10 tips for working with music notation software

Using music notation software, almost everybody can easily make sheet music fast and readible. However easy, anybody who tried knows of the difficulties producing really good looking scores. In fact,
a good program does not at all guarantee a decent result.

here are 10 tips to improve your work with music notation software.

1. memorise short keys
Using short keys is essential for working with any software. At minimum you should be familiar with the “copy-paste” combinations, that is: ctrl.+c to copy, ctrl.+x to cut and ctrl.+v to paste.

But there are many further keys for almost every other action.
It is very much worth the effort to memorise the ones for the
tools you are using the most.

helpful: – Strg.+a = mark all
– Strg.+ s = save
– remember: keyboard beats mouse

2. mind correct usage of rests
Most programs automaticly fill the bars you’re working on with rests – but not always in a correct order, giving your work an unprofessional look and irritating musicians performing your notes.

Re-adapt the rests according to the conventions. (siehe also: 4. and 5.)
Some theoretical knowledge of texture will be useful at this point.

3. save often
It’s the simple things you need to remind yourself of the most. Software can and will crash. Non-saved progress of work can be lost. Usually this happens, when you forgot to save for a longer period of time, or after typing in particularly complex passages. This will be very frustrating, anoying and time wasting.  Hence it is wise to save as often as possible.

helpful: – move the save-button to a convenient place on your screen
– activate auto save
– see also: 1.

4. re-adjusting and proofreading
At this point usually the most potential is lost due to laziness.
When finised putting in all the notes and everything, temptation is big to publish and share the sheet music at once. You did your best, put in great effort and are pretty shure, you did’nt make any mistakes – everything looks fine.

But you should resist. Take a break, and then check every detail, every note again. You will be surprised, how much little things evode your attention.
Dynamics, slurs, articulations might be missing, or not positioned correctly.
Even more aggrevating,  almost every time there will be wrongs notes, or even whole bars could be missing. Don’t forget to check the sharps, flats and naturals.

You should not only look through the score, also the single parts need re-adjusting. The auto exerpts the program compiles for you are not necessarily based on aesthetics. Slurs, texts, characters etc. may need to be repositioned, bars and spaces between the lines re-proportioned. Automatic excerpts are mere drafts or models, not ready-made parts.

bad news:
proofreading is tedious and tiresome
good news:
it’s paying off big

helpful: – listen (also see 7.)
– enlarge

5. use plate engraved music as a model
Scorewriting software massively decreased the costs and effords necessary to create sheet music. Nowadays any musician can do so at home. Due to the permanent refinement of the programs, the results are getting better and better. Yet, nothing available is beating the plate music engraving from the late 19th century aesthetically. Make it your task to orientate yourself to them.

helpful: -look at old engravings and notice the proportions of bars and lines, of notes and rest, and see how slurs, dynamics etc. are positioned

6. simple comes first
Occasionally while typing you will not exectly know, how a bar turns out. Sometimes very complex passages can be discouraging and confusing. Use the same technique as if aproaching a problem in physics: solve the simple tasks, and the following steps will be more clear or even come automaticly.

7. listen
Use the play-back function frequently to check every passage you just put in. Your ears will identify mistakes more easily than your eyes. Muting some parts can be useful.

8. print from pdf files
Printing direcly from you engraving program on your own computer is’nt a problem. By doing so on another computer (and/or another person), however, the result can differ due to alternate software versions or individual settings.
That’s why you should prepare pdf files to print from. This way the results become predictable and will be always the same.

9. re-adjust the number of bars per system
Most programs will break the systems or lines automaticly, depending on the space needed within a bar and the number of bars.
Sometimes that leaves you with lines sqeezed together or drawn long – not very appealing and, more important, not convenient for performing.
Re-adjust the bars manually to avoid that.
see also: 2., 4. and 5.

10. fill the pages
Similar to 9., your program will fill the pages with as many Systems it sees fitting. Sometimes this leaves big empty areas. That is a waste of space and, again, is not appealing.
Re-adjust the spaces beetween the lines and the systems, and the number of systems per page, to fill the pages aestheticly.
see also: 2., 4., 5.