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Converting a Musical Score to a Playable Melody? 78

SA_Democrat asks: "As a geek who has recently discovered that he has a voice, I find myself looking for a particular style of software. I've joined a local chorale group, and am often the only bass singer in attendance. This means that I have to puzzle out fairly complicated pieces of music and pick out the melody on a keyboard between rehearsals. As a person who decodes music rather than someone who sight-reads, I find this extraordinarily difficult, especially when managing differing key and time signatures within a given piece. Does anyone have any experience with open-source software that allows the user to enter a piece of music using musical notation, and then plays that piece? I have found an astonishing array of programs that will play MP3, WAV files etc. but have not located anything that uses this more old fashioned method. If possible, the software should understand common notation like time signatures, keys, glissades, and so forth. What does Slashdot recommend?"
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Converting a Musical Score to a Playable Melody?

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  • Easy Question. (Score:5, Informative)

    by students ( 763488 ) * on Saturday October 01, 2005 @07:31PM (#13695328) Homepage Journal
    There are a wide variety of these programs. I use NoteEdit []. It was very hard for me to install it on my SuSE 9 machine, but it works well. Make sure you have TiMidity [] server, which is used for playback, installed and running or else NoteEdit will crash as soon as you start it, giving a cryptic error message. Sometimes running TiMidity will interfere with other sounds on my box, which is annoying, so I have to turn it on and off. If you want to print music you've inputed to NoteEdit, you need LaTeX installed. Remember, the commands to convert a LaTeX file to a musical score are:

    $ latex filename.tex
    $ musixflx filename.tex
    $ latex filename.tex

    I got this wrong for a while, even with the VERY noticable reminder from NoteEdit.

    One of the other programs available is Rose Garden []. Rose Garden is more mature but also less intuitive and oriented towards synthesis as opposed to performances.

    If you get to be hard-core about editing scores on your Linux box, the best program around for professional score engraving will already be installed on your computer with the LaTeX distribution you aquired for printing the output from NoteEdit. See this Giant Musixtex Manual []. I often typeset complex mathematics, but I have not yet been able to master musixtex, so good luck there.
    • ROFL

      I'm sorry, but just reading that laundry list of problems with the program, I'm thinking that it still needs a bit more work. To sum up:

      NoteEdit is a good piece of software except:

      1) It's very hard to install on a popular modern distro
      2) It requires another piece of software to also be installed and running, otherwise you get an obscure error message and a crash
      3) Sometimes running this program will screw up the sound from other programs, you need to restart it until the problem no longer occurs
      4) If y
      • Re:Easy Question. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jrockway ( 229604 ) * <> on Sunday October 02, 2005 @03:52AM (#13697242) Homepage Journal
        Problems? This is how UNIX works. One program handles sound. Another program handles typesetting. A third program handles data entry. This allows people to change one component without changing (or reimplementing) the others. It's a good thing. If you write your own typesetting engine, for example, you can still use the same software to edit and play the music. That's pretty cool. And it wouldn't happen if everything was one giant rolled-together piece of software.

        As for it being hard to install, Debian didn't seem to have a problem with it. Not my cup of tea (I use emacs + lilypond + timidity), but it's not as bad as you would think. If you're a Windows or Mac user used to having everything under one GUI and one program performing thousands of tasks, it's a change in your workflow. But it's how UNIX works, and this program is not the first to work like this. (Look at any X program. It requires an X server to run. A sound program requiring a sound server is no different! Not every app can use the screen at once, so X manages it. Not every app can use the CPU at once, so the kernel manages that. Not every app can play/record sound/midi at once, so a sound server manages that.)

        If there are other problems (with usability, etc.), I think the developers would like to hear about them so they can fix them :) If you know how to code, providing code would be good. That's how OSS works. Whining on slashdot about how something you didn't pay for is hard to use isn't going to get you sympathy or, for that matter, anywhere useful. Be part of the solution, not the problem :)
      • 3) You don't need to restart anything. You need to turn of timidity server. Once.

