Professional-quality notation at a rock-bottom price.Coda's Finale has long been one of the most powerful and flexible music-notation programs on the

Professional-quality notation at a rock-bottom price.

Coda's Finale has long been one of the most powerful and flexible music-notation programs on the market. But many musicians don't need the kind of high-end capabilities that Finale offers, nor can they afford its comparatively high price tag. Coda therefore offers two scaled-down versions of Finale: Allegro for intermediate users and PrintMusic for beginners.

Don't let PrintMusic's entry-level designation fool you. The program is based on the technology used in Finale 2000. In fact, PrintMusic and Finale share the same rendering engine, meaning you get the same professional-quality output with PrintMusic that you do with Finale. Because both programs have the same format, you can even share files between them.

PrintMusic differs from Finale mainly in its reduced number of features and more limited capabilities. For example, Finale supports an unlimited number of staffs, whereas PrintMusic can handle only 24. Still, PrintMusic offers plenty of power for an entry-level program, including support for up to four independent voices per staff and the ability to extract individual parts from the full score.

WYSIWYG AND WIZARDRYFrom the start, PrintMusic aims to put you at ease. When you first launch the program, it displays the Document Setup wizard, which makes setting up your score as easy as can be. A dialog box asks you to enter the title and composer and select page size (from a wide variety of choices), orientation (portrait or landscape), and music font.

The wizard then asks you to choose the instruments for your score from seven categories: woodwinds, brass, percussion, plucked strings, keyboards, vocals, and strings. The instruments automatically appear in the score in proper "score order," although you can change the arrangement if you wish (see Fig. 1). When you click on Finish, the wizard constructs your score with the proper clef, transposition, and staff for each instrument. Of course, you can forgo the wizard and create your own score from scratch, or you can use one of the included templates for several types of ensembles: general, band, choral, church, and orchestral.

Once you've created your blank score, however, PrintMusic becomes a bit less intuitive. Because it offers many of the same features as Finale, it also shares some of the high-end program's complexity. Entering and editing music and other symbols can be a bit overwhelming at first, especially because the program presents you with 19 tools to work with. Instead of providing one tool for selecting, one tool for entry/editing, and so on, each part of a score must be edited with a different tool. Luckily, Coda provides plenty of help to get you up and running quickly, and once you get used to it, mastering PrintMusic isn't all that difficult.

Coda has gone out of its way to make learning and using the software as easy as possible. In addition to the usual context-sensitive help, the program includes a quick-reference card, an online manual, a tutorial booklet, a set of onscreen QuickStart movies, and more than 100 music samples. A printed manual would be useful, but the online documentation is comprehensive, and you can easily print it out if you need to. Some of the QuickStart video clips are a bit short, but overall they provide a great introduction to all of the software's major features. The tutorial booklet is excellent. It walks you through the program installation and seven tutorials with accompanying files. The music samples are also a nice touch.

MUSIC ENTRY AND EDITINGWhen entering notes and markings into PrintMusic, you can view the score in Page View or Scroll View. Page View lets you see and edit your score as if it were printed on paper; you navigate to various pages with the page controls at the bottom of the main window. Scroll View is a linear display of your score that extends continuously to the right and/or left (as in most MIDI sequencers). You navigate the score by measure numbers instead of page numbers. It doesn't matter which view you use while editing your score, although some tools (such as the Layout tool) work only in Page View.

PrintMusic offers four ways to enter music into a score: Simple Entry, Speedy Entry, EasyScribe, and MIDI-file importing. As its name implies, Simple Entry is the easiest method, although it's also the slowest. You simply use the mouse to add notes and symbols to your score. Two palettes are provided: one with rests and another with note values (ranging from double whole note to 128th note). Additional selections include grace notes, dots, ties, and accidentals. You just select a note or symbol from one of the palettes and click on a staff to deposit it. As you add notes to a measure, PrintMusic automatically spaces the music. Unfortunately, Simple Entry is not particularly flexible when it comes to moving and editing notes, and it can be rather tedious.

Speedy Entry, on the other hand, is a faster and more accurate alternative that lets you enter notes using your MIDI keyboard in combination with your computer keyboard. You don't have to use your mouse at all. Speedy Entry is also more flexible in that it lets you place as many notes as you want anywhere within a measure instead of restricting you to proper beats and spacing.

Speedy Entry is a little more difficult than Simple Entry because you have to learn the computer-keyboard commands, but the quick-reference card helps with that. To add music, you click on a measure, which opens an editing frame around that measure (see Fig. 2). Displayed within the frame are an insertion bar (indicating where the note or rest will be placed) and a pitch crossbar (indicating the note's pitch). Completing your entry is then a simple matter of holding down a note on your MIDI keyboard while selecting a duration key on your computer keyboard. You can also hold down several notes at once to quickly enter chords. After you enter your notes, PrintMusic automatically moves the insertion bar to the next appropriate location in the measure (or to the next measure if you're at the end of the current one).

Editing notes is also quite easy with Speedy Entry. With the mouse, you simply drag a note to a new pitch or horizontal location, something you can't do with Simple Entry.

