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Preparing Your MIDI Sequence for Notation Software

This TTOTD points out the differences between printing musical parts from your sequencer vs. using a dedicated notation program.

Q: “I printed out parts for a tenor sax and a bass player to record ‘live’ but they tell me they are unreadable. What should I do?”

A: The best thing you can do is find someone who has dedicated notation software to prepare your printed music. Sequencer-based music printing has come a long way in the past few years but it still falls short of meeting the standards that musicians expect when reading a sheet of music.

Almost all notation software can import Standard MIDI Files. There is much you can do to make the conversion to notation easier. First, make a copy of your sequence, renaming it “My Song Notation” or something to distinguish it from your carefully performed version. In the copy, choose only the instrumental tracks you want played by live musicians and delete all other parts (you might leave a piano or keyboard part to help the copyist understand your song).

Next, quantize your tracks – “hard” – with 100% quantization values, so every note lands exactly on its rhythmic subdivision. Set your quantization to cover only the smallest note value that exists in your song – if you never wrote values shorter than a 16th note, select 16th notes. Don’t mistakenly quantize to a smaller value in an attempt to be more “accurate” – the result will only appear confusing. And don’t forget to include triplets!

If you have changed tempos in your song, make certain the point of the change is clear. WARNING: if you’ve sped up or slowed down without making appropriate click track changes – or played your entire song without following the sequencer’s metronome, you are essentially lost. Without a clear tempo reference, neither your sequencer nor the notation software can tell what the note values are supposed to be! Most professional sequencers allow you to drag bar lines around to match tempo; do this. Otherwise what you need is not a copy of your parts, but a transcription, in which the copyist listens to your parts and enters them into the software one note at a time. This costs a lot of money.

Also while quantizing, make certain that all notes are given their full rhythmic value. Even though you want the quarter notes played staccato, make sure they appear as quarter notes by making them a full 480 ticks (or whatever your ppqn is set to). The copyist will enter the actual articulations. Double check you work on these issues; they are a common source of copying problems.

Now about the saxophone player – many wind instruments are transposing instruments. This means they need parts written in a different key. If you know the correct keys for trumpets, all saxophones, French horns, etc. you can transpose them in your sequence. But it’s often better to leave them as they are and let the copyist handle this. Many notation programs can automatically perform this task and also handle multiple keys in the same file.

One exception to this rule might be a bass part. Bass guitar and bass violin music is written an octave above its actual pitch. To avoid complications caused by parts that appear many ledger lines below the staff, transpose your bass parts up one octave. Your copyist will thank you.

If you’re not a keyboard player you may have created an “unplayable” piano part by including chords with more notes than two hands can play or parts that are spread out over too great a range. In this case the copyist will probable need to extract two (or more) separate keyboard parts.

Now save your song as a Standard MIDI File. This option usually appears in your “Save” menu.

Finally, make a recording of your sequenced song to give to the copyist. This will help him or her to know where to indicate dynamics and tempo changes, articulations, and repeats.

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