        5) The three commands are for converting music saved in latex format to DVI for printing. It was a simple matter to write a shell script that can simplify this. Then you can configure noteedit to run the script automatically.
    • You won't need Timidity if you've got a working hardware MIDI synth, and Noteedit installed easily for me on Debian. So you may have no trouble with it at all. You can use it to export a MIDI or just play back the notes from within the program. Rosegarden is a neat program but Noteedit is simpler and probably a better fit for your needs. If you ever want to produce a printed score I recommend exporting to a Lilypond file and running "lilypond". Naturally you would need to install Lilypond to do that
  • Midi? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jZnat ( 793348 ) * on Saturday October 01, 2005 @07:38PM (#13695357) Homepage Journal
    I'm assuming you don't want MIDI despite its wide range of support and whatnot. It is limited, however, so I can see why you'd like something better. Honestly though, have you tried using MIDI? It's decades old and still used widely.
    • Re:Midi? (Score:3, Informative)

      by mabinogi ( 74033 )
      MIDI is a wire protocol and physical interface for communicating between different instruments. (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
      It has nothing whatsoever to do with notation.
      • Yeah, but there are several MIDI editors that work based on musical notation. I don't remember any offhand, but I do recall working with them before. You could export the score as a MIDI.
        • Re:Midi? (Score:3, Informative)

          by bleaknik ( 780571 )
          Anvil Studio [] was one of my favorite editors... no less than three years ago when I last used it.

          You may wish to investigate FInale, although I believe that will cost you a pretty penny these days.
      • Re:Midi? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Geoffreyerffoeg ( 729040 ) on Sunday October 02, 2005 @12:28AM (#13696548)
        MIDI is a wire protocol and physical interface for communicating between different instruments. (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
        It has nothing whatsoever to do with notation.

        And MP3 is a compression codec and has nothing to do with music, right?

        MIDI is both a wire interface/protocol and a file format; it lends itself to describing music in terms of notes as opposed to waveforms, which is what this guy was asking about.
        • Re:Midi? (Score:3, Informative)

          by mabinogi ( 74033 )
          MIDI has something to do with Music, but nothing to do with Notation.
          It does not describe music as notes, but as events, and has no direct representation of most score notations.

          Some (most) Notation editors may well have export to MIDI files, and will probably allow playback via a MIDI device.
          Also, most MIDI sequencing software will probably have some sort of notation view for entry. But that still doesn't change the fact that MIDI is not the answer, software that allows entry of Notation, and playback by
          • LilyPond [] is a pretty good one, although it has an odd interface for some (text files) and is primarily a TeX interface to create pretty notation, not for playing. Personally, I find that the text input means less fighitng with a GUI to get it to do exactly what you want.
  • YOu could make your own MIDI files. open source? i have no idea. But you'll do what you need.
    • The general standard for doing things like this is one of the finale software packages. The full on yearly releases of Finale are capable of way more though so you would just need to go on ebay and pick up a used copy of Finale PrintMusic or something or you could go here: []

      and pick up a FREE copy of finale notepad which isnt really the supreme "composing" software but will work for entry and playback. Unfortunately, the free Finale Notepad doeasnt support

  • by Ugmo ( 36922 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @07:45PM (#13695382)
    For simple songs and melodies there are various utilities that use abc music notation.
    Here is a page listing them: []

    This lets you enter music using letters and other utilities will convert it into midi or wav files.

    Something similiar and free is the Guido system. It is designed to handle more complicated pieces: []

    Another free system is Rosegarden: []
    • and for the DOS user in you, you can use the PLAY command in QBASIC or QuickBASIC.
      • Thanks but there is no DOS user in me. ;->
      • > and for the DOS user in you, you can use the PLAY command in QBASIC or QuickBASIC

        For DOS users there is Pianoman, which is fairly advanced in terms of what it can do, up to and including timesharing the monophonic PC speaker between parts to simulate harmony. Pianoman was *the* way to go for music on the PC, until sound cards came along.
  • Denemo is decent, too. Simple to use and has quite a few features, including playback, which i'm not sure is fully working.
  • Lilypond (Score:4, Informative)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <> on Saturday October 01, 2005 @07:49PM (#13695410)
    This might be more work than you want to do. You can re-enter the music in Lilypond's format [] and then use Lilypond to convert the score to a MIDI file for playback. You can covert a score by doing the following:
    lilypond -m
    which should output a MIDI file for you.

