Adept Nightingale 4.0 Review

Which music-notation program to use is a question musicians frequently ask. The answer varies from what it was five or six years ago. Differences in the

Which music-notation program to use is a question musicians frequently ask. The answer varies from what it was five or six years ago. Differences in the quality of printed scores and user interfaces have generally leveled out among the big contenders, and questions of design philosophy are not the hot-button issues they once were.

When programmer Don Byrd released Nightingale for the Macintosh in 1993, the major notation-software players included Coda's Finale, Mark of the Unicorn's (MOTU's) Professional Composer, and Passport's Encore. Then, Nightingale was a visionary program that excelled in areas in which others came up short. Later, it even pioneered important developments such as OCR and Web publishing.

Nightingale has since developed at a slow pace, and the benchmark for notation software has moved ever higher. Nevertheless, Nightingale is still a formidable program; it even won an EM Editors' Choice award in 1997. The August 2000 release of Nightingale 4.0 (also known as Nightingale 2000) in native PPC and 680×0 versions signals a new chapter in the program's development.

Nightingale, now owned and developed by Adept Music Notation Solutions, is an incredibly feature-laden program that cannot be fully described in this review. All software has an attitude — a personality, style, design philosophy, and look that distinguish it — and Nightingale's is an intriguing one. It's chock-full of features but isn't gimmicky. Gracious and useful, Nightingale is deep yet easy to learn.


Notation-program users have varying work habits and preferences; none are more important than those involving note entry. Nightingale lets you do things your way by offering numerous methods to input music: a mouse, step-time note entry through MIDI, and real-time transcription through MIDI. In addition, you can import Type 1 Standard MIDI Files (SMFs), Finale Enigma Transportable Format (ETF) files, and files created by the OCR program NoteScan. You can also use Nightingale to import and export text files in Notelist format, an ASCII-based music-input language favored by some typographers.

Note entry with the mouse is easy and unproblematic, following a procedure that is familiar to the majority of readers. Note values are selected from the Tool Palette, and the note is then inserted on the staff by a mouse-click (see Fig. 1).

Alternatively, you can use alphanumeric keys to select note values. Rather than using numbers to represent note values as some other programs do, Nightingale uses alphabetic abbreviations such as q for quarter note, Q for quarter rest, and h for half note. Although the Tool Palette's tools have default keyboard assignments, users can reassign them using an external application called NightCustomizer. If you don't like the arrangement of symbols on the Tool Palette, hold down the Option key and drag a symbol to a new location, and the symbols exchange positions.

Step-time entry with a MIDI keyboard works as it does in many notation programs: select a duration using the computer keyboard and then play notes on a MIDI controller. The notes you play appear in a box on the staff that shows only the previous three notes or chords you entered, which makes it difficult to spot mistakes. When you finish entering notes, click the mouse; the notes you entered will be displayed on the staff, and you'll be back in normal note-entry mode.

Importing SMFs and ETF files (from Finale versions 3.0 through 3.5 only) worked as well in Nightingale as in any notation program I've used. The import process requires some cleanup and editing — adding slurs, correcting quantization errors, and so on — to make the notation acceptable. When transcribing MIDI files, Nightingale handles beam placement nicely with its Guess Beams by Beat option, and it transcribes triplets accurately.

Real-time MIDI transcription with Nightingale is a two-step process. First, record the passage using the Record Insert command; then, use the Transcribe Recording command to notate the raw durations. Unfortunately, Nightingale doesn't interpret well the passages recorded in real time. I recorded many passages with alternating triplets and 16th notes, and the program consistently had trouble with transcription.

I especially liked Nightingale's Chord Symbol tool for its simplicity of use and flexibility. The Chord Symbol tool makes it possible to notate any variation of standard chord symbols or even to make up new ones. Fig. 2 shows the Chord Symbol tool with entries for an A-flat minor (11/13b/9b/5b) chord and the resulting chord symbol. Nightingale gives you the option to select chord names, qualities, and alterations from the tool's pop-up menus or to type any text you choose directly into the text boxes.


Nightingale operates with only two fonts: Adobe Sonata and BlueNotz, a jazz font developed by Thomas Williams that is similar in appearance to handwriting ($60; available at Nightingale ships with the screen-font version of Sonata, but users who want to print from a laser printer and don't already own PostScript Sonata will have to purchase it from Adobe for about $26.

Print quality on my laser printer was excellent. Fig. 3 shows examples of the PostScript Adobe Sonata font output and the BlueNotz font output scanned at 600 dpi.

