Monthly Archives: March 2015

Universal method to compose music (1)

Is it possible to learn to compose music or is it only a gift you possess or do not possess ?

This question is probably worrying more than one musician or beginner. Music must seem strange or mysterious to those who only know music by listening and appreciating it. How to line up notes, rhythms and chords to create such a harmonious set of sound ? Then you say to yourself you will never get there. STOP ! Such an attitude is just the same as asking yourself why you can not write Japanese poetry if you never learned Japanese. It is a matter of steps : to go up the ladder, you start on the first rung, not on the tenth (which would also seem impossible to reach).

ARPEGE has always answered this question in a categorical way : Yes you can learn to compose music, no matter how not talented your are. Now the practical difficulty is to design a method that will work for everybody and that would be flexible enough to:

  • embrass all musical styles (from classic to hard rock, indian music to acousmatic music,…) and all inspiration forms,
  • be accessible to any person, even without musical background

I believe such a method is possible and must be formed by a well ordered series of steps, mastered one after the other. Even if the tools of Pizzicato today are still limited compared to a “universal and ideal method”, I think that such a method, to be effective, shoud at least contain the following elements:

  1. A regular listening to various musical styles
  2. A good understanding of what sound is and how its fundamental properties influence the musical auditing impression
  3. A good understanding of the written musical language in its most common form : the music score
  4. The learning and practicing of a musical instrument, progressively in relation to the score (reading and writing of scores for the instrument)
  5. The practical study of one or more music software and also the music keyboard (if it is not your main instrument)
  6. The progressive practice of music composition, on the grounds you learned in the above steps, first based on simple and structured methods
  7. A practical study of the various music composition theories (harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, serial music,…)
  8. The listening and practical analysis of application examples of those musical theories or any other creative method
  9. A progressive development of one’s own musical universe, of one’s own composition method build on the basic understanding one has acquired from music
  10. The musical creation work itself : your career as a composer, including learning how to disseminate your music and make your compositions known.

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I don’t mean that to compose you necessarily need to learn or master all these points. Not at all. But someone who would study a practical, complete and progressive method based on all 10 points above could not help but really publish his own CDs, no matter how not talented he was before beginning. The purpose of ARPEGE is to create such a method, the Pizzicato software being the tool to reach it.

You can assume that if you really want to compose something personal and that would be well received and really have success, you will need to put the expected effort on it. The easy way does not exist. You need to work on it and persevere. Stable successes are based upon work and a full understanding of the subject, like in any other areas.

It all depends on the goal you have. Is it to entertain yourself, to impress friends, to really understand music, live it and create it, to expresse yourself through it and in full knowledge, to publish your own CDs, to become a professional composer ? Each goal is possible and valid. Just be honest to yourself : what is your goal ? Then apply the necessary method to reach it.

The point is, if you know nothing about music and you really want to become a composer and successfully publish your CDs, do not expect to reach that with a “magic wand”. An important work is waiting for you. But the path and the results will be of high value to you : you will understand music and will be able to express yourself with it.

The “Professional” or “hobbyist” aspect does not necessarily enter into consideration, because even a hobby can be practiced with the greatest care. The real question is “How much do I want to understand music and create my own music ?”. By using an easy and/or automatic composition software, you will enjoy it, you will be able to learn music and make some nice personal compositions. Such softwares may bring you a lot of things. But don’t expect the result of it to become number one in the charts or to be selected as the music of a success film.

You may also envision things by steps. Your goal may increase with your knowledge. If in the beginning you only want to better understand music and entertain yourself, do just that. If you get more involved in it, increase your goal and study music further.

Our long term project is to give you the possibility to reach those goals, with tools contained in Pizzicato (present and future releases), with more progressive, personal and specific music courses.

Next, we will look further into the 10 above points, while also orienting you to already existing resources in Pizzicato and on the Internet. Until then, take the time to define your own musical goals…:-)

Dominique Vandenneucker

Designer of Pizzicato.

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Managing sounds to compose music

We saw the various possibilities offered by a sound card, as well as the methods used to generate sounds.

While working with a MIDI software (like Pizzicato), it is useful to select, collect, handle and play instruments sounds with which you want your scores and composition played. How ?

I suggest the use of the SoundFont standard, created by the Creative Labs and Emu companies. It is a well known sound format and you can find lots of sound libraries, some free and some to buy. Let’s see the practical steps to select your sounds, create a bank and assign them so that Pizzicato can play your scores with your sound selection.

