Dorico 3.5 Update

Today, May 20, 2020, Steinberg is announcing Dorico 3.5. So far they have posted a few videos on their YouTube channel, but at 9:00 am EDT (or 6:00 am if you live on the west coast of North America!) they will unveil the whole thing.

So far the most useful and desired features added seem to be the vast improvement to the VST plug-in playback capabilities. These are truly stunning and should make scores play back much more naturally.

The other is a search field for drop-down and other menus that have too many choices to find the desired one quickly. Now you can search to find what you are looking for. Yes, this is much like the Feature Browser in Band-in-a-Box, but in this case rather than being global, it applies to a single set of options.

If you can, tune in to watch this announcement live. If you have not yet subscribed, go to YouTube and search for “Dorico channel”. If you can’t watch it live, I’m sure the video will be archived there to watch later.

UPDATE

Now that I’ve seen the presentation I’m even more impressed. Wow! They barely got through the MAJOR new features in the one-hour demo with John presenting and Daniel answering questions in the comments section.

I cannot hope to cover even all that they covered in the official announcement so I’ll give you the highlights from my point of view. You should still watch the archived announcement demo on YouTube here.

Guitar

We guitarists really lucked out with this update! For starters, we can add rhythm to TAB parts now, so you don’t have to switch between staves to play. You can show tapping with a “T” and also with dots. The search option I mentioned earlier can help find the guitar options. and it is a “sticky” search so that you keep the options you searched for on the screen to work with them. Alt-8 brings up the search dialog, appropriate to where you are.

Bends play back using pitch bend. Dorico 3.5 automatically creates the playback bend, but you can edit it as well, drawing with the pencil tool for really fancy bends. Double bends also display and play back too. You can use the popover to choose bends, scoops and other whammy bar techniques, including adding text such as “w/ bar”.

In Layout option you can “show chord diagrams at start of flow” and they show up automatically in the order that they appear in the song. You can edit all of these for fingerings, size, and even add different versions of the same chord. This is a great feature to keep your songs from becoming cluttered.

Note Entry

You can now enter pitch before duration (as opposed to the normal Dorico duration before pitch). The shortcut for this is “K”, and it allows you to hunt around for the note that you want, and then choose it and give it a duration. You can even do this with chords. It’s a very handy feature for composition or for transcribing by ear, and it is most useful with a MIDI keyboard.

Global vs. Local Settings

You can now enter local settings, say to make a change to a part that will not show up in the score. This could be a comment, moving an object for easier reading for the player, and so on. It was asked for and has been provided.

Playback Improvements

There are too many improvements here to list them all, but one of the most important is Mutual Exclusion Groups. Here you list techniques that cannot be played at the same time, such as arco and pizzicato for strings. This allows other techniques to be played together, for example pizz. and con sordino.

Expression maps are probably the most asked-for feature in Dorico, and there are great improvements in Dorico 3.5. The default expression map included in Dorico is for Halion SE which comes with it. However, other sample libraries such as NotePerformer and Garritan provide different playing techniques and options. Because there are so many libraries, and different options even within libraries, Dorico 3.5 lets you create your own expression maps for the libraries you own.  The example in the announcement video has an excellent demonstration of choosing shorter note samples for shorter note values. Since many sample players use one long note sample, they sound great with longer notes, but tend to “bleed” notes together in short note values  (say sixteenth-note) passages. If your library has different notes values to choose from, Dorico lets you choose a short value for a particular value of duration.  This is shown in the announcement video at the 14:53 mark. Quite a difference!

Figured Bass

If you use figured bass your dreams have come true with Dorico 3.5 since it has tons of new features! You can now enter virtually any style possible. You can set these easily in the score or with the popover. Dorico 3.5 will even calculate the proper figured bass for you if you give it the name of the chosen chord! It will even automatically transpose if you change the bass note. You can add hold lines as well, if you use them.

Having said that Figured Bass could cover an entire session on its own, John suggested checking out the Scoring Notes blog, which had a preview version of 3.5 and has a lot more information on Figured Bass (although even the team there said they would need another post to cover all the changes).

And More …

Just some more of the new features:

You can choose different colours or gradients for each mode to remind you where you are.

You can export parts of a piece as graphic; just choose a “slice” (any section of the visible screen) and export it with all sorts of graphic options.

There is now an option for “Hollywood style” final pages, which adds blank staff lines to fill the page.

