13 votes

Intuitive music composition software

For a class I have to compose soundtracks and music, and I have no experience whatsoever.
Okay, I played classical guitar for a decade but I never was good at music theory and can barely read notes.

My issue is that I come up with a tune, and I need to dump that information to a recording medium as soon as possible. Translating that tune into a short term memory and playing it out on my guitar doesn't work, as I'll end up forgetting it nearly instantly. The one instrument that I can play is whistling, but that's kinda hard to do for long.

I'm looking for a more intuitive way to input notes into a computer.
I was thinking of some kind of pitch slider that continuously plays a note (limited to notes, no microtones) that I can control with an external input device like a knob or potmeter / by moving my mouse up and down, and then hit a button to input that sound, moving on to the next note. No delays inbetween, just immediately starts playing a new note.

Like the computer whistling a note for me, and me adjusting the pitch and length.

I can move my mouse quite precisely & can adjust pitch pretty easily when whistling, it's just that translating music from head to an instrument will never be as intuitive as something like whistling.

It's not supposed to be perfect, on-point music, just enough to record the vague idea and process it later. It also should be super minimalistic, I'd preferably only have the slider, the play/pause button, the confirm note button and a "save to file" button.

I'm not sure where I can even start finding something remotely related to this. I've looked around and tried a bunch of music software, but it's all either complicated or unintuitive.

Anyone know something like this?

Edit: As this website puts it;

Intuitive music composition requires that you hear the musicality of the music as you are composing it. Which means that you have no choice but to compose by playing.

and

You cannot intuitively compose music by entering note data into a software application.

9 comments

  1. [4]
    Akir
    Link
    It's good that you already know that the most intuitive way to write music is to record what you're playing, but you're severely limited if you don't know how to play a musical instrument since...

    It's good that you already know that the most intuitive way to write music is to record what you're playing, but you're severely limited if you don't know how to play a musical instrument since most of the time you will want something that handles MIDI. The good news is that I know of a tool that doesn't require that, though it does have some inherant limitations. It actually predates sequencers and there are tons of free implementations. I'm speaking, of course, of the multi-track recorder.

    Grab Audacity. Start a click track. Hit record and whistle your tune to the beat. Hit record and hum the harmony. Hit record and beatbox your rhythm. If you need to transpose notes, delete accidental sounds, shift things in time, or loop a repetitive beat, Audacity has some very easy tools to help you do that. Before you know it, you've got a song.

    That being said, if you do want to go to the next level and have drastically superior tools to shape your sounds and beats, you'll probably want to use an actual sequencer with some sort of musical controller - most likely a keyboard. If you can get one with an on-board sequencer, it's actually going to work a lot like a traditional multi-track recorder. You'll find some tools to be really useful - quantizing to get the perfect timing on your notes is certainly great - but depending on which one you buy, it may not be so easy to transpose or time-shift your notes after you've played them.

    There is a third half-way between intuitive and pro-level tools and that is the tracker. Yes, you are technically entering notes into a spreadsheet, but the keyboard is usually set up to play like a musical keyboard and you still have the option of doing it live with most tracker software. Some people find it easier to "see" the music in trackers than they do with the piano roll style professional tools, but YMMV.

    6 votes
    1. [3]
      Apos
      Link Parent
      I was going to suggest that, humming is the easiest way to get started and Audacity is great. There are many recording apps that can also be installed on phones which is nice if you're thinking of...

      I was going to suggest that, humming is the easiest way to get started and Audacity is great. There are many recording apps that can also be installed on phones which is nice if you're thinking of a tune while on the run. Once recorded, it's just a matter of manually converting that raw humming audio into more usable data.

      Otherwise I'm working on a software in my spare time that I hope will make the process of composing music easier. https://apos.itch.io/texo Right now it's not really usable but my goal is to enable that specific workflow.


      There's a useful virtual midi piano here: https://vmpk.sourceforge.io/ It can be used to convert a regular keyboard into a piano. I found myself using it quite often even though I also have a real midi keyboard.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        krg
        Link Parent
        Your program looks rad! Looking forward to playing around with it when I get home. 🎼🎶

        Your program looks rad! Looking forward to playing around with it when I get home. 🎼🎶

        1 vote
        1. Apos
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          Thanks! Right now though it's not really usable. The only thing you can do is place notes with Shift + A and play with Space. There's no save. The note playing is not accurate, sometimes notes...

          Thanks! Right now though it's not really usable. The only thing you can do is place notes with Shift + A and play with Space. There's no save. The note playing is not accurate, sometimes notes don't even play and get skipped.