    As an alternative you can use the ABC format []. You can then use abc2ly to convert to Lilypond format and then use the command above to convert to MIDI. Example:

    lilypond -m

    I know you asked for open-source software, but if you are using a Mac or Windows machine you might want to look at Finale Notepad []. It's free and should let you drag and drop notes to recreate the score and then play it back as MIDI.

    • You can re-enter the music in Lilypond's format and then use Lilypond to convert the score to a MIDI file for playback.
      And if he does that (and the original edition he's working from is public domain), he might want to submit it to Mutopia []. And in fact, before he does that, he might want to check whether the piece he's learning is already on Mutopia. However, for choral music, CPDL [] seems to be the place that has the most music; unfortunately, they use a proprietary format (Finale).
  • You should think about picking up a cheap digital keyboard, like for ~$50, and learning how the keys correspond to notes. This should be pretty simple compared to wind and brass instruments. Since all you need to do is pick up the pitches, you don't need to actually learn how to play the piano. Think of it as learning to hunt-and-peck, versus actual touch typing.

    Plus, you'll then be able to practice anywhere there's a piano, rather than being tied to your computer.

  • by jrockway ( 229604 ) * <> on Saturday October 01, 2005 @07:59PM (#13695442) Homepage Journal
    I don't think this is a problem that a computer can solve for you. I think you need to learn to sight-sing like everyone else. If you can at least sing major scales, then I think practicing from a book like "Music for Sight Singing" by Robert W. Ottman (ISBN 0-13-189662-8) might be helpful. Knowing "how music works" is essential for singing it -- the notes on the page aren't randomly generated, you know. Therefore, knowing something about music theory would also help you. More than some computer program, anyway.

    Anyway, I'm a music minor so maybe I am too much of a purist.
    • > Anyway, I'm a music minor so maybe I am too much of a purist.

      You are.

      > Knowing "how music works" is essential for singing it -- the notes
      > on the page aren't randomly generated, you know. Therefore, knowing
      > something about music theory would also help you. More than some
      > computer program, anyway.

      What's wrong with using the computer as a learning tool? Like the OP, I would like to learn to read music (he's farther along than I am). With the program I am looking for, I could enter bits o
      • The OP sounds like he wants to do some pretty serious choral singing. If he wants to do that, it's going to be extremely limiting if he doesn't learn at least a little bit of sight reading. The simplest thing to do would be to enroll in a musicianship course at a community college (typically 1 unit).
        • I agree that some sight-reading is necessary, but it takes a hell of a long time to become really proficient at it. And, in the absence of dedicated teaching, or sufficient skill on an instrument to play it for yourself [which won't help if you can't figure out complicated rhythmic notation], you'll need some method of knowing how it should sound.

          Which leads us back to the original question...
        • I have been paid to sing a choir for several years now, and my sight reading abilities are crap. I sing Baritone/Bass, and generally either (a) pick up my notes from the chord or (b) take it home and have my gf help me bang it out on a keyboard (she has more talent than I do). Fortunately for me, I can generally learn a piece of music after hearing it only once or twice. I have worked with several people over the years, attempting to learn to sight read. I have had little to know luck. I figure out ryt
    • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @10:01PM (#13695941) Homepage
      If you can at least sing major scales, then I think practicing from a book like "Music for Sight Singing" by Robert W. Ottman (ISBN 0-13-189662-8) might be helpful.
      A free alternative to Ottman: Eyes and Ears []
      • Thanks for pointing this out. It looks like it will be an excellent supplement to Ottman. I do like the fact that Ottman has a lot of introductory melodies -- ones that don't have much complex rhythmic aspect to worry about. I don't personally have a problem with sight reading non-trivial rhythms because I've played the flute for many years, but my classmates who are just learning music have enough to worry about regarding the pitches... adding too much complexity too quickly isn't instructional, it's ju
    • Parent is dead on (Score:5, Informative)