Changing music fonts requires that you use the NightCustomizer outboard application, which is included in the Nightingale distribution bundle. You can use NightCustomizer to specify hundreds of Nightingale global preferences, such as MIDI Velocity tables for playback of dynamics and MIDI driver options. It also provides access to dozens of PostScript settings down to the smallest detail, such as Size of Colons Between Tuplet Numerals.

With so many great music fonts available, including a lot that approach the look of classic engraved editions from great publishing houses, a wider font selection would be a welcome addition to the program. The developer says Nightingale will have that capability in a future release.


Lyrics are entered using the Flow in Text/Lyrics tool, and the process is simple and straightforward. First, type or paste your text into a box using the appropriate hyphens for syllabification and underscores for melismatic passages; then, click on notes to assign the words and syllables.

You can also add lyrics by attaching them directly to notes one at a time, as you would any piece of text. Any font can be designated a “lyric” style, which affects the spacing of notes on a preset or single-use basis. Once you enter the lyrics, you can move them easily using the Dragging tool.

You can also use the QuickChange tool to make global alterations, such as changing the position of highlighted text. Although the review version does not allow entry of multiple text lines (for example, for different stanzas), the next release of Nightingale should have that feature.


Nightingale offers a large number of editing features. Notes, rests, and symbols can be selected with the arrow cursor and deleted by pressing the Delete key. Notes move up, down, right, and left with the Dragging tool, but using that sometimes causes symbols, especially graphics and text, to disappear while being moved. The symbol usually reappears on release of the mouse button. If not, it will show up after a forced screen redraw.

You can manipulate notes and other symbols one at a time by invoking the Get Info command (Control + I, as in the Mac OS) on a selected score event. That brings up a window with a number of text boxes in which you can specify a note or symbol's position in quarters of a point or change MIDI-playback information, for example. Get Info complements the QuickChange command by letting you make numerous changes on a single event at the same time.

You can navigate smoothly from one score page to another using the thumbwheel at the bottom or side of the window. Nightingale directly associates symbols with notes or rests, ensuring that hairpins, articulations, and dynamic marks won't wander about when you extract parts.

One of Nightingale's highlights is the QuickChange command, which concentrates a large number of editing possibilities in one place. QuickChange lets you edit groups of symbols belonging to the same type. Editable symbols include notes, rests, slurs, ties, tempo marks, chord symbols, and articulations as well as other note modifiers, bar lines, dynamics, and tuplets. You can change the shape of note-head groups, align the baselines or alter the text style, and modify the shape of slurs.

To change the shape of the note heads of every other note in a string of eight eighth notes, highlight the entries using Command-click or the Threader tool. Then, implement the QuickChange command by typing Command + H. A dialog box with three pull-down menus will appear. Select Note/Rest, Appearance, and x-shape (see Fig. 4). Each symbol type has menu options appropriate for its attributes.

The QuickChange command is one of the most useful, flexible, and innovative tools I've encountered in a music notation program. It's indicative of Nightingale's creative design and understanding of notation ergonomics.

Have you ever started to enter notes while working in your notation software, only to find that you selected the wrong tool? Another Nightingale innovation, called Mouse Shaking, helps you avoid that scenario. A few quick twitches of the wrist, mouse in hand, and you're back in note-entry mode from anywhere you happened to be. In MIDI step-entry mode, when the hand is usually not on the mouse, Mouse Shaking is less helpful; in other situations, it can help reduce editing mistakes. Mouse Shaking also works fine with a trackball.

You will also appreciate the Threader tool, which lets you select a series or “thread” of notes or events by clicking on and dragging over symbols. Holding down the Command key and using the Threader tool allows you to select threads at will from different parts of the score.

I especially like Nightingale's Show Duration Problems tool, which finds duration problems and displays them with crosshatching over the affected area. It worked so nicely for real duration problems that I forgave its nagging habit of considering incomplete upbeat measures as mistakes. Unfortunately, Nightingale offers no multiple Undo or Redo commands.


Nightingale's Master Page tool is used to set up basic system and page formatting for the score. Although it doesn't look like much, the Master Page tool is powerful.

In Master Page mode, Nightingale's Play/Rec menu is replaced by a Master Page menu that contains options to add or delete parts, split staves, set staff size, specify margins, define instrument assignments for staves, and designate groupings by placing bar lines through groups, for example. Fig. 5 shows a closeup of the Master Page tool used to specify MIDI channels and patches for a woodwind-quintet layout.

Nightingale organizes scores into Parts, staves, and Voices. Parts can consist of single or multiple staves, and each staff can contain 31 Voices. A score can have a maximum of 100 Voices, and a Voice can spread across any of a Part's staves. Voice entry and editing is simple, and the handy Look at One Voice tool shows a selected voice at normal brightness while dimming others. Voices can also be assigned colors for easy identification.