The quickest ways to enter music into a score, however, are by using EasyScribe and by importing a Standard MIDI file. The two are essentially the same: in each case, PrintMusic analyzes MIDI data and converts it into notation. The main difference between the methods is that a MIDI file is prerecorded, whereas with EasyScribe, you record your performance directly into PrintMusic in real time. PrintMusic can open Type 0 MIDI files, but then all of the imported data is placed on a single grand staff, which can result in a jumble of notes. Type 1 files (which retain separate tracks) are a much better choice for scores.

To record with EasyScribe, you simply select the EasyScribe tool and click on the measure into which you want to record notes. PrintMusic plays a count-off (you set the length) and continues with the user-configured MIDI metronome click. You can record into a single staff or spread your performance across two staffs with a user-specified split point.

As you play, PrintMusic automatically translates your performance into notation. To aid the translation, you can specify beforehand whether PrintMusic will tie notes across barlines, what the smallest note value in the performance will be, whether tuplets will be included, and whether syncopations should be tied. Carefully choosing the settings and following the beat yields very good results. PrintMusic faltered only on more complex pieces, and even then I could easily edit the mistakes.

MARKS OF DISTINCTIONIn addition to notes, PrintMusic allows you to add a wide range of other symbols and markings to a score. Each type of marking has its own dedicated tool palette. The palettes include Staff, Key Signature, Time Signature, Clef, Measure, Tuplet, Smart Shape, Articulation, Expression, Repeat, Chord, Lyrics, and Text. Most are self-explanatory and similar to the tool palettes in other notation programs, but some offer particularly interesting features.

The Chord tool, for example, lets you add chord symbols to a score by simply playing chords on your MIDI keyboard. You just click above the note where you want to place a chord and play the chord. PrintMusic automatically identifies it and places the appropriate symbol in the score. The program can even insert guitar-fretboard grids with fingerings. What's more, if you transpose the music, the chord symbols (and the guitar fretboards) are transposed along with it. This is a very useful feature.

The Smart Shape tool is also quite interesting. With it you can add slurs, crescendo hairpins, brackets, dashed and solid lines, trills, glissandos, and 8va or 8vb markings to the score. These "intelligent" markings conform to changes in the music. For example, if you add more notes to a measure, causing it to lengthen, the Smart Shape lines in and around that measure will also lengthen to maintain the proper relationships. Some Smart Shape lines automatically orient themselves correctly according to the music, but slurs do not always arc in the proper direction.

MIDI PLAYBACKAlong with representing your score visually, PrintMusic can render the music via MIDI, so the program can double as a compositional tool. This part of the program, however, needs some improvement. For playback, PrintMusic provides transport controls much like the ones you would find in a MIDI sequencer: buttons for rewind, fast-forward, play, record, stop, and pause. These controls work as expected, but they sometimes get in the way; instead of residing in a dockable toolbar, they are in a floating palette. (You can, of course, minimize the palette or start playback by hitting the spacebar.) I was also disappointed that I couldn't switch from page view to scroll view during playback or make edits and instantly hear the changes. These features would make excellent additions for a future release. On the plus side, however, PrintMusic's "auto spot-check" feature offers something akin to scrubbing; you can drag the cursor through the score in any direction to hear the notes.

One thing that I especially like about PrintMusic is that all of a score's expression marks and some of the articulation marks have MIDI-playback equivalents. For example, if you add a staccato mark to a note, the note plays back with a shorter duration. But unlike Allegro and Finale, PrintMusic doesn't let you access the score's underlying MIDI data and alter the assigned values. For instance, you can't designate how short the staccato duration should be. PrintMusic does, however, allow you to create your own tempo expressions, and MIDI playback will follow repeat signs entered with the Repeat tool.

LAYOUT AND PRINTOUTWhen it comes to laying out and printing your score, PrintMusic performs beautifully. With the Page Layout tool you can easily set the page margins, change the spacing between systems, indent systems, and so on (see Fig. 3). Rulers are included, marked in inches or centimeters. PrintMusic lacks a snap-to-grid feature, but for precise positioning, you can enter values numerically. The Resize tool allows you to change the size of anything on a page. The tool is ideal for many types of projects, from orchestral scores with small staffs to educational exercises with extra large notes.

Because PrintMusic 2000 uses the same rendering technology as Finale 2000, the quality of the printed output is excellent. PrintMusic can print to just about any printer, PostScript compatible or not. In addition, the program uses Finale's Maestro font, a new font designed by Coda that provides some of the best notation you'll ever see. And when you register your software, Coda lets you download its JazzFont set for free. These fonts give your scores a cool handwritten effect that really looks authentic. Kudos to Coda for providing this great bonus.

THE FINALEPrintMusic provides more power than any other entry-level notation product I've seen. However, the program has its faults. The MIDI-playback features could be enhanced, and I would love to be able to switch views and perform edits while my score plays in the background. Using the program would also be a bit easier if there were fewer separate tools to contend with, and it would help if you could dock the playback controls out of the way.

Despite these minor gripes, PrintMusic boasts a wealth of features for an entry-level program, and perhaps even more important, it produces great-looking scores. If you're searching for an inexpensive notation program that can handle most common scoring tasks, it's well worth your while to check out PrintMusic. Download a demo version of the program at Coda's Web site, and give it a try.