There are more option for slur positioning, especially when a slur goes past the end of the current line. You can also get rid of some backgrounds if things get too cluttered.

Musicxml has many more features included for both export and import.

Some Indian Drum sounds are now included, as well as some others, in the application.

N.B. This last point means that you DO NOT NEED TO DOWNLOAD THE SOUNDS INSTALLER IF UPDATING FROM DORICO 3.x!

The Cost

I have only scratched the surface of the new features in Dorico 3.5, and with so many major improvements it has to be a paid update. I realize that times are tight for many people, especially musicians, but watch the video as well as Anthony Hughes’ other videos on the Dorico channel on particular features before you make your decision. There are a variety of prices for the three versions of Dorico, as well as educational pricing.

Much more information on individual features, as well as comparisons of versions and costs are on the Steinberg Dorico page here. The most expensive price for updating Dorico Pro from 3.x is $60 (US), so this is hardly a “money grab” from Steinberg.

My opinion is that Dorico 3.5 is well worth the update price, but feed your family and pay the rent first, and if you have anything left over this is a great choice for any musician.

 

Band-in-a-Box 2020 for Mac … WOW!

I reviewed Band-in-a-Box 2019 for Mac less than a year ago and, being an “annual-update-skeptic” wondered about reviewing it again so soon. No need to wonder — Band-in-a-Box 2020 for Mac is a fantastic leap forward!

Band-in-a-Box 2020  Box

Of course we can expect all sorts of additional RealTracks and instruments and styles, and there are many!, but the additions this year are so focused on truly upping your musical game that it seems almost like a new product. And it replaces the need for some other software and hardware, which I will get to but for now it seems like “Good-bye” to my Digitech Vocalist Live 4 harmony generator.

And before I go any further (in case you stop reading and decide to just buy it) I have to add that my online chats with Sales Support were some of the most pleasant interactions I have ever had with a vendor, even BEFORE it became obvious that I was a reviewer! Amidst ever more shattered nerves than usual, especially for support workers, I was able to have all of my questions answered politely and correctly (even a few moronic ones) and had all of my issues resolved before the chat had ended. Support such as this is rare but it seems to be a feature of the BiaB “family”, as I will mention later with my comments on Stelios Panos, a transcriber of great jazz performances for, and reseller of Band-in-a-Box products.

FEATURE BROWSER

One of the best, most crucial additions is the Feature Browser. Crucial because there are so many new features that even experienced users are liable to need a reminder sometimes, and this is much more. It begins with a list of features from which you can choose, or you can type one in. It tells you the basic information about the feature you enter with buttons to take you to the manual page for that feature and also a video button if it is one of the features that has a video for it.  It also displays the Tool Bar on which it is found, its Hot Key if there is one, where it is on the Main Window (if it’s there), and other ways to launch it. If it has its own window with options and other choices, this is displayed as well.

But that’s not all. You can choose the type of features you are looking for by entering, say, “guitar”. This gives you all features that relate to the guitar. Or “video” to find all features that have a video on them.

Getting to the Feature Browser is easy too. If the chord window is open, just type “/” and Enter, instead of a chord. Or, with the Main Window click on the “?” button in maximized view, or in the Misc tab if in Compact view.

This is a terrific feature for a program with so many great features. We tend to know those that we use the most, but sometimes forget about those that could make our work easier or improve our music. Plus you no longer have to feel guilty for not reading the manual.

Try this yourself by calling it up, typing chord, then adding “builder” for the “chord builder” feature to really show what it can do.

Find BEST SUB

Cmd-click or right-click on track button in the mixer > Select RealTracks > Find Best Sub. Not only do you get a long list of possible RealTrack substitutes, but the best ones are close to the top. Each works well with the whole song, but gives you different ways to explore it with different  musical styles and genres, especially if you pick a different player. However, even choosing the same player gives you insight into the subtle changes that can be used by the same person in a different performance but retaining their personal style.

You can even change to a RealTrack if the current track doesn’t have one.  Here you can choose a RealTrack, and choosing “All” gives you a bunch of new options to change even the type of instrument, and I really like the option to choose a family of instruments so that you can try out, say, all sorts of different guitars for a part (and there are a lot of guitars). You can even open an Artist Bio to learn about the player, and once in that browser you can choose any artist to learn more about them. Just one more example of the enhanced usability that has been added throughout this entire release.

