Jess Hendricks Composer • Performer • Developer

A big part of evolving my own compositional process is letting it actually evolve and not forcing the issue. So I have discovered that seeing the page is also a useful and somewhat essential part of the process for me. In fact I can confirm that my brain seems to consider totally different things between composing in Logic Pro without any notation and composing in Sibelius notation software.

Psychological effects of the bar line

The bar line is hard to deal with and some composers may not even realize it. It messes with your brain. I have to be cognizant of the bar line’s power to influence decisions. One of my many teachers, Lansing McLoskey, had the wonderful idea of setting your working score to some ridiculous time signature like 99/4. That way in the early stages you rarely saw the bar lines and they would have less of an influence over rhythmic and structural decisions. My solution was more composing using a DAW software like Logic or Digital Performer, which was recommended by another teacher of mine.

Each method has its advantages and both alleviate the influence of the bar line in my mind. Unfortunately each method has significant disadvantages for me.

Sibelius large measure technique

  • there are still note values and other notation quirks that get in the way of conceptualizing lines
  • Since the last step of my composition process is making a usable score, this adds another step – either converting the craziness to logical time signatures or starting a new score

Logic Pro Method

  • It is infinitely easier to see lines in relation to each other for me in a score
  • I find that in larger ensembles I neglect some instruments. Not a huge deal but the oboe would not appreciate sitting there for a 10 minutes orchestra piece to play two measures

Dorico: A third option presents itself

On a whim I decided to give Dorico 2, the new notation software by Steinberg a trial run since it had a recent major update. This is when I discovered something quite interesting about the workflow for this program: time signatures are not required!

In my limited exposure so far this has enabled me to work through ideas without thinking about measures or time signatures. Dorico enables me to sketch out my ideas without bar lines while still seeing my work represented with notes instead of bars on a sequencer. (In fairness to Logic Pro X, there is a score view, but I find it is unwieldy. Also it still has barlines.)

The “Write” workflow in Dorico before time signatures are added.

Although in some places this software still feels like a “work in progress”, the current version is much more complete than the previous. The question now is do I take the plunge and look into purchasing and learning an entirely new notation program?

It has some interesting workflow features and some early impressions:

  • Pros
    • Like Sibelius, it seems to keep things from colliding pretty well, which will significantly cut down on editing time.
    • Parts look pretty damn good out of the box with no editing.
    • The layout or “Engraving” section looks pretty robust.
    • This program is not reliant on the number pad like Finale and Sibelius. Thank you for acknowledging that many composers now work on laptops.
  • Cons
    • Not all of the playback features are mapped yet, like artificial harmonics (I love writing those)
    • Learning another notation software seems daunting, but I have become adept at learning new programs.
    • I really hate having to plugin in a USB license dongle… fortunately I think if I leave that unplugged it will put the license on my system.

And now for something completely different…

In Part 3 of this series I discuss composing purely electroacoustic music in Logic Pro X.