Back to the Piano Education Home Page

Review of  MidiNotate Composer 1.0




his versatile music notation and playback software is used to generate, transcribe, arrange, and play-back a music score which you can either create from scratch, from a MIDI instrument, or from any MIDI or Karaoke sound file. You can edit your score in seemingly endless ways or print it, or listen as your computer plays it at varying tempos while following along on screen. Although Composer will be most useful to computer-savvy adults, a ten year old student was able to use it successfully, with supervision, for a simple treble-clef-only composition.


keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)For those who do not need the ability to write scores from scratch or edit notes of an existing score, a simpler subset of Composer is available as MidiNotate Musician, reviewed elsewhere on the site.


I installed Composer on a Dell Dimension 4600 with a Pentium 4 2.40 GHz processor and 256 MB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce4 MX 440 video with AGP8X, and SoundMAX Integrated Digital Audio, running Windows XP Home Edition. I simply inserted the CD-ROM provided and the program began to load automatically asking for my answers to a few basic questions.

Once loaded, Composer immediately offered me the choice of taking a tutorial. The Quick Start Tutorial is extremely detailed, beginning with finding a MIDI file on the Internet and saving it to your computer, then opening an existing score and making changes to it such as splitting the single-line piano part into 2 clefs, and also making corrections to notes which were not correctly transcribed from the MIDI file. The tutorial also shows how to add lyrics and chord names. Then the user is shown how to extract just the vocal part so it can be printed separately. Finally, we see how to create a new score from a template using a simple wizard which allows the user to make basic choices.

Composer uses the familiar Windows interface, with menus and icons for mouse activation along with mouse-over descriptions, and keyboard shortcuts. Composer's incredible versatility leads to a degree of complexity. I found it difficult to remember the many keyboard shortcuts (over 200 of them). Many involve typing an acronym which stands for the command, e.g. qpv means ‘quick page view’. The hierarchical system of hiding toolbars or "palettes" which contain all the action icons was confusing at times. Each palette has many icons on each palette, so that it’s hard to figure out what does what (even though you can mouse-over for a pop-up description). The palettes are accessed by pressing Shift and another mnemonic key, e.g. Shift-K reveals the Key Signature palette.

This score in the screen shot is Composer's transcription of a MIDI file of Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 3 in C minor, op. 37, which I downloaded from a free Internet site after following a link from within Composer.  Below the main menu icons is the Set Note Ruler Interval palette (toolbar).  You use it to show precisely where each beat (or sub-beat) falls within each measure.  Currently 8th note subdivisions are shown by the blue lines in the 1st Violin part in measure 5.

Should you wish to play and record music from a MIDI instrument to your computer, there are easy-to-follow directions with clear color photographs in the User’s Guide. You will need either a USB or MIDI cable with joystick connector to connect your MIDI keyboard or MIDI guitar to your computer. Once your instrument is connected and communicating, simply begin playing and Composer will record and play back your notes. You may later clean up the score, as you will probably find that Composer has so precisely transcribed your playing, that note values are not what you intended. For example a half note may look like a quarter note tied to a 16th note because you did not completely hold the note for precisely 2 counts. Composer may also add many small rests (dotted quarter or 16th) also reducing the length of the corresponding note. I found it difficult and frustrating to clean up by removing the unnecessary ties and rests. The developer of Composer indicates: "The Clean Up Rests and Overlapping Notes in the Region menu is handy for removing unwanted ties and rests." He also indicates that this problem can be solved by making some simple changes from the program Setup menu. After editing the score, I then decided to create an Easy Notes part, but the program reverted to the original notation which then needed re-correcting. According to the developer of Composer, one can avoid this problem, by using the Part / Display 'Easy Notes' for Select Tracks command.

Composer’s electronic User’s Guide included with the CD-ROM (and also available on-line) is invaluable due to the complexity of the program. It has a logical index and space to type in search terms which reveal perhaps too many possible topics. Instructions are very detailed and logical, featuring screen shots (photographs of the actual screens the user sees) of the program functions and examples of printed scores. For every action you wish to perform, there are multiple ways to achieve it, thus the instructions can seem long-winded and confusing initially. I recommend printing the help page showing the palette hierarchy and keyboard shortcuts for a quick reminder. A well-used Users Community Forum is also available on the Internet with links from every page of the User’s Guide, along with a Knowledge Base of FAQ’s. You may also get support via e-mail.

Composer is aimed at computer-savvy adults, although one of my 10 year old students used it to write out a simple composition (treble clef only) with supervision from me. It is appropriate for a music studio teacher who may like to write out examples for students, or to transcribe a piece from a MIDI or Karaoke soundtrack, or to make simpler or more complex arrangements of music. Any musician may like to hear their part played in isolation or in combination with other parts. Composers would enjoy being able to compose on a keyboard and have their ideas transcribed into notation for playback or rearranging.

Those interested in Composer should keep in mind that it does not support scanning and character recognition to allow import of sheet music. I believe scanning would be a huge asset to Composer, as it’s likely someone would have a copy of some music they’d love to hear played, and would then perhaps like to edit to make a simpler arrangement. MidiNotate's on-line FAQ’s list two music scanning programs from other manufacturers that people can use, but state that no scanning programs are very accurate. It is claimed that they create many notes to clean up, so users would probably be better off creating the score from scratch.

This is an incredibly detailed and versatile product for notating music scores from scratch or from a sound file. Once you are familiar with how Composer works, you will be able to print professional vocal or instrumental scores both large and small scale. The more you use it, the easier and more logical it becomes. As a small-time private piano teacher, this product may provide more than I need for notating simple arrangements, but for all that the program allows the user to do, the cost is reasonable and constitutes a good value.

Lyndall Hertzler

MidiNotate Composer, Version 1.0.9, $99.95(USD) for immediate download, $109.95 for a CD sent in the U.S., $113.95 for a CD sent outside of the U.S.. Notation Software, Inc., 317-109th Ave S.E. Bellevue, WA 98004. USA. Tel: 425 688-0793, Fax: 425 688-0795. E-mail: WWW: Available from Order1.Net, 13612 Pine Villa Lane, Ft. Myers, FL 33912-1616, phone 1-877-405-6224 or International: 217-531-3698. A 30-day trial version is available. Minimum system requirements: Pentium 266Mhz or faster PC, 192Mb memory, soundcard, Windows XP/2000/Me/98/95.

Page created: 5/3/05
Last updated: 01/30/15
Site Policies Credits About Feedback Reprinting

Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
Copyright 1995-2016 John M. Zeigler. All rights reserved.