Music Notation

Topics This Week

MIDI Music Files

Standard MIDI Files (SMF) are a standard, cross-platform file format that can be read by sequencing, notation and multimedia applications from different manufacturers. Most MIDI sequencing applications can save as these types of files. Reason and Finale are able to open and save SMFs, while GarageBand can only open them.

Types of Standard MIDI files:

General MIDI: An addition to the MIDI specification that standardizes the performance of software and hardware instruments. In order for a device to be considered GM compatible it must have the following capabilities:

Standard MIDI Files in General MIDI format are commonly found on the Web and can be played back on virtually any recent computer, from your internet browser, without additional hardware. For MIDI playback on any platform check out Quicktime.

Follow this link for a reference guide to the General MIDI program and drum map: GM_program_map.pdf

How is Notation Software Used?

Our system of music notation has evolved over 600 years. Musicians have learned to translate symbols into musical ideas. How does a computer translate musical ideas into notation? Let's start by taking a look at some of the ways that musicians use notation software.

  • Production of scores for distribution and publication. The computer is needed to manage graphics and page layout.
  • Arranging existing works. The computer is needed to copy and paste musical elements such as sections of a form or individual measures.
  • Production of parts for performance (instrument transpositions) The computer is needed to understand and interpret staves, keys and transposition.
  • Proofing scores or arrangements. The computer is needed to interpret notated pitches, durations and perhaps dynamics.
  • Creation of new compositions. The computer needs to interpret musical input from a composer.

Working With Notation Software

Input Methods How do we get musical information into the computer?


Some basic functions:


How does the printed page look? Generally you'll have control over:

Reference and Tutorial Acrobat files :

Lead Sheet Project

Demonstrate your ability to communicate a basic musical idea in standard music notation by producing a lead sheet, using Finale. You can choose any piece of music, original or not, as long as the final printed version contains the following elements:

Check the Assignments section in the Course Companion Website for project due dates.

Review Questions

What is the difference between a Type 0 and Type 1 Standard MIDI File?
What capabilities does a synthesizer need to be General MIDI compatible?
What are the instrument families represented in the General MIDI program map?
What MIDI notes are assigned to basic drum kit sounds in the General MIDI drum map?
What MIDI channel is reserved for drum sounds in General MIDI?
What are some common uses for music notation software?
How are notes graphically entered in Finale?
What are two ways that Finale can enter notes from a musical performance?
What is the difference between Insert and Replace when pasting measures in Finale?
What specific aspects of the printed page can be edited in Finale?

Notation Vocabulary

Standard MIDI File
General MIDI
Program Map
Drum Map
Simple Note Entry (Finale)
Speedy Note Entry (Finale)
HyperScribe (Finale)
Insert Paste
Replace Paste