Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Computers vs. Good Old Manuscript Paper?

 Welcome to the COMPOSER'S STAFF, a blog for all types of classical composers!  Hopefully you'll find this site very useful.  
  Now, to start of off with our first discussion, a matter which is the subject of much controversy in the world of contemporary composition: the use of Computers vs Manuscript paper.  

  Personally, I find computer programs like Finale and Sibelius to be fantastic for editing, organizing, and printing the final scores, but I can't write freely unless I'm sat down at a piano with a pad of manuscript paper and a pencil.  Something about writing the score from scratch using a computer seems restrictive to me.  Those programs seem to lend themselves to very vertical and machine-like music.  As beautiful as organization can be, a great deal of classical music derives its beauty from chaos.  It seems hard to believe that a piece as entropy-filled as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring could have been written on a computer program.  Even at the other end of the classical spectrum, the third movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 (which sounds like the score from a cowboy film) could not possibly have been composed solely on a computer program, regardless of the extraordinary playback which the programs provide.  I say manuscript paper wins over computer programs and will always be the easiest and most organic medium for composition.


  1. thats a great question, that many comp. find themselves asking. i agre that manuscript paper, is the way to go. why fix what's not broken? composers have been using mnuscript paper for hundreds of years, so whhy change methods all of a sudden?

  2. Hi - jumped over here from the Atlanta Composers blog. I third the manuscript paper idea. It's a lot easier to sketch things out. But I don't always make a complete draft before I put things in the computer.

    Right now I'm doing an indeterminate piece, directly into Sibelius (well, there were some doodles on paper first). If you know how to use it, you won't get machine-like music. I am using the symbol tool instead of the normal note entry - that way things don't have to line up and I can do proportional notation. The only potential drawback is that there will be no way to hear a MIDI realization.

    Then again, did Beethoven or Stravinsky use MIDI realizations?

  3. And if Vivaldi had had Sibelius, he could have written 6000 concertos instead of 600.

  4. Also from the Atlanta Composers Blog...

    I use LilyPond. Makes much better looking scores than Finale or Sibelius. Not the easiest thing to compose in, but boy, looks perty! Usually will record my thoughts in GarageBand or Zoom handheld recorder. Then transcribe into LilyPond. I rarely use paper and it's only to write something down faster than using computer to capture a thought on the spot.

    Actually, I have a little Moleskine notation book I keep in a breast pocket to jot down ideas when I'm out in the world. One way I still use paper.

  5. Thanks a lot for all the advice and opinions guys! i just checked out Lilypond and it really does make awesome sheet music.

  6. The thing is to treat the computer as a noisy form of paper score.
    No matter how it's written it's not music until, and only while, it is being performed.

  7. I agree with you when you say that computer can be restrictive sometimes. If we're writing something that requires our presence near the instrument(s) of the piece, like ruidist compositions, we won't have the same result just using a musical notation program.

    I use to compose with pencil and paper, but sometimes I use the computer too. It depends of what you're writing. There are composers who usually don't like to use any instrument, because they think it can be distractive. They prefer to look for musical ideas throught their minds. Those people can most easily write directly in the computer than others who prefer to search for their material in an instrument.

    Beethoven, for instance, particularly in his last phase (when he was becoming deaf), could easily compose at the computer (if he had have one, of course). Because he used to look for material in his mind (he was becoming deaf....). Vivaldi used to write from memory too. So, here you have two examples of composers who could easily work with the computer from the root of a piece.

  8. P.S. I have both Lilypond and Sibelius and personally I think this last one overcomes Lilypond a lot.