Nightingale's MIDI scoring options are not as robust as they could be. Although it's easy to assign channels and Program Changes to staves using the Master Page setup or, less conveniently, the Instrument MIDI Settings, it's impossible to insert channel and Program Changes at arbitrary points in the score. Consequently, you can't change an arco patch to pizzicato, for example, or route a software synth to a different MIDI port as a score plays back. For most MIDI orchestrators, that's a major shortcoming.

In general, MIDI playback is simple and reliable. Just hit Command + 1 to start playback and Command + period to stop; clicking the mouse also stops playback. For playing back part of a score, you have to choose a separate Play Selection command (Command + 4). You can toggle page turns during MIDI playback, but MIDI data is occasionally interrupted when you enable that feature.

Starting playback from any point other than the beginning requires two steps: first, click on the point in the score at which you want playback to begin; then, select Continue Play from the Play/Rec menu or use its shortcut, Control + 2. Continue Play is also useful for resuming playback from the point at which it was halted by a mouse-click. A Transport window with punch-in and punch-out windows as well as a consolidation of some Play commands would be valuable additions to the program.

Nightingale does a fair job of playing dynamics, and you can easily make your own dynamic marking-to-MIDI Velocity assignments. Nightingale doesn't play crescendos, decrescendos, ornaments, or articulations. Work-arounds to some limitations, however, are described in the Users Guide. For example, to accurately play back a group of notes marked staccato, select them and use the Set Durations command to shorten their duration. Such a work-around may be possible, but it is not always practical — I can't imagine doing that for a 20-minute orchestra score.

Nightingale uses the Open Music System (OMS) to handle MIDI. Adept plans to add the option of using MOTU's FreeMIDI in a future release.


The Nightingale user guide, implemented as a Help file, is one of the most complete help systems I have seen in any notation program. Each topic is organized into three parts: the Actions section, which carefully walks the user through the workings of each feature; the See Also section, which provides links to related topics; and the More Information section, which offers more references to the main topic. When I looked up the Flow in Text/Lyrics tool in the user guide, for example, the More Information section provided 31 references. The manufacturer plans to offer the Nightingale user guide in HTML format in a future release.

The Nightingale Tutorial, presented in Adobe Acrobat, is similarly well organized, nicely illustrated, and user-friendly, though it has no links. The lessons take the user from Mac basics through most of Nightingale's functions. It even has a tutorial about how to use the Users Guide.


Unlike other music-notation programs, Nightingale doesn't make decisions for you. It doesn't have “wizards” waiting to assist you or get in your way. Nightingale's basic philosophy is that the user is in charge and needs no automatic intervention from the program. For example, you can put seven quarter notes in a 4/4 measure if you like, and Nightingale will not complain unless you ask it to do so.

There's little the program can't do with music notation. However, the work-arounds to accomplish certain tasks are sometimes a bit awkward and time consuming. I am unable to recommend Nightingale for guitar tablature, for example, and nested triplets are also quite problematic.

Nightingale is fast. Page-redraw speed, global changes, and part extraction are amazingly quick, even running the 680×0 version on an old 68030 PowerBook Duo. My main test setup for this review was a Mac blue and white G3 with 128 MB RAM. On the G3, speed of part extraction was so fast, I doubted the program had done its job until I checked the part files.

The program's micro- and macro-editing capabilities are among the best that I have seen in any notation software. The supply of templates is ample, and the documentation is superb. PostScript print quality is excellent. The user interface is simple, elegant, and highly configurable, and the program runs efficiently on Power Macs and 680×0 Macs.

Nightingale is one of the biggest bargains in music-notation software. For those wanting a test drive, a limited version known as NightLight is available for download from the Adept Web site. A 14-day trial of the full version should also be on the site by the time you read this article.

Thomas Wells has been involved with audio and computer music for more than 25 years. He teaches at Ohio State University.

Minimum System Requirements
Nightingale 4.0

PPC: Power Mac 6100/60, 8 MB RAM, OS 7.5

680×0: Mac II, 5 MB RAM; OS 7


Adept Music Notation Solutions
Nightingale 4.0 (Mac)
music-notation software
$159 (academic, student, and upgrade
pricing also available)



PROS: Simple, customizable user interface. Unique features. Runs on a variety of Macs. Excellent micro- and macro-editing features. Thorough and well-organized documentation.

CONS: Limited MIDI implementation. Work-arounds needed for several basic tasks, such as guitar tablature and nested tuplets.


Adept Music Notation Solutions, Inc.
tel. (215) 736-8237