Music software that corrects your indiscretions... Well, you know.
January 11, 2014 1:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to write string arrangements (and other instruments) for songs, and want a program that will correct my mistakes i.e parallel 5ths, and suggest other voicings that sound better, musically.

I've looked on the internet and have come to Finale and Sibelius, which I don't really know the difference between the two programs, in any way. My goals- I want to be able to import files from GarageBand into this ("magical" program), and have it correct any voicing problems I might have incurred, be able to harmonize other voicings (think angelic four part harmonies and beyond, if possible). Possibly write bass lines/other instruments, put them all together and see how they sound. Basically a band, without a band, Also, I'd like it to write my songs out as a score, all professional and sheet music-like, where I can make changes to the score at my will.

Does such a thing exist?
I'm really looking for it as an app on ipad, if at ALL possible (I've got so many musical apps it kills- mellotron, imini, on and on.., though I'm sure a program like this would probably need more firepower than the ipad4 can muster up).

So any thoughts? Does Sibelius or Finale do this? I see there are cheaper versions on this software for around $295 US (still a lot for me, though), but I take it this is more of a taste of what they can do. For reference, this is for my own benefit/semi home recording that I can take to my friend's studio who has professional equipment to give it proper treatment, if need be. These are my own songs/creations I'm writing, and want to be able to get idea to idea from one application to another (one of the reasons I haven't utilized a lot of my apps on the ipad, is because I seem to always run into problems of getting one program to work with another, or sorted glitches that turn up).

Other than my ipad, I use a desktop PC (HP), no biggie. I have Pro Tools 10 installed on it that I barely use, because my desktop speakers suck and it's a pain to unplug them and replug into my mbox, which sometimes works... frustrating.. But that's another story :-(

If anyone has any help, or uses any of these programs and can advise on them or anything else related, I would so greatly appreciate it. Thanks so much for your responses.
posted by readygo to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think what you're looking for exists.

The problem lies in trying to define "mistakes." Some baroque composers would have consciously avoided parallel fifths, but Beethoven reportedly laughed at the rule. Even Bach himself broke almost every "rule" of polyphony. Most of the "rules" were more like conventions - although people did attempt to enumerate them and write them down, they evolved like grammar in language, as a shared cultural idea without being laid down by a central authority. Like language, the "rules" of composition change and evolve with each new generation of speakers.

Certainly once you get into the twentieth and twenty-first century it's impossible to ever rule out any musical device as unequivocally "wrong." There are so many conflicting and overlapping musical styles and schools, each with their own conventions and quirks, that it's impossible to find a single point of agreement - and even if you could, breaking the rules is one of the most important tools a composer has available to them. Music would never advance or change if everyone had stuck to Fux.

Sibelius is excellent for typesetting scores, which is what it was originally designed for. It can play back the music you've noted down, and transpose or respell, but it's not really a composition tool. All it really does is let you write down notes and play them back to you. It definitely won't write you a bassline. A number of people I know do compose directly in Sibelius, but they use it more like a composer would use a manuscript book on a piano - just to write down what they want to put where. It assumes a lot of background knowledge of theory and notation.

MIDI is probably your best bet for transferring files back and forth, but each program will have features that MIDI can't replicate, and a MIDI file is basically just a score - it tells the program which notes to play, but not what they sound like, so they can sound very different depending on which program you use.
posted by spielzebub at 5:02 AM on January 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Let me start by saying: my knowledge of Finale is a few years dated. Please, if you're going to buy it, try the free version first. Also, it looks like you can do it on Sibelius (a quick goggle check shows that it has a find parallel 8ths\5ths plug-in), but my experience on Sibelius is limited, so download that demo and try it too. I remember Sibelius being more light weight and easier to use, and it's sure cheaper. I really love Finale, but for what you're describing, it seems like massive overkill. To be honest, I'm not sure that having a program check for you is going to save you that much effort, but that's just something you'll have to see for yourself.

So, to answer your question: Yes, you can have a program check for parallel motion. For Finale, plug-ins are the answer (and it looks like the cheaper versions don't allow for plug ins). It's a massive program, expensive, and has a steep learning curve, but every addition I've tried had an incredibly helpful and in depth help file. In fact, here is the section about plug-ins for the user manual for 2012. If you'll scroll down to the part labeled "scoring and arranging" there's one labeled "find parallel motion" I don't know what other voicing problems you have, but if it's a "checking for theory 101-201 common practice period rules" thing, you may be able to find a plug in.

Here's the process I'd use for a new arrangement: enter everything into which ever music notation program you end up using, correct all the parts*, and from there you can export the parts as midi files. Then you can import those into Garage band (the first answer in this question seems to explain the process well). Ideally you'd humanize the midi playback somewhere in there (using a program to add random and small changes in timing, volume, etc. so it doesn't sound like it's played by a computer. Perfection sounds flat.).

For stuff that's already in Garage band, if you've got a midi file you can just import that into your program, otherwise you'll have to do the same process as you did for a new file, or dealing with the midi, you can just redo the parts (with correction) in Garage Band however you did it the first time.

*Personally, I like to print out the parts, play through them a few times (at different tempos, with different groupings, etc.) on a keyboard and watch\listen for mistakes that way. Then, if something pops up on the Finale plug in, you can make a choice that you like the way that sounded and so ignore it. Unless you're doing this for a grade, you always have that option. Plus, it'll give you a better sense of what arranging that you like looks\sounds\and feels like. But, not everyone writes music the same way, so that may not work for you.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:55 AM on January 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Short answer: this doesn't exist, and Finale and Sibelius are basically the same.
posted by nosila at 8:25 AM on January 11, 2014

I forgot to mention that Finale does have a auto-harmonize feature, as well as percussion and drum part creation tools. If that would sounds better than what you come up with, is another issue. I think what the program comes up with is an o.k. starting point, but it's pretty bland sounding, and I would never think of just using it without some serious tweaking.

So yeah, in theory, it's doable, but probably not the magic music making process you're hoping for. Since both Sibelius and Finale (which are different, but probably not for what you want to do) have a free 30 day trial, if you're going to give it a go, try it out before buying anything.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:17 AM on January 11, 2014

Thanks for all the great answers! I didn't even think of downloading a trial version (or that there would be one available), so thanks, I'll do that.

Also I was wondering about composers who work on arrangements (strings and other), what programs they might use, and if they're used more as a "manuscript" as mentioned upthread, just to digitially notate their compositions? Or if the programs mid sized composers use have more in the way of fitting and putting things together?

In turn I wasn't looking per se for a program that would write a bass line, more so one that might be able to incorporate something I've written with the other instruments. That was just a side note as well, though!

Thanks for your answers :-)
posted by readygo at 4:17 PM on January 11, 2014

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