell you why they prefer one product to the other that might include ease of use and learning curves. With products this sophisticated, choosing becomes a matter of personal taste and personal needs.
Sibelius and Finale have several versions of their products at different price points. Entry-level software and “lite” versions of both have fewer features than the full feature parent products. Some of these limitations include:
• Limited number of manuscript paper choices
• Limited header and no footers
• Limited number of staves per score
• Limited articulation marks, accidentals, pick up bars,
• Limited ability to customize graphics such as articulations, beams and rest groups, brackets and braces
• No ability to include cues in parts
• No ability to change transpositions on transposing instruments
• No ability to import files from competitors products
Sibelius provides a complete comparison chart between its newest “lite” edition product Sibelius First and its full-featured edition Sibelius 5 at http://www.sibelius.com/products/sibelius_first/features.html. The website also provides a comparison chart between Sibelius Student and Sibelius 5 at http://www.sibelius.com/products/sibelius_student/features.html.
Finale provides a nice overview for their products at http://www.finalemusic.com/store/productoverview.aspx?p=1. MakeMusic, the producers of the Finale line, also has a comparison chart at http://www.finalemusic.com/CompareFeatures.aspx?compare=finale.
Notation software is imperative for musicians who want to print their music either by self-publishing or through a publishing company. Educators will find a great deal available to them with full feature programs. A variety of templates come preloaded including the ability to create worksheets directly in the notation software without the need to use a separate word processing program. Transpositions are a matter of a click of the mouse as is the ability to play back the music notated and create audio files for students to listen to. You can even scan music in, post notation on the Internet, record audio and include video in today’s sophisticated notation files.
Students can use notation software to compose their own music, complete Theory and AP Music Theory assignments and transcribe music. Personally, I am not a fan of using notation software as the primary composition or teaching tool for students K-12. Although the ability to read and understand notation is important, non-performers need to understand the basic functions of music as it relates to the piano keyboard. So do performers but that’s a topic for another day. For instance, do students understand how a major scale is built and can they visualize the layout and play it on the piano keyboard? Can they visualize any triad and play it on the piano keyboard? Do they understand and can they play a I, IV, V chord progression in root position and inversions in a variety of keys? How about any other number of chord combinations? What about the difference between major and minor? Seventh chords, jazz scales, Booggie Woogie basslines? This kind of literacy is far more important to forming musicians overall than the ability to decipher where G is on a staff or memorize “F A C E” for spaces on the staff. The ability to visualize what they do on the piano keyboard and, more importantly, HEAR what they do, builds complete musicians. Let them play what they hear into the keyboard or experiment with sounds and combination of pitches on the keyboard and let the machine capture it. Sequencing programs allow students to see all kinds of music information instantly as they play and record. Pitch, note length and volume are displayed graphically, a language students can understand with virtually no explanation. Students should eventually be able to transfer their knowledge of the keyboard to the staff once they have a full understanding of the functions and relationship of notes on the piano keyboard. Today’s sequencing software gives students the ability to do all of this. They can create on a keyboard, understand and practice music theory, piano skills and use notation software. Even entry-level sequencing programs have notation capabilities. Albeit limited, it’s plenty sophisticated for students to use. If students need to produce a more professional printed version, they can simply export the MIDI information and drag it into Sibelius or Finale.