The first phase is to select your sounds. This needs to steps : find sounds and listen to them. To find sounds, use your prefered Internet research tool (Google, Yahoo, Msn,…) and enter keywords “Free SoundFont”. You will rapidly find numerous sites with SoundFont instruments and effects. Some are good, some are bad. You must then listen to them and test them.

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For this, you can use the Virtual Sampler 3 software. You can download its demo version at http://www.maz-sound.com/index.php?show=product&id=2 Once installed, you may open a SoundFont file and listen to the sounds with a musical keyboard displayed on the screen.

When installing the software, specify that you want the “Speedsoft Midi Cables” installed. With them, Pizzicato will be able to send the notes of your score to Virtual Sampler 3. These “virtual cables” may then be selected in the Pizzicato Option menu, Midi Setup… and set in the MIDI output.

You may proceed as follows to select your sounds :

  • Add a directory in your hard disk for the sound files you download, for instance C:\SoundFonts\Download
  • Use a search engine to find sites offering SoundFont files
  • Download a sound in your directory. SoundFont files have the “.sf2” extension
  • Start Virtual Sampler 3 and click the “sf2” button in the middle of the screen.
  • Using the opening dialog, select the downloaded file
  • The sounds contained in the file appear in the main part of the screen. By clicking a sound, you may then listen to it by using the musical keyboard displayed on the screen. If the sound looks good for you, move the file to another directory, for instance C:\SoundFonts\My Sounds
  • Continue to select your prefered sounds for each instrument family you use,…
    The next step is to assemble those sounds into a personal sound bank that can be used by Pizzicato (or by any MIDI software).
  • The idea is to take each sound you have individually selected and create a unique SoundFont file (.sf2) that contains them all.

For this purpose, you may download the free software “Vienna SoundFont Studio 2” on the Creative Labs site at (http://www.soundfont.com/downloads.html ). This software lets you create a sound bank and fill it with sounds from various other banks and then save them in one unique file.

The main problem is the correspondance between MIDI and the created SoundFont file. The Vienna software lets you assign a Preset number (0 to 127) and a bank number (0 to 127). First assign all sounds to bank 0 and for the preset, respect the General Midi numbering (you can find the list at http://www.bluemax.net/techtips/Midi/Midipatchnum.htm but be aware that some user interfaces use a number from 1 to 128 and some others between 0 and 127; subtract or add 1 accordingly).

For instance, if you find a good violin sound, assign it bank 0 and preset 40 (41 minus 1 for the violin, see the list). In this way, you stay compatible with General Midi and the MIDI files you create or open stay standard on the sounds used.

If you create an extensive sound bank, for instance by adding 10 different violin sounds, keep the same preset but use other values than 0 for the bank number, while keeping the 0 bank for the default violin.

While doing this, write carefully on paper the sound table (preset, bank and instrument name), because you will need it to create a compatible synthesizer for Pizzicato.

To use the Vienna software, read the help section of the help menu. This program also helps you to create Sound Font files starting from any Wav or mp3 file.

Once your SoundFont file has been created, you need to play it with Pizzicato or a MIDI software. If you have a recent SoundBlaster card (from AWE 64 up), you may use the utility program of the card to load your sound library into the card, because the card has an integrated SoundFont player. For details, see the documentation and the online help of the card (Start, Program, Creative) to know how to load a file into your card.

If you do not have a SoundFont compatible card, you may use a SoundFont player software. Virtual Sampler 3 does this, but there are others too. Search for them on the Web with expressions like “SoundFont player, SoundFont reader”. In any case, the software must give a direct MIDI link, i.e. adding a MIDI output port in Windows so that it can be used by Pizzicato or any MIDI software.

In Pizzicato, the last step is to select the MIDI output (Option menu, Midi Setup…) which corresponds to the SoundFont compatible card or to the MIDI output going to the SoundFont player software.

For the Pizzicato Light and Beginner versions, the only possible synthesizer is the General Midi, so you need to respect the General Midi preset numbering as exposed here above.

Fot the Professional Pizzicato version, you may create a new synthesizer which answers to the various sounds assigned to the non zero bank instruments. Refer to the lesson on synthesizers on the screen help or on our site at page http://www.arpegemusic.com/manual/EN630.htm Use the list you have prepared while selecting your sounds in Vienna.

