Music Notation Software

QuickScore Elite Music Notation and Sequencing Software for Windows. Sion Software 4497 W. Sixth Ave., Vancouver, BC V6R 1V2 $79.95; Level II $179.95

Many society members are church musicians, educators, or both, and as such have occasion to prepare score: transcribing, arranging, or even composing music. Of recent years, the combination of acrylic ink, fine point pens, manuscript paper and photocopying that not long since, and so felicitously, displaced the antediluvian technology of metal pens and wood holders, engrossing ink and transparencies, has itself been superseded by - what else- computer software that allows one to enter and erase by means of keyboard (ASCII or MIDI) and mouse and yields professional quality printed copy. On the assumption that those readers who have not as yet computerized their score preparation are - or will shortly be- thinking about doing so, I preface the review of QuickScore with some general comments.

I admit at the outset that, absent extraordinary pains and care, my own manuscript is all but illegible. Scoring software has thus been a godsend for me, and I have used it for some time now, since first laying hands on an early version of Songwright for my old Tandy 1000. Nowadays there are many scoring and sequencing programs of varying prices and capabilities available for Windows, Macintosh, or either; but two seem to have emerged as the industry leaders, Coda Software's Finale and Passport Designs' Encore. Both may be had for Windows or Macintosh; and both are relatively expensive. Encore lists for $595 and Finale $545 (down from last year's price of $745). Coda makes Finale available to churches, schools, and academics for only $250, and two less powerful and less expensive versions of Encore are available.

Finale is a comprehensive program that can do just about anything, usual or unusual, a composer or arranger might require, from partial key signatures to unorthodox meter signatures, from avant-garde symbols to 15th century ligatures (with the appropriate third party font), and anything in between. It is thus the favorite of those who make heavy use of scoring software. On the other hand, Finale is a very difficult program both to master and to stay up with (the comforting reassurances in the company's advertising notwithstanding). Even after scaling its steep learning curve, regular use is necessary to maintain any degree of facility. Encore is far less complex, but also more limited. It is also much easier to learn and to use. It cannot do such things as partial signatures, non-traditional meters and unusual notational symbols like those found in avant-garde music. Somewhat more frustrating, Encore allows a line or page to be exported as a graphic (for use on an examination or program insert, for instance) only in EPS format and if a Postscript printer driver is installed. Finale, on the other hand, allows the score portion to be saved in graphic formats that can be loaded into a word processor as part of a text page and printed by just about any printer. But all in all, Encore is more than adequate for conventional score notation.

Now to QuickScore. In a nutshell, it is a scoring, sequencing and mixing program that is highly intuitive and that produces excellent printed results. All the usual features are present: tempo and dynamic indications, text insertion for voices, a good quality music font, the ability to print out separate parts from a score, and so on. QuickScore is comparable to Encore in features and ease of use and has a distinct edge in price. The top of the line version, allowing for 48 simultaneous "tracks" (compared to Encore's 32) costs a third as much, and if a maximum of 16 parts is sufficient, a smaller version can be had for something less than half of that. QuickScore's menus are clear and systematic, and the 260 page manual is well written, illustrated, and carefully indexed. The book is arranged in sections, with a general overview followed by tutorials on score and computer editing, sequencing, mixing and recording, and concluding with a reference chapter, appendices on service, support and troubleshooting, and - especially noteworthy - a clear and concise introduction to MIDI.

Like Finale, QuickScore can export in non-Postscript graphic format (BMP and TIFF), usable with a word processor on any printer, and there are other handy features, like the ability to increase the size of the printout in percentage increments, for instance, and the ability to put in figured bass. Society members whose needs go beyond score preparation will be interested in its sequencing and mixing capabilities. The music can be viewed separately or simultaneously through one or more windows, among them the main score editing screen, controller display, track sheet, mixer and piano roll display.

QuickScore has a few drawbacks. Unlike Finale and Encore, it is available only for Windows 3.1 and higher; as of this writing, there is no Macintosh version. It will work, as advertised, with only 4MB of memory, but it really needs a minimum of 8MB to function at its best, especially for anything like a full score. Like Encore, it will not allow partial or unorthodox key or meter signatures, not will it permit the meter signature to be hidden, as Encore does. But the bottom line is that QuickScore is a fine piece of software: inexpensive, quickly learned, and efficient in use, and it yields very satisfactory printed results. In short, it answers the practical needs of organists, choral directors, educators, and most other working musicians.

John Ogasapian, University of Massachusetts, Lowell 

The Tracker: Journal of the Organ Historical Society May 1998  

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