One of the most common questions I am asked regarding music notation software note entry is “why can’t I just play in the parts with my MIDI keyboard in one pass in real-time?” Since most people use notation software with the goal of printing scores and parts, you have to approach real-time note entry with care. Here are some tips to playing in real-time with Finale and Sibelius or other music notation software.
Stack the Deck in your Favor (quantization)
Learn to get under the hood of your software and check the settings when playing in real-time. Sibelius refers to is as Flexi-Time and Finale calls it HyperScribe. I recommend you read the reference manual, watch the tutorial videos, or, if you have a book on Finale or Sibelius (see links on this page), check out the chapters dedicated to playing in real time. When you open the settings in Sibelius (Notes Menu > Flexi-time Options) or Finale (MIDI menu > Quantization) be sure to set the notation level to the smallest note value in the piece or passage you are playing. For example, in the first example below, the smallest note value is an eighth note. Are there triplets or other tuplets? If not, turn them off. This will make the notation interpretation by the software more accurate.
The metronome setting may also affect your accuracy. Try setting the tempo to a relatively slow tempo. After the notation is entered, you can always speed it up. I have also found that setting the metronome to the eighth note can also help real-time entry accuracy. In Finale, this is set in the HyperScribe menu > Beat Source > Playback and/or Click. In Sibelius, you can change the time signature from 4/4 to 8/8 to have the eighth note as the beat.
I am not a keyboard player by trade. I have functional keyboard skills that I use primarily to enter notes into notation software. Music technologist, author, and educator, Don Muro, recommends developing MIDI technique. MIDI technique is not like playing legato, where you connect notes as you play; nor is it like staccato playing where there is a noticeable space between each note. MIDI technique, as Don explained it to me, is playing one note and then immediately playing the next note.
Here are some exercises to help develop your “MIDI technique:”
1. Set the minimum duration to an eighth note; turn off all triplets
2. Set the tempo in a comfortable range, such as 76
3. Play the following exercise.
If you make mistakes, undo your performance and go back and re-try it.
After you are successful with this exercise, go back and set the minimum duration for the notation to a 16th note and turn off all triplets. Now practice this exercise:
Next, in the settings window, turn on triplets and play this exercise:
With practice, real-time entry may save you time inputting notation into your score.
Sibelius has an option where Sibelius follows your tempo as you play. If you slow down or speed up, it attempts to follow you. This can be an effective option if you are improvising, but if you are transcribing a part, I would turn the Flexi part of Flexi-time off (non-rubato). This is found in the Flexi-time Options window.
Finale has an option where the player supplies the beat. You can use a foot pedal or MIDI note to control the tempo. This also can be useful in some applications, but for the most part, I recommend playing in with a steady metronome beat. This is set in the HyperScribe menu.
You can also use your Music Production software to enter the notation, save it as a MIDI file and import it into your notation software. Remember, you can use different entry tools. I personally do 90% of my entry using step entry, however, if there is a relatively simple passage with very few rests, I may enter it in real-time.