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The use of the various softwares renders the task more complex and what we described here is not a simple procedure. We envision tools to create your personal SoundFont files so that Pizzicato may handle itself this sometimes complicated task of assigning presets and banks. This article was designed only to give you the main steps of the process so that you can personalize your sounds and use them with Pizzicato.

Concerning sound banks, if your needs are high regarding the orchestral instruments quality, you may orient yourself to the EW Symphonic Orchestra software which contains an impressive quantity of orchestral recorded samples. The software exists in various versions between 300 and 3000 $US. You may find information at http://www.soundsonline.com/sophtml/details.phtml?sku=EW-161 The demo files show the quality of the sound result. It seems that the software uses a personalized sample player and needs a powerful machine.

Dominique Vandenneucker

Designer of Pizzicato.

The various parts of a sound card

When composing, as well as playing music, the sound quality is of course very important. Let us remind that in the MIDI world (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), the sound quality is something which is not dealt with at all.

Indeed, when a note is sent through MIDI by a music software, it is only an instruction of the type “Play a C # note, with an average force, during X seconds, with a sound of trumpet”. The sound quality of the trumpet entirely depends upon the synthesizer receiving the MIDI instruction, but not at all upon the software which sent it. This synthesizer may be the one integrated in your sound card or an external synthesizer connected to your computer.

On this subject, it is useful to remind that on most sound cards, there are two distinct parts, often confused in their functions. The first part – used by most multimedia and didactic software – is the audio part. It makes it possible to read sound files of the type “wav”, “mp3”,… As such a file contains all information about the sound to play, the card can thus read this file and make it into sounds. It is also this part of the card that generates the sound warnings of Windows. This function of the card is usually automatically configured with the installation of Windows.

The other function of a sound card is the synthesizer. There are sometimes several different synthesizers according to the sound card. This module receives MIDI information and transforms them into sounds. This module is used by a MIDI software and also makes it possible to read MIDI files (.mid). The quality of the generated sounds is then directly dependent upon the quality of this synthesizer module. In other words, a $25 sound card will be much worse than an external $2,500 synthesizer! There lies the difference and one can find a large range of various sound qualities. Moreover, the taste also intervenes, the banks of sounds also having aesthetic characteristics appreciated by some and not by others, for the same price.

Thus we have two parts in the sound card : the reading of existing sounds and the sound synthesis. A sound card may contain several modules of each kind. Those two modules are electronic systems integrated in your sound card.

In addition to these electronic modules, we often find a software synthesizer. The principle is the same as the electronic synthesizer, but the sound creation is done by software, using the processor computing speed and no more by the electronic devices of the card. For a music software, this type of synthesizer is seen as a MIDI output to which MIDI instructions may be sent to play a musical score. This synthesizer computes the sound in real time and sends it to the first part of the card, as seen here above: the one that simply plays an existing sound. Therefore, a low quality sound card with a very bad synthesizer may play very nice sounds when combined to a software synthesizer playing the sounds on the audio part of the card.

Some information on how sounds are created. The first synthesizers used mathematical computing methods of the sound harmonics and could influence the sonority and the way it evolved with time. Those methods use the properties of electronic devices. It was the era of “analog” synthesizers, which contributed very much to the richness of electronic instruments. Those electronic systems are now simulated by software, with a much greater flexibility because you just need to change the software, no more the electronic devices of the card.

The other method is to use a sample table. The idea is to have real sounds in memory, recorded for each instrument : a real trumpet note is recorded and saved in a file, and this for each instrument. When the synthesizer receives a MIDI instruction to play an organ note, it finds the sample of the organ note, modifies it to adapt its pitch and velocity and then combines it with the other playing notes (mixing), because at the same time there may be notes playing with other instruments, as in an orchestration. Depending on the samples quality, we get much better sound quality, at least for natural instruments. The requested quality may go as far as sampling each note of a real piano, each with various velocity levels (speed of hitting the note) and in a CD sound quality or even more. Therefore, the sampling information quantity to treat may become very high and it is common for professional samplers to deal with hundreds of megabytes of samples. One can then reach an almost perfect quality in the reproduction of natural instruments, but one needs to pay the price for it. However, even basic samplers produce quite satisfactory sound results.

This sampling method may be implemented in two ways : by an electronic system present on the sound card or by a sampling software, often called “virtual sampler”. You can load sound samples banks into it and this sampler then behaves as a MIDI synthesizer to which a music software may send MIDI instructions to play a music score.