Drag-and-Drop File Opening

I particularly like the drag-and-drop file opening, which simplifies all the choices if you just want, say, to load a basic MIDI file to start working on it. Not just BiaB files are supported, but audio, MIDI, and more. If you have a lot of files and need to search for the one you want, it’s nice to be able to just drag it into the app. This improves your workflow and lowers your blood pressure.

Multi-Window Display

Having more than one window open can be a real time-saver. Using the new multi-window display you can easily enter barlines in the audio window with the chord window still open. The demo of this process is particularly interesting, at just before the 27:00 mark of the BB2020 for Mac video referenced earlier. You can enter barlines to fix tracks that were not recorded with a click track by entering the correct spot for a few barlines. I won’t transcribe the process here, but I urge you to watch the video to see how easy it is to correct the timing of a song, as well as to find out how far the tempo changes over time (a lot of performers speed up over the course of an exciting song, or slow down in a bluesy one). Of course, you may want just a little deviance which gives a more human feel to some tracks, while others really do call for a “metronomic” beat. This is especially helpful for tightening up quick demos or just a band’s bad days’ work.

Track Thickening

One standard audio recording trick is to have multiple copies of a single track to give it a “thicker” sound. For example, many singers use double-tracking to make their voices sound better. John Lennon disliked this finicky process so much in the pre-digital age that the EMI engineers created ADT (Artificial Double-Tracking) to create a second copy of the original recording, slightly different by speeding up and slowing down slightly. Like the more modern digital recording studios, Band-in-a-Box now lets you use multiple copies of the same RealTrack on a single track, thickening it further by changing the panning of each (and usually lowering the volume as well). You can even add a different, related RealTrack for greater authenticity. I really like the demo that uses the _GLORY style thickened, as shown in the video on BB2020 for Mac.  The soloist really adds to the depth and realism of the choir.

Note that the video was adapted from the Windows version that has been on the PG Music site for a while now, and there are a few references to Windows that creep in here and there. Remember to substitute Command-click (or right-click) for Ctrl-click, and Finder for Windows Explorer. The folders mentioned are correct,  at least those that I have double-checked.

Thickening is really an extended application of the “Medley” feature where several instruments could “take turns” on one track; now they can play all together.

There are several different ways to start and use thickening:

1) pick a style that uses it (often with “thickened in the name)
2) pick a track from the RealTrack picker that has it applied to it
3) apply it yourself to any RealTrack that you like

There are great additions for blues and other styles with thickened horns forming sections in some truly great styles.

Guitar Goodies

Many of the new features are particularly useful for guitar and some are specific to it. For example, you now have FOUR different views of the Fretboard Window: the regular right-handed one, the new left-handed view, the student view (as if you are sitting across from your teacher looking at their fretboard), and the student view for a left-handed guitarist. 

Jazz guitarists will love the new Rhythm Changes and Jazz Blues RealTracks, the two most important progressions for any jazz player. Combine this with Find Best Sub and you have a serious jazz guitar learning environment.

Other genres are not skimped on. There are great 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s rock guitar styles, and the low-tuned metal styles are amazing with some thickening added to them. Double that for baritone guitar! And many of the new Country and Old-Time Americana styles will open your ears and styles to different and even “exotic” stringed instruments. And speaking of exotic, there are also new Latin American “island” styles and instruments for authentic Latin grooves including soka, merengue, and more. (But personally, I was most impressed by the new Blues RealTracks that really kick it. Maybe it’s my age showing?)

Eliminate Note Overlap

Better control of overlapping notes is vital for getting a true guitar sound. In this version, if you have different guitar strings on different channels you can stop notes on the same string from overlapping but leave notes on different strings ringing through. Fingerstyle players will now be able to accurately write and hear Chet Atkins-style “banjo-roll” runs, while any stylist can combine arpeggios with single-line parts and have the strings ring appropriately. A great addition.

Enhanced Notation Editing

While previous versions had the N hotkey for adding notes, the new M hotkey allows the addition of harmony to an existing note. The note is first presented as a 3rd above, but can be changed using the up / down arrow keys. The R hotkey lets you choose a rest.

So Many More Great Features

The program now automatically checks the key signature and warns you if your song material doesn’t match that key.

Files can now be saved as .xml, .mxl (compressed format), and .musicxml. This last one, musicxml, is particularly useful for guitarists, saving hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides.

The intro can now be just drums, or just bass and drums and the notation will reflect that.

You will also be impressed by the larger range of singer-songwriter styles that will really fire your imagination.

