finale notepad

Mercy Flows

This morning in the shower I realized I ought to (and would like to) write a worship song for Easter. A basic verse and concept for a chorus came to me so I did my best to remember them until I could write them down somehow. For all my trying, though, I still forgot most of it by the time I got to work. However, as I started to sketch out ideas in Finale NotePad, the initial idea came back to me and I developed it into perhaps 2/3 of a song.

When I got home from work today I tried to play and sing the song for the first time, and I found that it was not in a great key for me. I was able to hum the part quietly while working out the melody because it was in the lower portion of my range, but when it came time to sing out, the notes were difficult to project. I could sing an octave up but found that it was at the upper edge of my comfortable, non-falsetto range. Because of this I decided to move up a fourth, from the key of G major to the key of C major. I took the chord chart I had written up and transposed the chords over.

With the song (or part of a song anyway) transcribed into a more comfortable key, I sat down at our piano and played through what I had done so far. It went much more smoothly, and I found a couple of spots where the chords I had written didn't flow as well as I would have liked so I swapped them out for different ones. In addition, I developed a better chord progression for the chorus that incorporated a descending bassline as the musical peak of the song is reached.

With a better idea of how the song needs to progress, I discarded the initial arrangement and have begun composing the song in PreSonus Studio One which allows me to approach it a little differently and offers more tonal variety. As I near completion of a first draft, I'd like to record a demo of it, and preparing the arrangement in Studio One now will save me a lot of time later.

It has been quite a while since I wrote any original music so this has been refreshing and fun. I'm glad I felt the nudge to take up this project and glad I went with it.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a worship song for Easter, so it (hopefully) conveys the hope of the Gospel in the context of Jesus' death and resurrection. The song's working title is "Mercy Flows" but that may change.

Music Workstation

Yesterday I shared about a dream that finally came true, and about how fear had needlessly held me back from reaching my goals. Today I'd like to talk a little more about that project, this time from a nerdier, less reflective standpoint.

Getting everything hooked up was a simple enough affair - I simply opened up the Roland USB/MIDI interface, installed the driver from the included CD, and then plugged the MIDI ends into the PSR-6300 keyboard and the USB end into my computer. When I opened Finale NotePad, it recognized the UM-ONE and set it as the default MIDI IN device.

That's it.

I opened a blank document in Finale NotePad and when I pressed a key the note appeared before my eyes. It was a momentous (if undramatic) experience.

To my disappointment but not to my surprise, Finale NotePad (free software) is pretty limited in how it accepts and interprets MIDI data. It does not analyze note duration, song tempo (either through MIDI clock or inferred from your playing style), or other data such as pitch bend. It simply takes the pitch (MIDI note number) and inserts it on the selected staff at the specified duration. So, if you have the eighth note selected everything you play comes in as an eighth note, and so on.

Thankfully, Caitlin had a brilliant idea which eased the pain of Finale NotePad's limitation significantly: she suggested I use my ShuttlePRO v2 to facilitate note entry. The ShuttlePRO is a hardware controller that features a shuttle wheel, jog dial, and 15 programmable buttons. It's immensely useful to me when I edit photos and especially when I edit video, so when Caitlin made the suggestion I knew right away what a great idea it was (she's pretty awesome like that, coming up with good ideas all the time).

ShuttlePRO v2 from Contour Design

I programmed the five buttons above the dial to select whole, half, quarter, eighth, or sixteenth notes, the wheel to move forward or back one note at a time, the right side button to convert a note to a rest, the left side button to add a dot to the selected note, and one of the top row buttons to undo the previous action. I'm sure that I'll find useful shortcuts or macros to fill in the rest of the buttons, but just making that handful of shortcuts so easy to access without looking down or moving my left hand immediately made note entry much simpler. It's a far cry from real-time transcription as I play, but it's also way better than entering notes by using the mouse.

I quickly programmed the desired buttons using the Shuttle config panel.

Finally, to make everything easier to control at once, I removed the upper keyboard from my stand and laid my whiteboard on the top tier to act as a platform (it was the first strong-ish thing I could find that was the right size). The monitor, ShuttlePRO, keyboard, and mouse went on top of that. It worked really well and I plan to cut a piece of plywood to fit on that upper level for when I want to use a monitor/etc. or smaller gear such as my drum machine or Korg MS-20 mini.


So there you have them: all the nerdy details. I'd be happy to answer any relevant questions you might have in the comments!

Dreams and Fear.

Tonight, a long-held dream of mine came true. It was nothing earth-shattering, just something I had dreamed about since 1997. Tonight, I played a note on a MIDI keyboard and saw it appear on a music staff on my computer screen. Then I listened as the computer played back the pitches I had just played. Then I listened as the computer sent those pitches back into the keyboard and the keyboard played them back to me in the voice selected on its control panel. This all might seem simple or boring to you, but it is seriously cool to me. And yet, it took far longer to achieve than it should have.

Sometimes, failure to achieve a dream is due to something completely out of our control. Something happens that has nothing to do with us and suddenly the thing we wanted to accomplish is no longer possible. Other times, life delays the completion of a project and we have to pick up the (maybe literal) pieces from where we left off and figure out how to bring everything together again. Some dreams might be too big to chase right now and we have to lay low for a while, work on what we can, and gather the resources over time to make them eventually come true. And sometimes, things just don't go our way - maybe it hasn't been our day, our week, our month, or even our year - but we can still find wins and keep moving on our dreams. Sadly, none of these are the true reason it took me so long to achieve this particular dream.

I've had the MIDI/USB cable I needed for months; I've had the keyboard, computer, and software for years. I even had a successful attempt at using MIDI to communicate between two instruments earlier this year. So what kept me from this dream for so long? In a word: fear.

Two types of fear were the key players in keeping me from chasing this goal and succeeding much sooner. The first was a fear of being let down. I've achieved some goals in the past only to realize that they weren't all I anticipated them to be. Certainly I've also achieved goals that were very fulfilling, life-giving, and encouraged me to move forward - but I've also realized dreams that turned out to be less like a mighty zeppelin and more like a 3-week-old birthday balloon. I was afraid that the idea of using a keyboard for notation via MIDI would far outshine the experience of it.

The second type of fear that held me back was a fear of success. I admit that sounds odd but I think it happens more often than we might realize. I've experienced huge wins, achievements I'd count as milestones in my life, that left me empty. I've had goals that I thought would be some kind of pinnacles only to find they were mere foothills - that the thing I thought would bring satisfaction only served to reveal how much further I had to go. This, I think, was the primary issue that kept me from pursuing this goal sooner. What if I suddenly have the tools to make notation and arranging easier, and I fail to live up to the potential those tools give me? What if I suddenly feel a responsibility to do more with music? Sure, it's what I want to do; it's what I've been dreaming about all this time - but when it suddenly becomes possible I suddenly become timid.

I've said many times that I started this blog to force myself to do things and share them with the internet. Apparently it's starting to work a little bit. You have helped me overcome years of fear and inaction to achieve something I've dreamed about for 17 years.

What type of fear is most prevalent in your life? How will you overcome it to move toward your goals?