thinking about note entry in digital score editors [Sun, 11 Sep 2011 13:06:55 +0000]
Good artists borrow, great artist steal.
I've generally heard this quote attributed to Pablo Picasso but also to Igor Stravinsky. It's interesting to think that since they knew each other, one might have stolen it from the other. Related, I glossed over this [http://arthistory.about.com/b/2009/01/26/good-artists-borrow-great-artists-steal.htm] post on About.com. I didn't read it carefully, but I agree that the quote is misunderstood. I've had discussions in the past with friends who simply invoked the quote to justify lifting parts of someone else's work in the pursuit of trying to create. But as I'd say to them, that isn't stealing, it's only borrowing. If you steal something, you make it yours, making it work so well in your image that it's no longer immediately recognizable as having belonged to another.
Anyway, this post is about digital music notation. Or so says the title.
I've long wondered - even going back to music school in the 1990's - about using a stylus to enter music onto a drawing tablet or what not. And I'm thinking about it more and more. I saw this [http://musescore.org/en/node/6757] thread about the possibility of MuseScore on Android tablets, etc. and using the touchscreen interface on a tablet computer as a desktop/mouse replacement, but I keep thinking about the stylus.
Why? Because I hate entering music in score editors. I find it infinitely faster to write music with pencil and paper. I think a large part of this is that there's no translation occurring in my mind between hearing/visualizing what I need to enter and then mapping that into how that gets entered in a score editor. Arguably, some of that irritation would get reduced with practice, but not really in my case because I just don't think that graphical entry via keyboard or a note palette is the way to go.
When I write with pencil, I usually jot down the notes for a small phrase, etc. and then add the stems in afterward. I think that way the part of my brain thinking about notating pitch and duration are slightly separated which for me, at least, makes the process faster. Sometimes I enter each pitch and its duration note-by-note, but it's not conscious and it's still fast. With digital, I find it a royal pain in the ass trying to enter pitches first and then changing their durations. Often, it seems to "break" the measure and cause encoding problems. Going the other route (entering the durations first) doesn't work either. They're both so much more work than the traditional pencil and paper routine. And I end of spending more time thinking about notation entry than Music.
That's what I love about Lilypond. I love how I can just enter into a simple text string just the note names and then go back and add the durations - there's no digital/graphical veil. In terms of computing, it seems a more native and natural approach to use simple text entry than to try and emulate ideas from the pencil and paper world (but do it less efficiently). In fact, Lilypond is the only thing I could use to notate a score as I compose it. That's what I did with this [http://humaneguitarist.org/un_bolsillo_olvidadizo.pdf] piece for solo guitar. It would be great if MuseScore had something similar to a text-only entry box that rendered as graphical notation after-the-fact, kinda like what happens on weblily.net [http://www.weblily.net]. I almost want to say Finale does (using some custom text notation syntax) but I can't seem to find a screenshot or anything in the online Finale manual.
I just feel like maybe we're borrowing when we should be thinking about stealing. If we're going to pursue graphical ways of digital notation entry, I think we've got to think about being able to offer users the ability to draw their music with a stylus (more precise than a finger) and having that instantly recognized via OMR. That experience won't be too great on a tablet, but maybe one day with better digital paper and smart pens [http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/]:
What happens when you have to erase something?
Maybe I'm just an old fogey, but for now I'll stick with pencil and paper and just using a computer to make the music more legible after the fact. There's one enormous advantage to this, too, and it's a musical one: it forces conscious consideration of revision upon me as I "re-notate" the music. Honestly, I doubt I would ever want to not use pencil and paper anyway. Music is the one thing I can do without needing a computer at all.