Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 167 / AUGUST 1994 / PAGE 76

MusicTime 2.0. (converts music to notation) (Multimedia PC: Multimedia Spotlight) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Bob Lindstrom

This program is designed for the multitudes of musicians and music hobbyists who need to preserve their musical brainstorms in standard musical notation. It combines basic MIDI recording, editing, and data file importing with a surprisingly sophisticated notation engine. In short, if you can play it or load it into your computer, MusicTime can display it onscreen and print it out as sheet music.

MusicTime's Score window lets you create music manuscript pages with as many as eight staves, each with as many as four independent voices. Then you can fill them using one of several music entry techniques.

MusicTime can also play your score on external MIDI synthesizers, an internal sound card (such as a Sound Blaster or Pro AudioSpectrum), or a combination of both. MusicTime's dual MIDI port design allows you to assign some music parts to the card and others to the external devices.

Finally, MusicTime prints the score using your choice of TrueType or PostScript fonts. The result is a polished, professional-looking manuscript that outclasses those hand-copied, agony-of-writer's-cramp scores.

There are several ways you can enter notes into MusicTime. You can import files in MIDI Type 1 or Passport format (the latter from Passport's Master Tracks Pro or Trax). Or you can drag and drop notes and symbols from the icon menus. You can also use step-time recording to select note lengths with the mouse and then play note pitches with an external music keyboard or your computer's alphanumeric keys. Finally, you can record music in realtime with an external music keyboard or your computer keyboard.

In MusicTime's Staff Sheet window, you can assign each line (or track) of music to separate computer ports, MIDI channels, and synthesizer instruments, as well as use sliding volume controls to set the relative volume of each instrumental line.

Once you've entered the notes, MusicTime automatically guesses how they should be notated as written music. While this is a complex process, MusicTime does an impressively good job. In most cases, you end up with an intelligently written, fully realized score onscreen, missing only interpretive markings such as dynamics, phrasings, ties, and slurs.

For a perfect manuscript, MusicTime provides a well-equipped array of graphicediting tools and musical symbols so you can insert additional markings or--since the automatic process can't produce perfect notation--refine the score notation. If you're writing sheet music for a song, you can also add lyrics for one or more verses. You can even improve visual clarity by assigning various colors to different musical lines and, if you have a color printer, print out the results.

An extensive array of musical symbols is available, including treble, bass, tenor, and percussion clefs, along with trill, mordent, octave transposition, and guitar fret chords. Composers can mix keys and time signatures throughout a score, but they won't find all the exotic symbols needed for some contemporary scores.

Similarly, musicians needing intricate control over MIDI playback may want to finetune their work in a separate MIDI sequencing program. MusicTime's tools to edit velocity (volume), pitch, duration (note length), and quantization (rhythmic placement) are good, but hardly the equal of those in fullfledged MIDI sequencing software. Fortunately, MusicTime's solid file importing and exporting make it easy to use a separate MIDI sequencer either before or after notating or printing a score.

Even though MusicTime puts the emphasis on notation and printing, it still lacks the ability to extract and print parts from a full score, unless you're prepared to go through a time-consuming copy-and-paste process for each stave. Since musicians can't be expected to read their parts from the full score, the lack of this feature limits the program's versatility for music ensemble teachers, composers, and arrangers who need to output individual parts. For them, Passport's Encore would be a better choice, as it includes automatic part extraction.

Also, MusicTime scores can't contain more than eight staves. While this is sufficient for lead sheets, piano-vocal scores, small combo sheet music, and most choral writing, it's insufficient for larger band and orchestral scores.

MusicTime's priority is superior printed output, and the printed results do look excellent. Additionally, the mouse-driven editing tools are very easy to use and require only a brief learning curve. For musicians or hobbyists whose main needs are lead sheets, piano-vocal scores, choral scores, or small combo sheet music, MusicTime is a good choice for producing first-rate printed manuscripts.

Passport Designs (415) 726-0280 $149

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