Multi-Riffs is now available in the full Band-in-a-Box (previously it was just in the plug-in). This creates 7 different “takes” of a section or entire part (like an automated version of a Logic “Takes folder”). These can be used to find the most suitable one, or combined (comped) to make a “best” version from parts of each.

Audio time-stretching has been enhanced to give much more realistic sound easier.

Chord Search has several enhancements such as letting you choose the level of exactness for your progression.

There are also enhancements to chord search,, and many enhancements and additions to RealDrums including many more notated ones.

Several user requests have been incorporated as well, including: drag from mixer to drop station; new options for bit depth and sample rate (as well as in main render dialog); customized track are shown with an “=”, settings in style are ignored for these as well; bar settings dialog lets you change them from within the dialog; new content is displayed when you start the program, with the option to download it before you get into your work flow, and many more.

BiaB Plug-in

The Band-in-a-Box Plug-in is still free with BB2020 and, of course, improved. It works pretty much like BiaB in your DAW, where you can drag the tracks you create in it into the DAW and process them there. You can harmonize in the plug-in and drag back to DAW either a track generated in the plug-in or its harmony in 3rds, 6ths, or both.

But you don’t have to drag any tracks into the DAW to hear them. You can play the music from the plug-in along with the tracks in the DAW merely by sync’ing them!

If you are one of the MANY fans of Stelios Panos, or are a jazz guitarist interested in the Jazz Guitar Masters, check out his “Django-in-a-Box” web site where you can find special deals on bundles of his transcriptions with Band-in-a-box for sale, as well as a page of videos that demonstrate several of his transcriptions as well as display their usage of various features in BiaB.On top of this, you get Skype support after buying a bundle from Mr. Panos! Special bundles that include ALL of the Jazz Greats  transcriptions (including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Louis Armstrong)are on this page, while a special “guitarists only” set that includes even the recent transcriptions of Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow is here. If you have any more questions, need support, or just want to thank Stelois Panos for his outstanding work you can contact him here.

IN SUMMARY: Band-in-a-Box 2020 is a huge advance over even BB2019, with easier to use, more powerful features that give you more information while creating more musical results. You have never had more control of more features which are now much easier to find. The move forward with this version is astonishing. Again … WOW!

My very highest recommendation. Just upgrade! Or if for some strange reason you don’t have it yet, BUY THIS ONE! It will change your musical life!

NotePerformer Fulfills Composers’ Dreams Without Breaking the Bank

NotePerformer brings our dream of hearing our scores performed by a top-quality orchestra or other ensemble to reality. This is an enormous achievement, made all the more stunning as the work of mostly one man – Arne Wallander. Many of us have struggled with our notation programs to make their playback more “human sounding”, or else just used their playback as input to a DAW and manipulated them there. My own approach was to have two versions of a score: one correctly notated, the other with some rather bizarre-looking things that got the score closer to what I wanted to hear.

Let me give you a real example. To celebrate the final issue of Just Jazz Guitar I gave the publisher / editor my permission to print the score of my classical-jazz guitar piece “Tangled Tango” along with a performance of the piece by Markku Wainman, to whom it is dedicated (which is still on the JJG web site as I write this). But since it was end of university term for Markku I felt the need to prepare a digitized version of the piece in case the time became too tight. That “performance” score in Sibelius 7.5 took me over TEN TIMES as long as it took to compose the piece, which is not by any means a simple one. Fortunately Markku was able to make a wonderful recording of the piece, and I also had a good backup. However, when I took the original score and played it with NotePerformer it produced an even better performance than my “performance score” and one that rivalled Markku’s interpretation (both are excellent performances and thrill me as a composer, just like different interpretations of two artists). If I weren’t so late to the NotePerformer “party” I could have saved myself days of work and sleepless nights.

I realize that the purpose of notation programs is to produce music notation, but from the earliest music programs, we who notate wanted playback too. In fact, some of the earliest music programs were playback devices using piano roll or similar input, with notation as a special or extra feature. The advent of Finale and then Sibelius made orchestra-worthy notation possible for the home composer and so the tables switched. Now it was playback that was “nice to have.” Programs such as Logic provided recording and playback with professional quality precision (eventually) even as the playback of notation programs improved, but Logic’s notation was not professional quality. But no matter how faithfully the playback of notation programs followed the directions of the score, the weaknesses of our Western system of notation became more obvious, and it seemed like live musicians were not going to be replaced by computers after all. Good news for performers. Not so great news for we who were unable to afford an orchestra — and on demand no less. Those of us with some grasp of MIDI were able to tweak our scores so that they played more realistically than even the “humanize” functions of notation programs, but we were faced with two different scores for each piece: one for humans to interpret and one with notation and added MIDI commands that would be nonsensical to a performer. As yet another example, my Piano Sonata again took about 10 times longer to get the performance as close to what I wanted as I could than to actually write the notes. Composition was becoming less about music and more about the technology. Ironic, considering that the previous post here is about Mixerman’s emphasis of the musical performance over the recording technology. But did I have any choice?

