Monday, April 30, 2012

Notating ideas

In my last post, a reader asked me how I notate/write down my song ideas.  I started responding to her but then realized it was getting to be quite long and maybe would be better as a separate post!

I picked up a minor in Music, and in that time I was able to read music at an adequate level.  Not enough to read an orchestral score, but enough to notate any taiko song I knew - which was all I really cared about, lol.

However, before I was at that point, I still had ideas that I wanted to write down, and I had two methods:
  • Hash Marks were my first system, and I still revert to it when I have a pattern I can't get down with notation quickly enough.  All I do is mark down 8 lines (effectively 8th notes) with differing lengths.  The line lengths just make it easier to see the pattern as a whole, because 8 equally-long lines make it look messier.  It goes something like:
        • Very long border mark, short mark, medium mark, short mark, long mark, short mark, medium mark, short mark.  Repeat if needed.
        • Circles or dots or X on or in-between lines to mark different types of sounds.
  • Graph Paper is the easiest method to use, but also takes longer than just throwing up some lines and you might not always have it handy.  A filled-in box is a note, an empty box is a space, an X is a different sound, etc.  Makes for a very organized notation, too.
In terms of technology, there's a few options:

  • Garageband (Mac) / Audacity (PC) are two recording programs that you can play into to record your ideas.  Doesn't matter if you play an instrument or just sing into the microphone, they can record separate tracks and play them back however you like.  They're not too hard to learn, but like graph paper, if you don't have it handy when you have an idea, you're out of luck.
  • Microphone is a less tech-savvy version than the above, but you can also call your own voice mail!  It's a good solution when you can't write anything down (like in the car or the bathroom, lol.)
  • Notation Software isn't cheap, but you can get it often for half-price if you're a student.  Finale and Sibelius (which I use) are the two bigger brands.  It's also ridiculously overpowered for what most of us would use it for.  It has a huge library of sounds, from taiko to gamelan to orchestral percussion.  To use this, you have to be able to write notation and be comfortable with a relatively difficult interface at first.

There are other programs out there, probably some apps as well.  To me, I feel that you don't need to know notation to compose a song, as long as you have a way to capture what's in your head and in a quick amount of time before it disappears.

If my readers have other suggestions that work for them, feel free to list them in the comments section!

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