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Nota Musica- by Christopher B. Wright
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Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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Summary: Nota Musica isn't a MIDI sequencing program -- it's a musical scoring and arrangement program. Nota Musica does this and this alone -- and does it well. Not a program for novices, not a program for people with no musical knowledge, this is an excellent scoring program that will capably create sheet music from scratch, or even from preexisting MIDI files.

While there are many of us in the world who prefer to use MIDI as a kind of digital multitrack recorder, where we play our music "live", instrument by instrument, layer on top of layer, stopping only to correct our most grievous mistakes, there are those with the skill and ability to actually write music before they play it. Just as writers use computers to arrange words and sentences into chapters and books, so too do some musicians use computers to arrange notes and instruments into movements and symphonies.

For those of you serious musicians who use OS/2 as your operating system, Nota Musica is a must-have tool. It is a word processor for the musical world, allowing composers to arrange and print out sheet music -- as well as play their music with their MIDI instruments.

Installation, Documentation, Support

Nota Musica uses a custom install routine that gives you the opportunity to install emTeX as well as Nota Musica itself. The registered version of Nota Musica comes with emTeX, which is necessary to actually print out sheet music. It is recommended you install it when you install Nota Musica. Of course, emTeX is available on the OS/2 Supersite and some of you probably already have it on your machine. If this is the case, you can opt to skip the emTeX installation and simply install the Nota Musica and MusicTeX files instead.

Once installed, a Nota Musica folder appears on your desktop, containing a program object, an electronic manual in OS/2's horrid .inf format, and a folder with a lot of sample tunes in Nota Musica's native .nmf format.

The documentation for Nota Musica is very complete. If you take the time to read the whole thing, it'll tell you everything you want to know about properly setting up and configuring the application, and using all its features.

User Interface

People used to using programs like Cakewalk (or MIDI Station Sequencer, reviewed last issue) will find the user interface of Nota Musica bizarre, to say the least. When you first open Nota Musica, all you see is what looks to be an empty folder (.GIF, 5K). As instrument tracks are added to the work, they appear in that folder as program objects. Double clicking on an object will open the Graphical Note Editor (.GIF, 5K), a window that displays the track as if it were sheet music. This view is where you do most of your work in Nota Musica; from here, you build or modify your compositions note by note.

This view is a bit quirky in some ways. First, the notes do not "wrap" -- the entire track is presented and displayed as one horizontal line. This can be tedious when you're working on an especially long piece. Another oddity is that you can only view one bar at a time -- the notes "stretch" to fill the window horizontally. This can make the notes almost unreadable (.GIF, 8K) in some situations, and you may want to adjust the window to size the notes so they can be viewed more comfortably.

Also, Nota Musica's settings notebooks use the "old" (Warp 3) style format, so if you're looking for voicetype integration in this product, you'll be sorely disappointed. (Read the Nota Musica sequencer review for my observations on a voice-enabled sequencing app).


UI quirks aside, Nota Musica is a powerful application in the areas it was designed to address. With Nota Musica you can compose an orchestral symphony from scratch, or import a MIDI file and print it out as sheet music to be played by actual musicians.

From the main window, you create your work by creating various instrument objects and assigning names and sounds to them (if you plan on playing your work through the computer as a MIDI file). Double-clicking on an individual instrument object brings up the Graphical Note Editor for that instrument, which you can use to modify that track. There is also a folder object you can double-click on which will open up a Graphical Note Editor that displays the score for every instrument in the program (though you'll have to scroll up or down to get from one instrument to the next, because the notes still scale to fill the entire height of the page).

The Graphical Note Editor acts as the "drawing board" or "printed page" of your track. A floating note palette (.GIF, 3K) contains notes and note modifiers of various lengths and intensities, similar to the many kinds of drawing tools available on a floating palette in Photoshop or CorelDraw. With these tools you can "draw" your piece, adding to and deleting from your work as you see fit.

Unfortunately, Nota Musica is not a sequencing program, so you can't sit down in front of your MIDI keyboard and watch quarter and half notes magically appear on your screen. You can, however, record a midi track in a program like MIDI Station Sequencer, or Nota Musica Sequencer, and import the MIDI file into Nota Musica's native .nmf format. Nota Musica imports Midi type 1 files very well, though there seems to be a glitch in importing notes with very, very long sustain (in one case, a note that was originally played once and held for 12 beats was changed into a note that was played three times for 4 beats each, giving it a pulsing effect I hadn't originally intended).

Also, Nota Musica needs to know the shortest note used in the music piece in order to arrange the notes correctly. If you guess wrong, the piece will be horribly off beat. In another test of MIDI conversion I tired to import the BLUEJAM.MID file that comes with OS/2 Warp 3 and 4. When I attempted to play it through Nota Musica's player tools, all of the tracks were horribly off beat, because I'd defined the shortest note as an 8th note -- and there were more than a few 16th notes in the piece.

Nota Musica's settings notebook allows you to control many of the ways it handles and plays music. For example, you can define how crescendo and decrescendo's change the volume of a piece during MIDI playback, as well as preset the volumes of various musical cues, from "ppp" to "fff". You can define what notes Nota Musica recognizes, and what notes it does not (you can, for example, tell Nota Musica to ignore all 64th notes in any MIDI files you import).

One of Nota Musica's most useful features is the ability to print out sheet music based on your work. If you are able to configure your printers correctly, this feature can print out extremely accurate sheet music. Someone who knows what they are doing can theoretically use Nota Musica to compose and print out music to be played live.

The problem with this is that Nota Musica is based on TeX, a UNIX typesetting program that doesn't really hook in to the rest of the OS/2 operating system. One of the unfortunate disadvantages of this is that it cannot use OS/2's printer drivers -- it comes with limited built-in printer support. If your printer can emulate LaserJet, HP Inkjet, or Epson Inkjet printers, you shouldn't have too many problems printing out your music. If your printer can't emulate any of these, getting Nota Musica to print out anything legible might be something of a challenge.

Final Thoughts

Nota Musica is not software intended to be used by amateur musicians, it's not designed for people with no background in music theory, and it's not for people more comfortable with playing an instrument than they are composing for instruments. If you don't know how to read and write sheet music, there's very little about Nota Musica that you will find useful. If you know how to score your own music, however, Nota Musica is one of the few programs that can do it for you. And Nota Musica's price makes it a competitive product on any platform.

However, Nota Musica is based on TeX, a UNIX based typesetting system, so don't expect it to be a "pure" OS/2 program. Nota Musica will not support many of the things you'd expect an OS/2 application to support, such as your printer objects. Expect an initially steep learning curve for many of the configuration settings.

The lack of an integrated MIDI sequencer is disappointing, but Nota Musica isn't intended to be a sequencing program, it's a scoring program. Thus, it gets high marks for suitability -- but remember that it focuses on a very specific task (creating, playing and printing sheet music). If you're really looking for a MIDI sequencing program, MIDI Station Sequencer is much more suited to your needs.
Suitability:4.5 * * * * -
Ease of use:2.5 * * -
Stability:4 * * * *
OS/2 Leverage:2 * *
Overall:3 * * *

Nota Musica

by Johannes Martin
download from BMT Micro (1.5M)
Registration: US$97

Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
October 1, 1998