In fact I did, and so do you. It is NotePerformer, and maybe it should be called ScorePerformer, although a gem by any other name … (yeah, I know it’s supposed to be a rose, but this program is a true gem). Faced with our same predicament, Arne Wallander put his intimate knowledge of MIDI (and grasp of the workings of notation programs) together with his technical brilliance and created a program that would perform a piece of music just as a master musician would. And then he shared it with the world.

It is now at version 3.2, a mature program that works with Sibelius, Finale, and Dorico. NotePerformer is a tour de force of programming. It would be a highly impressive program on its own, but in dealing with the bugs and foibles of not one but three very different notation programs makes this a labour of love created under nightmare circumstances. I still have my Finale 1.0.0.0 diskette although the earliest CD for Sibelius that I can find (after several moves) is now 1.015. From the beginning these were very different programs, and with changes over time they have accreted bugs, fixes for those bugs, fixes for those fixes, and on and on. In the world of programming, an entry-level job is “maintenance programming” meaning that you fix whatever has gone wrong with whatever skills you have, usually with no documentation. This is the point at which many would-be programmers decide on a career driving for Über. My point is that Mr. Wallander did not have an ideal world in which to create his magic. He began with Sibelius, and later added support for Finale and Dorico. Finale has some quirks which are still being worked out, so Mr. Wallander does not claim full support for it yet, and being the latest entrant into high-end notation and still a “work-in-progress” he calls his support for Dorico BETA since its current state limits Mr. Wallander’s support for it to his own high standards. Still Dorico seems the most promising program in the long run, the product of the team that produced Sibelius 7.1 and ended up creating its rival for Steinberg with the advantage of starting from scratch, i.e. with no “legacy code” to debug and slow it down. In fact Dorico was aching for something like NotePerformer since playback has so far been its Achilles heel. (Again long-time readers will know that I have championed Dorico since Daniel Spreadbury began his blog outlining their goals, working methods, and progress.)

My own discovery of NotePerformer was embarrassingly late. After all, I had gone over budget on all things musical and figured that I was able to tweak my scores pretty well myself. I half-heartedly listened to some demos but considered them as rigged as any “demo” score (done by an expert with access to resources not available to mortals). But a comment by Philip Rothman on Scoring Notes stuck in my brain: that after you have chosen your scoring program the very next thing to get was NotePerformer. Really? That seemed rather extreme. But it became like an ear worm, and so I took another listen to the NotePerformer demo pieces (scroll down for them). This time I noticed that they had not been “doctored” but used NotePerformer with the composers’ scores as written. I was impressed, so I downloaded the demo version.

My first use of it was incredible. Beyond belief. An old piece of mine that I had been ready to junk sounded wonderful, and reminded me of what I had in mind when I wrote it. Delighted, I tried several other pieces of mine that I knew intimately and was amazed by the performances. This is a terrific program!

Ah but then came the problems. Problems with tempo, dynamics, crescendos, and similar things — all of which proved to be bugs in the notation programs (or “features” in some cases) which led to my discovery of the environment in which NotePerformer has to operate. The skill and perseverance of Mr. Wallander became all the more apparent and impressive.

It is worth noting is I did all of my tests with the 30-day trial version(s), and I lucked out since version 3.2 was released during my testing, and by downloading it the 30 days restarted. But what is truly incredible is that this is a free update, not just for version 3 owners, but for owners of ANY version of NotePerformer as well. There has never been a charge for an upgrade or update right up to version 3.2. Long-time readers will remember my extreme disappointment with Avid’s choice to make Sibelius a subscription product (and my decision to stay at version 7.5), so this support of customers — musicians who are usually not the wealthiest people — is very welcome and hopefully an inspiration to other music companies.