What is the optimum solution for composing music ? If you work at home, for you, I would say that any above method is correct, as soon as the sound quality achieves your requirements. However, if you want to easily communicate your music, personalize it, manage and distribute it, I would presently recommend software solutions. To play your compositions, I suggest to use a sampler and for sound creation (synthesis sounds to personalize your compositions), use a synthesis software that can export the sound results as samples to play on the sampler software.

In the field of sound cards and samples, there is a very interesting standard named “SoundFont”. It is like a word processing with which you can write in various text fonts (Arial, Times, Courier,…). Here the “fonts” are sounds, used to perform your music score. These sound banks may be downloaded from numerous Internet sites (some free and some to buy) and it is a method to exchange sounds. By using the same SoundFont banks on various computers and sound cards, you can get the same sound effects, which guaranties the reproduction of your music composition.

Ideally, your sound card should be SoundFont compatible, which is the case in recent SoundBlaster cards, among others. The SoundFont standard evolved from the work of Creative Labs (SoundBlaster cards manufacturer) and Emu (professional synthesizers and samplers manufacturer). Otherwise, you may use a virtual sampler software, but you need a more powerful computer (the exact power needed depends upon the size of the sample files and also the number of simultaneous notes played, be careful for big orchestrations!).

After this theoretical introduction, we will examine practical software solutions so that you can enhance the sound quality of the scores you write with Pizzicato or the playing of your MIDI files.

Let us know of any reactions on this subject, to email address support@arpegemusic.com I am listening to you and ready to answer your questions and to help you in this subject!

Dominique Vandenneucker

Designer of Pizzicato.

Music teachers education and aspirations – technology in schools

 

Music teachers training and career : collegiality

In some occasions, in some places, it can happen that there is a shortage of music teachers. That is why their recruitement is a main priority – with students evaluation, instruction for children and music technology.

To pursue music teaching as a career is an important decision that music students in higher education take because of remarkable teachers, experiences and events (for example the possibility to teach music younger students, concerts, competitions), parents influence and personal feelings (love of music, call to teach).

Practicing music teachers often continue to educate themselves via sessions and courses in a collegial framework. Collaboration and collegiality seem to be essential as teaching appears as a lonely profession (the teacher is alone in the classroom – not completely alone of course but alone to teach and to check the acquisition of the knowledge by the students).

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Music teachers using technology: no technology in the classroom without them

Music teachers want to feel important and involved in their professional framework, that is completely natural. For that reason, the principal plays in every place an important role of valorization and he brings information. As a lot of teachers spend time thinking, analyzing and writing about how and what they teach, the principal must help them to determine the best practice in the framework of their specific music school.

Music teachers can tailor their professional experience thanks to various development programs for music teachers. These programs are often oriented on technology, assesment, creativity and writing. In matter of music technology, as all teachers employed in national, regional or local schools mainly teach classical music, they use software oriented on the score.

The principal and a little circle of teachers generally generate new ways of learning, begin to use new tools and share them with the other teachers. And sometimes these ones share with their students. That is what I saw myself in a certain number of music schools, as I regularly meet directors and teachers to give information related to Pizzicato music composition and notation software.

In every place, I meet cultivated music principals who often already chose a tool for their own work (exams preparations, concerts in the framework of their school, personal composition work, etc), Pizzicato or another one, sometimes they have several programs.

Sometimes I also have the chance to meet a very motivated pedagog or pedagogic team really preoccupated by the diffusion of technology near youth because they know that if the students have some tool at home it will be an asset for them in the framework of music learning.

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Then I feel doing a useful task when I present Arpege Music free program for schools, teachers, students and choirs, program which offers to all actors of music education the possibility to download freely our music notation software ‘Pizzicato Light’: everyone can register without any fee at http://www.arpegemusic.com/music-education-software.htm#B4

For advanced teachers who already have skills in music technology and already master Pizzicato themselves, I recommend 8 products to write and compose music at special pricing. The complete program is presented here: http://www.arpegemusic.com/education.htm It offers exceptional discounts for very high quality software.

I hope that, discovering and presenting them, music teachers will be able to deepen, renew and share their call for teaching. In a context which sees the importance of technology, a music software like Pizzicato can partly contribute to deserve the cause of Music.

Musically,

Francoise Delsaux

Arpege Music

Music education program

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