Hello all! It is time once again for this week's edition of the Electric Semiquaver. This week, I would like to address how to overcome what I like to refer to as "Notation Software Tunnel Vision." This occurs when the composer focuses on a relatively small portion of a score, failing to see how that section fits into the rest of the piece. This is an easy problem to stumble upon when composing in Finale or Sibelius, since the only music on screen at any one time is the section that you are currently writing!
In all honesty, though, this isn't a problem that solely exists in notation software. I was first introduced to this compositional issue as a student myself, when one of my own composition professors encouraged me to compose (by hand) on "very, very large paper." I really didn't understand what my teacher was trying to do at the time - after all, how would larger paper improve my writing??? However, when I tried it out it became apparent how much easier it was for me to put my composition into context with itself. I could see exactly what I had written earlier, compared to what I was currently working on. In essence, I was seeing "the forest from the trees." (This may all seem fairly obvious, but until you actually try it out you don't realize what you are missing!!!)
In music notation software, this is a somewhat harder problem to overcome. Without spending a ridiculous amount of money on a "very, very large monitor," the digital composer is forced to work within the relative confines of the screen that he or she is working on. Tunnel vision is almost unavoidable, since the software makes it impossible to see anything other than what the composer is currently working on (unless someone knows of a way to do split-screen in Finale or Sibelius??? Or perhaps a Finale or Sibelius developer could add that as a new feature in the next version?). This problem is compounded when working on a score for a large ensemble, since inevitably the composer will only be able to see one-half of the ensemble on the screen at any given time - not an ideal way to compose!
It may seem pretty obvious, but the very first thing one should do in this situation is to PRINT their score out as they work on it. Having a hard copy to refer to is essential, as it allows the composer to always have onscreen what he or she is currently composing, rather than constantly scrolling back and forth within your digital score. A hard copy can also be marked up, making editing a much easier process later on (after all, as I often threaten my students who don't bring in hard copies of their score: permanent marker + monitor = new monitor).
If you are interested in seeing beyond the individual pages of the score, here are a couple of other tricks to try:
• Post your print-out onto large sheets of cardboard (34"x22") so you can see up to 8 pages at once.
• Vary your screen view as you compose - work in different magnifications, and in different view modes.
• Make a PDF version of your working score so that you can refer to it in a separate screen window.
And, if you have some money to burn - buy a second monitor to mount your PDF file, side by side with your music notation software.
It should be mentioned that I am a BIG fan of working off of PDFs. They are much more eco-friendly than hard copy print outs, and are surprisingly easy to read from. Of course, you can't physically write on the PDF, so a hard copy print out will still be needed at some point in the creative process (especially if you have a sarcastic composition teacher that likes to threaten his student's laptop monitors with a red Sharpie). If you don't have a way to print PDFs, I highly suggest acquiring a way to do so.
How about you? What ways have you come up with to overcome "Notation Software Tunnel Vision?" Please share your thoughts!