I cannot recommend this program highly enough. I urge you to go to the NotePerformer site and listen to the demos.  You will also see which versions of the software they support (as of this review Sibelius 6 onward, Finale 25 (BETA), and Dorico 2 (BETA); the long list of instruments they provide; the special techniques they support; and the different licenses available —currently single and site licenses. (At long last I can hear one of my scores that calls for an orchestral whip!)

To top off the great software is the best technical support I have ever experienced; an amazing orchestral sound library; and a simple installation procedure. Be smarter than I was and try this out for yourself today. There is no obligation, not even a sign-up or credit card required for the 30-day free trial! Just download the demo software and put it through its paces. You will be impressed.

MY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!

Dorico, Sibelius and the “Horrible Compromise”

Oh poor me. I am writing a string quartet and having the Vienna Symphonic Library‘s Solo Strings I + II is the next best thing to having a real string quartet on call 24/7. BUT how do I notate it? Dorico gives me unprecedented options for all sorts of notation but it does not have the capability to play all of the wonderful nuances of the VSL strings. Sibelius is much more limited in its notation but has a great interface that allows virtually all of the VSL solo strings to shine in all of their glory (the interface is the work of VSL).

It’s enough to make me want to switch to guitar music with tab and then I’d have to go with Sibelius. Easy choice. Or a full orchestral piece with lots of movements and very complex notation. Dorico wins that one hands down.  But now I’m somewhere in-between.

At least I know what I’m comparing now. Because of my dislike for the upgrading procedure from 7.x to 8.x of Sibelius, I’m sticking with 7.5. Also, with Steinberg’s announcement that the last free update was the final free update, whatever I may have been hoping for will be a paid upgrade if it does materialize. This means that guitarists are not the only disappointed ones; the playback has serious limitations, right down to the level of not playing repeat signs.

So my solution for this project is Sibelius 7.5 simply for playback. I don’t claim to have a golden “inner ear” to hear the complex interactions of four complex parts at once, and finding a quartet to play the piece even once will be challenging enough for a number of reasons.

I still think that Dorico is a brilliant piece of software with unrivalled notational options, but its playback capabilities don’t match the rest of the program. I would love to be able to keep all of the movements, and even the sketches in one single file, but that can’t happen. I imagine that the first paid upgrade to Dorico will be mind-blowing, given the huge advances in the free updates but for now I’m back to Sibelius 7.5, at least for one project.

 

Steinberg’s Cubase Marketing Works on Me!

I can usually resist valueless marketing but Steinberg got me with a truly valuable invitation to start using the free copy of Cubase that I have gathering dust on my hard disk.

A couple of years back my basic interface died so I was looking for a replacement with two audio inputs (mic/line) and two MIDI inputs (IN/OUT); as basic as they get. The best deal I found was the Steinberg UR22, which has the features that I need plus great feedback from users and (I discovered) excellent sound. It also came with Cubase LE AI Elements 7 (the least powerful version of Cubase only available with OEM hardware) at no extra cost. Since I use Logic, I didn’t need another recording program so I let it sit. Some algorithm (or [gasp] possibly a human?!!) noticed that I had not been using it. I don’t know how. Didn’t I ask for tech support enough? Didn’t I ask questions in the forums? Didn’t I check for updates? Or something more sinister????

However they did it, I got an email encouraging me to start using it, and to sweeten the request they gave me three libraries of more modern drums, bass, and guitar sounds as VST add-ins to Cubase: Indie Rock, Dubstep, and Urban. OK, it worked. I followed the directions to download and register them, then watched a tutorial on how to use them in Cubase which was not relevant to my bottom-of-the-barrel version, but it was simple enough to figure out using the top menu bar rather than the nifty little icon that my version doesn’t have. The sounds are technically great, and depending on your taste, great as well. For free, it’s hard to beat, and very nice to get something of value that I will use in future projects because they sound so good I got ideas just running through them.

So for someone just starting out, or on a tight budget, it’s hard to beat the Steinberg UR22 and free Cubase software, especially if they are going to send you free libraries from time to time. Given the fact that this is the same company that produces Dorico I have to say that Steinberg has high standards and gives you more than your money’s worth with their products.

So the Steinberg marketing worked and I’m glad it did. This is a great model for any company that wants to get, or retain, customers. Give us something useful and if it fits our needs we’ll use it.

MuseScore 2.1 a MAJOR Update

What’s better than FREE? High-quality notation software that is as good as (and in some cases better than) paid software, but still free! Welcome to MuseScore 2.1.