      by Corf ( 145778 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @10:08PM (#13695981) Journal
      Several semesters of music theory in college - three hours a week analyzing and two hours a week singing - did amazing things for my sightsinging ability. Go to your local university music department and audit a class, if that's an option. You will learn far more than you thought you would. Before that class, I couldn't find middle C on a piano. Now, I can sing just about any interval you like, up to and including twelve-tone stuff. It ain't just me.

      Also in my case, playin' French horn tends to make one need to know this stuff, since the intervals are too close to just mash the keys and hope the right note comes out. :P Singing isn't really too much farther off.
    • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @10:49PM (#13696187) Homepage Journal
      Knowing "how music works" is essential for singing it
      Nonsense. There was music long before there were books about it. Music is hard-wired into the mammalian brain. The skills you learn from a music teacher is extremely helpful and useful, but music itself is something you're born knowing how to do.

      Irving Berlin [] is a case in point. Despite being a gifted songwriter (literally hundreds of hits), he never learned to read music at all, and only learned to play the piano in one key. Solution: hire somebody to build a special piano that could transpose with the pull of a lever, and somebody else to transcribe the music and songs he created.

      OK, not a solution for everybody. And besides, the musical skills you mention are certainly work acquiring. But there are passable technological substitutes. Berlin had no trouble finding them 80 years ago. He'd have even less now.

      I'm told that Danny Elfman [] also resorts to technological substitutes for musical training. But I find his work predictable and repetitive, so never mind.

      • > OK, not a solution for everybody. And besides, the musical skills
        > you mention are certainly work acquiring. But there are passable
        > technological substitutes.

        Like me, the OP appears to be looking for technological learning tools, not technological subsitutes for learning.
    • Seconded.

      If you're not sure of the basics, then learn them: read a book, or find a music teacher. There are probably some good resources online, too, of course.

      But once you know what the notation means, then it's just a matter of practice. Lots of it! Spend time on your own, note-bashing; attend lots of rehearsals (especially if you're the only voice on your part, coz that forces you to work it out for yourself); get a friend or two to help if necessary.

      I speak from experience here. Ever since I w

  • I used the Noteworthy Composer [] demo a while back, it is a nice score-based midi editor.
  • Finale!!! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Keick ( 252453 )
    Try Finale at [] from Code software.

    It will let you enter music note by note, or from a midi keyboard. Best of all, it will let you import sheet music with your scanner, very slick.

    I know that at my local college I can pick up the student edition for next to nothing.
  • My take (Score:4, Informative)

    by SocialEngineer ( 673690 ) <invertedpanda AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday October 01, 2005 @11:13PM (#13696291) Homepage

    As a composer and instrumentalist, I love Rosegarden. I haven't had a chance to produce any major works in it yet, though; I'm still familiarizing myself with it. Regardless, the power of it is incredible.

    Only problem is it can be a bit of a hassle to get working. Other than that, I love it.

    Most of my recent pieces I have done in Steinberg Cubasis VST (Creative Edition), just because I can use the Sampletank2 Free VST instrument with it (in Windows). If you'd like to hear some of my stuff, you'll have to visit my site and find em' (sorry, gotta save bandwidth, so lazy people aren't just downloading because they have phat pipe :)).

  • C-64 (Score:1, Redundant)

    by tsa ( 15680 )
    I wrote such a program on my Commodore 64, many years ago.
  • Try LilyPond (Score:2, Informative)

    I have had much the same problem myself. As for me, I use LilyPond []. Technically, it is a music typesetting program, but has MIDI output capability, primarily for proofing scores. Whenever my wife or I need an accompaniment, I type in the score, and produce MIDI files for voice, accompaniment, and both.