          Edit: You can see the list of all keybinds: https://github.com/Apostolique/Texo/blob/master/Game/Layer1/Triggers.cs

          1 vote
  2. krg
    Link
    What you're looking for is a MIDI keyboard controller. The one I linked comes with Ableton Live Lite, which is probably the most intuitive software to compose music in. You can go from "sounds in...

    What you're looking for is a MIDI keyboard controller. The one I linked comes with Ableton Live Lite, which is probably the most intuitive software to compose music in. You can go from "sounds in your head" to "cool sounds playing out of my speakers" pretty fast. It might be a little more tricky if you need traditional music notation, but I'm sure there are workable MIDI->notation solutions out there.

    4 votes
  3. Pistos
    Link
    I'm a composer and songwriter who strictly uses Linux software. I'll give you some general advice here, but to give you more pointed advice that is helpful for your particular needs, I think I'll...

    I'm a composer and songwriter who strictly uses Linux software. I'll give you some general advice here, but to give you more pointed advice that is helpful for your particular needs, I think I'll need you to be more specific about your goals.

    I use https://musescore.org/en for notation (setting and publishing musical scores). The thing with that is that it is made for people that already know at least the basics of music notation, and that sounds like it may not be the case for you.

    You can use https://lmms.io/ for sequencing without needing to know anything about music notation. It's just bars on a grid (x axis is time, y axis is pitch/frequency), which is the usual way that sequencing software presents notes in a UI. You can give that a try, but just be aware that you'll need to do a bit of learning about how to choose instruments for the tracks, and synths (needed to make the computer actually produce sound). On top of that is the attendant learning curve of audio in Linux (ALSA, PulseAudio, JACK, etc.).

    Honestly, if you just need to keep rough musical ideas in some kind of digital form for future recollection or reference, the simplest thing may be to use your phone and just record yourself singing, humming or whistling your musical snippets. Very miniscule learning curve -- find a basic audio recording app, or even just use the built in camera app to record video.

    4 votes
  4. tindall
    Link
    All music software, in my experience, is either complicated or useless, because by nature it must cater to all the vast variety of music, music hardware, and musicians, or at least some large...

    but it's all either complicated or unintuitive.

    All music software, in my experience, is either complicated or useless, because by nature it must cater to all the vast variety of music, music hardware, and musicians, or at least some large subset. For example: MuseScore is pretty simple on the surface, but as you dig into it, it becomes rather complex.

    The closest thing I can think of is a hardware sequencer in modular format. Such sequencers often have dials per note in a fixed-length sequence, which can be changed by hand and the step held to play the note value continuously. This value can be put through a quantizer to "snap" it into tune.

    Modular synthesizer gear is expensive and difficult to obtain, however. I honestly think you might be better off downloading something like VCVRack (free) or Reaktor (not free) and building the software yourself using their drag-and-drop approach.

    2 votes
  5. skybrian
    Link
    I think MuseScore might work for just getting it down. You can enter a note, and it will play, and then you can move it up and down with the arrow keys until it matches the tone you expect. Then...

    I think MuseScore might work for just getting it down. You can enter a note, and it will play, and then you can move it up and down with the arrow keys until it matches the tone you expect. Then you can click on notes you entered and they will play.

    Getting the rhythm right is another issue, though. MuseScore is quite annoying for changing the rhythm.

    But there is a lot of music sequencing software out there that I haven't tried, and I think something that uses a piano roll-style interface will likely work for this, provided that it plays notes as you enter them.

    Recording your whistling or humming might be the best way to make sure you don't lose it. Then you can play it back while transcribing to a different format.

    2 votes
  6. wedgel
    Link
    You can intuitively enter notation via mouse and keyboard. The biggest draw back is that it takes a lot more time than recording midi in. Here are some programs I use depending on the project....

    You can intuitively enter notation via mouse and keyboard. The biggest draw back is that it takes a lot more time than recording midi in. Here are some programs I use depending on the project.

    • Sibelius - Expensive been a while but I think it's about $600, complicated pain in the ass to learn but amazing. Unless things have changed it's what a lot of movie soundtracks are sequenced in.
    • Guitar Pro I think $80, - Pretty cheap, does notation and playback. Great at guitar tab.
    • Notion - about $150, if I remember right, a bit buggy. But really good for throwing down quick pieces. It's 'rules' system for key switching is it's high point, slow to set up but having it switch synths sounds by just using the proper notation marks is fantastic.
    • I've heard a lot of good things about MuseScore. I know a lot of schools use it. I haven't used it so I don't know that much about it.
    2 votes