TI:ME Essay: Notation Software

Barbara FreedmanMusic Technology Basics, Uncategorized6 Comments

As I said in my previous post, Electronic Instruments & MIDI, these essays are part of TI:ME Level 1 Certification and answer specific questions posed for certification.

This essay goes a little further as it address the concept of music literacy.

  • musicteacher541

    Yes, indeed, there are lots of software and technologies on the internet that are intended to help music teachers. There are also available sites that provide tips and resources in music teaching. We, music teachers, just have to utilize these innovations to further increase our knowledge and skills in teaching.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • I like how you give a brief overview of the two most popular programs. I personally use Sibelius, while my university chooses to use Finale.

    But beyond that, you make a very valid point that having the musical aptitude to understand what you’re doing in a notation program, to hear it, and to produce it on a keyboard is imperative. The point being that we need to be able to speak musically before we read it, but what I’m most concerned about is making sure that we, as music educators, let students experiment with notation software.

    Let’s look at Messiaen’s “Quartet por la fin du temps,” however. A piece that isn’t written within the context of normal composition, meaning that it doesn’t follow a structured form of meter, but one that the performer is responsible for delegating. A work like Messiaen’s is very difficult to create in a notation program, but noticeably easier by hand. Which brings me to this point- it is imperative that students be able to produce the same work on manuscript as they can on notation software. Notation software isn’t meant to be educational so much as it is meant to be productive, thus whatever education being provided could happen on staff paper, then opening up projects for students to work in Finale/Sibelius. However, it would be worth while teaching students how to use the programs so that they have a working knowledge and so they can branch out into other endeavors. I think what is most important, is making sure equip students with the skills they need, while not limiting them.

    We generally don’t keep up to date with this technology when we’re out teaching because of the various other duties we fulfill, but I think it’s important that we become a technological field. We need to adapt to a musical world that is employing electronics in a way more than Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain.”

    We’re a creative folk and we need to teach others that creativity is acceptable and fantastic.

    • Thanks for your very thoughtful reply. I liked hearing from the post secondary perspective. There are concerns for post secondary music students that I just choose not to address in high school. Most of my students won’t become musicians but enjoy listening to and creating music. They want to make “good” music. They want to make engaging music. They understand that creating engaging music means mastering the language of music, the fundamentals of music, the relationship of notes to each other or what we call music theory. When they learn to create engaging music they must also become critical listeners. Learning musical composition makes creators and critical listeners. Notation is a means of preserving their creations. There are other means especially if the music is NOT going to be recreated by other performers. I went to college with professors of composition and music theory Charles Dodge, Noah Creshevsky and Robert Starrer. We studied George Crumb and Steve Reich. I don’t know the Messiaen example you refer to but I can speak to a more known piece Respighi’s Pines of Rome. How does one notate the exact sounds heard on the tape of birds? I know your point is about the necessity to learn hand written manuscript and I will agree for students of music this is important. It can only help when using software. Better yet is what you consider to be “most important”, “making sure we equip students with the skills they need, while not limiting them”. Several of my colleges and I have been discussing the limited time most of them have in the secondary classes to teach composition given all the other requirements of the curriculum. I only ask other music teachers to ask yourselves, is teaching notation given the software and hardware tools available today really of priority over teaching the musical skills necessary to create engaging music or is teaching notation and expecting composition solely through and with notation really limiting them? Critical assessment of music does not have to be only visual through notation. Hey, it music! Listen to it! Look at it in other ways. Why do we need to teach students to read and write Greek to speak Latin? Thanks so much for your reply!

  • I’d like to respond to your statement which read, “Personally, I am not a fan of using notation software as the primary composition or teaching tool for students K-12.” I use Finale Notepad (2008, which was free) in my music theory classes that I teach (grades 9-12). I wouldn’t call Finale Notepad the “primary teaching tool” that I use, but I have developed weekly computer lab lessons where students apply what they’ve been learning in class on a daily basis…for example, asking them to create specific scales (on a template) for given keys immediately following after our unit on scales. In this case, I’d say that using Finale (Notepad) is the primary composition tool I use in my theory classes. The time in the computer lab is very popular with my students, and they use the time working on the assigned labs, and when finished, often work on creating their own compositions. It gives a “change of pace” to the daily procedures we normally follow (lecture, sample exercises, and so on). And we’re all familiar with the impact the inclusion of technology has on any academic field…music is the same–technology increases student interest as well as (forces!) teacher creativity. Finally, if you’re using a standard theory textbook in grades 9-12, many resources are available specifically for music notation programs, like Finale.

    In summary, although music notation software might not be the primary tool you use for composition or as a teaching tool, I’d certainly argue that it should still be part of your curriculum. The fact that Finale notepad now costs $10 can be problematic for schools that have been accustomed to getting the program for free (Where do you get $340 to outfit a 34-station lab?). Nonetheless, I still urge music educators in 9-12 to do this; and I’d even argue that students in 6-8 are capable to learn some of these concepts as well.

    I’d also like to add that we can over-stress the importance of the keyboard in theory, too. Students need to be able to understand the concepts of music theory both at the keyboard and away from it.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. First I want to say that if my comments sound a little defensive or self-righteous it

      • I guess I’m not following the Greek-Latin argument. I consider notation and notation software to be a direct relation to the study of music. I’d suggest taking one of your classes with their compositions and exposing them to the actual notation software, and see what happens. In my experience, students learn the software quickly…and the ability to hear what they compose helps greatly.

        My music theory classes are actually 1/2 and 1/2…1/2 are band/choir students with a background in reading music; the other 1/2 tend to be guitar students who have no idea how to read or write music, but want to.

        Funny you should mention guitar…I’ll be teaching a guitar class to 9-11 grade students this fall, and I’m not a major guitar player. I passed some guitar proficiency classes for elementary music education fifteen years ago. But I have some good method books to work with along with other resources, so I know things will be fine. I do plan on teaching traditional notation…but we’ll also study tab notation, as they’ll see it in the “real world.”

        I’m with you, 100%, in the idea of hooking students into what we do. Technology is a key to that. And I don’t even think I’m arguing against your point…I just think that notation software has a place in the high school curriculum for sure–even for performance courses. In vocal music, students can create their own accompaniment for SmartMusic with Finale…and learn about keys, time signatures, tempos, and the vertical aspects of music. Instrumentalists could do the same. I also knew of a band director who had a song literally falling apart, so he took his kids into the computer lab and they each re-created their own part (the piece was permanently out of print). They were learning the same things…as well as discovering another step in the production of music itself…the hidden role of the engraver.

        Thanks for taking the time to shoot ideas back and forth!