    Like TeX, LilyPond uses text input rather than a GUI (although GUIs exist which output in LilyPond format). It is a little awkward at first, but with practice I (and several others) have found that input

  • see subject.
  • (Score:3, Informative)

    by zerblat ( 785 ) <(jonas) (at) (> on Sunday October 02, 2005 @04:57AM (#13697404) Homepage
    Since nobody has mentioned it yet, the best place to find music and sound related software for Linux based systems is Dave Phillips's site []. It lists, among other things, lots of notation software [] and helpful tools for musicians [].
  • learn solfege (Score:3, Informative)

    by hanwen ( 8589 ) on Sunday October 02, 2005 @12:13PM (#13698672) Homepage Journal
    There are some packages for dealing with music (in the sense of notes), like RoseGarden and LilyPond (which I wrote, incidentally). You could use them to enter the score, and then play it back to you over MIDI.

    However, I think that improving your solfege skills directly a much better investment of your time, since you won't have to muck around with producing notation. It's something you can practice with a piano, but there is also software. If you run linux you can consider GNU Solfege []. It's got a lot of theoretical stuff that's not useful for a beginning singer, but there are also a lot of practical excercises IIRC.

  • As I understand it, what you've got to work with is the bass portion of the musical score, and what you want is to hear it played. Based on this, you've got the following sequence of problems to deal with:

    1. digitize the information on the hardcopy musical score
    2. convert that file to a sound file of some kind
    3. play the result through the computer's speakers

    Without a very good, specialized OCR (think big $$$), the initial digitizing is going to have to be by hand. I recall looking at a plain text notation sys

  • by Paul Lamere ( 21149 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @07:44AM (#13702952) Homepage Journal
    There's a nice table of OMR programs (some free, some commercial) maintained by Don Byrd of the School of Music at Indiana University: OMR Systems [].

    For fun, Don also maintains the Extremes of Conventional Music Notation [] where he records the extremes found in written music. Some interesting excerpted tidbits:

    • softest pppppppp (8 p's) in Ligeti's Etudes for Piano, 1st Book
    • loudest ffffffff (8 f's) in Ligeti: Etudes for Piano, 2nd Book, (the 1812 overture only reaches ffff)
    • Instruments to be played by one performer in a piece - *Mahler: Symphony no. 5 calls for one clarinetist playing six different instruments.
    • Most repeated notes in a melody - 32 in Prokofieff: Toccata, Op. 11 (1912)

    There are many others, quite interesting.

  • I'm going to go with the obvious answer (which has already been stated several times), which is just to plain old learn to read music. Sure, a computer can aid in that process to some degree, but really, your best bet is sitting down with the music, a pianoish instrument, and learn to play out the lines and sing along with them. If you're only dealing with the bass lines, it's not like you'll need to be terribly proficient at piano playing to do this.
  • Also, something that the original parent mentioned that is being neglected by nearly every comment is that choral music often has odd time and key changes thrown in from time to time. Not necessarily your typical 4/4 with a measure of 3/4 thrown in, but oftentimes 4/4 switching to 5/8 to 7/8 to 3/4 back to 4/4 (yeah, a somewhat extreme example, but still...things can easily get far more complicated than that). Throw in a key change or two during all of that and you'll easily get lost in some basic program t
  • I understand that noone wants to pay $500 for a piece of software for most hobbies. I don't understand why people are always looking exclusively for free software. Often there are packages for $20-50 that exactly fill the needs of what people are asking. I have seen several packages that fill this need in that price range. While it is true that he won't be able to modify them, they meet the needs of what he is asking.

    Don't get me wrong. OSS is cool and is changing the way people think about software. I just
  • I remember fondly Sibelius on the Acorn Archimedes. This was not only a great platform to write music on, it had some ability to actually interpret the music and "perform" it, phrasing the music as a human performer might with emphasis on the lead-in to phrases, accelerating subtly through runs of notes and so forth. If I remember rightly, it was even used to perform (at a concert) a piece by Ligeti which was deemed too hard for a human player to play.

    Now if anyone knows of any open-source software which

Someday somebody has got to decide whether the typewriter is the machine, or the person who operates it.