The MuseScore team has demonstrated their integrity with their great programming, but they have reached new heights with their announcement of MuseScore 2.1, the first major update since 2015’s version 2.0. After working for a long time on version 3.0, the enormity of the project and issues of backward-compatibility kept pushing a release date farther back than they liked, so they came up with a great idea: cherry pick the best features of 3.0 so far, make over 300 bug fixes,  spiff up the user interface and simply call it MuseScore 2.1.

That little “.1” is deceptively simple; this is an enormous “update.” There are far too many great improvements to copy here, so I’d suggest you head over to the MuseScore web site and check out the video that gives a short but inspiring look at a few of the new features, followed by a text list of many of the best new features. Don’t skip the video, because with the new support for all SFZ libraries, you really do have to hear it to believe it. You can also mix different SFZ’s to get just the instruments that you want.

You can upload your pieces to the MuseScore site, for private or public viewing. This version will also upload an MP3 of your score so that it plays back with the instruments that you chose, and now others can hear it just as it sounds on your computer. You can even keep a change log if you upload different versions of a piece.

Some of the innovative ideas go far beyond what you might expect for FREE software, such as the “swap” function that allows you to swap two sections of music by cutting the first, swapping it into the place you want it to go, while the function takes the music to be swapped out of there and onto the clipboard so that you can simply paste it into its new spot. A great time (and sanity) saver!

Of course the one feature that the MuseScore team has been working on for years is importing a PDF file as flawlessly as possible, and now with the enhanced playback options the project with the IMSLP to make thousands of classical scores available and playable is closer than ever to reality in a version that will please most classical music enthusiasts. This is a project with ambitions, and so far they have outdone themselves. Bravo!

Remember that YOU can help too. Gaze over their development page to see the myriad ways that you can help, from editing words to writing code, to testing, and yes of course to donating. Just think — you can be a part of computing history and help musicians all over the world! Even just playing around with it and finding obscure bugs is a big help.

If you don’t have MuseScore 2.1 yet, try it out TODAY. If you do have an older version, update right NOW. You will be glad you did.

 

One-Man Band LIVE (and what a band!)

A lot of us find ourselves in remote places at times, or in other situations where we ourselves are the band. It helps to be able to play a number of instruments if we want to record something “band-like”. Even those of us who are able to play a number of instruments well enough, and to sing without inspiring washroom breaks for anyone listening, it can be an exciting if somewhat nerve-wracking experience each time the red-light goes on and the recording is happening.  But of course we can always re-record, although finding the acceptable version without the need for “just one more tweak” can be a mind-killer without a producer to say “Good enough; now move on.”

So I salute all of you who produce your own music because you have to, or because you <…shiver…> want to. Now, that said, there is a level that only a few enter into, and of those who do, it is no great shock to find musicians of the calibre of Jacob Collier.

I found out about Jacob Collier from NS Design, who are stoked that Jacob plays their new NTXa bass (which I guess makes my old NXT bass a ‘vintage’ model now), but this is just one of the many instruments he has mastered, which helped him to win TWO Grammies:1) Best Arrangement: Instrumental or A Capella and 2) Best  Arrangement: Instruments and Vocals.

The NS Design artist web site for Jacob Collier says this: “Based in London, UK, Jacob has been inspired by many sounds – his music combines elements of Jazz, A cappella, Groove, Folk, Trip-hop, Classical music, Brazilian music, Gospel, Soul and Improvisation (to name a few), which culminate to create the world of ‘Jacob Collier.’ ”

Jacob’s own web site features his debut album and live dates, as well as quotes such as these:

“I have never in my life seen a talent like this… Beyond category. One of my favourite young artists on the planet – absolutely mind-blowing”

— Quincy Jones

“Wow!! Jacob, your stuff is amazing”

— Herbie Hancock

“Staggering and unique… Jazz’s new messiah”

— The Guardian
It also features his astounding “Jacob Collier and his One-Man Live Show Creature perform[ing] ‘Don’t You Know’, an original song from Jacob’s debut album ‘In My Room’; filmed live @ Village Underground, London, May 28th 2016.
This is a pretty amazing tour de force of technology, and I applaud him for being able to put it together and use it so creatively. Maybe it will inspire some of you to make music you never thought possible. Or maybe it will just make you appreciate your current band mates a bit more. Either way, you win.

Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 – Overview

I have had a lot of questions about Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 from readers, colleagues, and friends.  Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 (GPO5) is the latest version of the incredibly successful orchestra library that is the best bargain in its category.Version 5 has so many improvements and additions to its predecessor that I have decided to do a series of posts rather than write one book-length post (and yes, there is that much new and worthwhile in this upgrade).

GPO5-FMA

The most noticeable and important feature is the sound: all of the instruments just sound better than previous versions. They are more life-like, react more like the physical instruments, sound more ‘present’, and in many cases include more playing techniques. One very important feature that might be overlooked is the number of different solo versions of certain instruments. This allows you to create sections of a specific size without merely duplicating the same instrument, a practice that results in phasing and gives a poor result. With different sampled instruments you not only get rid of the phasing problem, but gain from the richness of the slight differences between the instruments, just as you would with a physical group of them. This can be handy from creating duets with two different versions of the same instrument, to creating specific-sized groups. For example, say you are writing for string orchestra and want to split the strings into two groups, i.e. two sets of first violin, second violin, viola, and cello (a technique called divisi). The problem here is that you end up with a string section which is twice as large as the original, and the sudden increase in size is disturbing to most listeners. With four different solo players, you can create a section of just four violins, and use two of these groupings when divisi is called for in an eight-violin section. This is the attention to detail given to GPO5 by Gary Garritan and his team.

ARIA Player

All of the instruments come in two versions: notation and standard. The sounds are the same, but a few commands are handled differently in notation software than they are when played live from a MIDI controller. Notation programs automatically choose the correct version. When using the free ARIA Player that comes with GPO5, you would usually choose the Standard version. Playing from a controller such as a keyboard calls for the standard set, but if you choose to load a MIDI file that was created by a notation program you probably want to load the notation patches. The ARIA Player is a powerful control instrument on its own, with many subtle (and not so subtle) effects that can alter the overall sound of the instruments. Newer versions list all of the Garritan libraries on your system, making it easy for you to choose sounds. There is also a default setting that loads the instruments of your choice at startup, as well as an Ensemble section that loads full sets of instruments for many standard groupings. The Controls page has an optional 3-band equalizer with user-defined mid-range. This page also has handy access to MIDI controls that you may not be familiar with, including portamento and subtle variations in pitch and timing. You can also choose Auto-Legato to smooth out your lines, and Stereo Stage to give a wider sense of stereo to your stage. (All of these can be controlled via MIDI, and the MIDI control numbers are included beside the controls.)

2 REVERBS

Under Effects you will find the new, powerful Garritan Convolution Reverb, in addition to the standard Ambience reverb, EQ, and damping controls. The Ambience reverb is a synthesized version of the reverberation characteristics of a space: a hall, a room, a club, etc. A convolution reverb is a sampled set of “impulses” which record how a given space actually reverberates in the real world, and can give a more realistic sound to your music. Of course, each has their place, and you might even want to combine the two for special effect. There is a full-fledged mixer to set the volume for each channel as well as the master, and includes Pan and Send controls, as well as Mute and Solo switches. The Settings page is for more advanced users, but it gives you the option to change the type of tuning your instruments use as well as the base frequency; it even tells you the current versions of the player and engine and allows you to update directly from this page.

One of the most useful parts of this excellent player is the keyboard that is always at the bottom of its screen, allowing you to play any sound with the mouse, and showing you the playable range of each instrument. You can also choose keyswitches with it, which are shown in red. GPO5 uses keyswitches to change patches (or types of sound) for the same instrument. This entails hitting a key well outside the playing range of the instrument, which immediately changes the sound of the instrument. For example, a very low note might change a piccolo from a straight sound to flutter-tonguing, while a very high note might change a double bass from bowed to pizzicato.

The ARIA Player has still more to offer. You can load a MIDI file into it and play it back using whatever combination of instruments you like. I find it a good idea to delete Program Change and other Control information unless it was created with GPO5 because it can cause unwanted effects. You can also record from the ARIA Player, either a version of a MIDI file you have loaded or yourself playing. I will use it for later posts to demonstrate instruments, keyswitches and other goodies.

User Manual

If you have specific questions about GPO5 or just want to see the entire list of instruments before you buy, you will be glad to know that the GPO5 User Manual is online at http://www.garritan.com/UserManuals/GPO5/Content/Contents.htm. This is a change from GPO4, which had a downloadable PDF manual. While this is a problem if you have a question when you are not online, it is a benefit in that it can be updated immediately if problems are found, information is missing, or new features are added.