Music Notation - Hand Written vs Notation App

I began my own music studies about 65 years ago and writing music by hand, and even sometimes hand drawing the staff lines, was common place as part of my lesson assignment. I thought it was so neat to write music, even if my assignment was to only draw treble clef signs, bass clef signs and notes of different value such as whole, half, quarter and eighth notes...​

Here is an example of how that assignment looked back then.

Not bad for a third or fourth grader!! In fact my very first attempt didn't look this good but I got better the more I tried. 

I remember when my piano teacher gave me the assignment to write a short little melody. I did the same thing that my students today do when I forget to give them specific directions. I had notes jumping all over the staff. I remember doing that and the not so nice comments my teacher made so when I have my students write a short melody I give them very specific directions. 

For instance: 

1. Write 8 measures in 4/4 time for treble clef in the Key of C ( start and end on middle C) 

2. Draw all your notes as an oval 

3. The note stems go up on the right side of the note head or when they go down they should be drawn on the left side of the note. 

4. The length of the note stems should reach to the next octave of the note. 

5. The distance between any two notes should not be more than a 5th. 

Here is an example of this.​

I have met several teachers over my 55 years of teaching who say that all compositions MUST be handwritten. And some teachers never teach how to write music out by hand and prefer that their students use one of the many music notation apps for either computer or tablet. 

I, and a large number of teachers I know feel that it is best if a student learns first to hand write music notation. I teach what I call "scratch notation" that sort of looks like chicken scratch. It is a good starting point but it also comes in handy when you have to jot down a musical idea in a hurry. The student first just jots down the note heads (before they forget the musical moment in their head.) Then they go back and do the stems indicating the correct rhythm. Here is an example of "scratch notation"​

When the student is doing well with my "scratch notation" then we begin to learn how to turn that into real looking notation. With his step not only do they draw beautiful oval notes with perfect stems but they also begin to write all the other markings for their music such as tempo indications, dynamic marking, finger indications, and many other music terms they have learned. 

Here is an example of this step​

Here is the step where the student has turned the example from above into a more finished look.​

Next, depending on if they are going to work on a computer or tablet we take a look at what notation applications are available to them and begin writing a piece of music that will start with "scratch notation", become a completely hand written piece of music and then they will enter their composition into the music notation app they have chosen. 

When I write or arrange a piece of music even I begin with "scratch notation" and it sometimes looks pretty messy but as long as I can read it at that point that is all that matters. 

I have two favorite notation apps that I prefer. One of them is Symphony Pro. This allows me the flexibility of entering notes with my Apple pencil or by placing them on the staff with my mouse. I can also connect my iPad Pro to my USB digital keyboard and play the notes into the app. 

My second choice, which was my only choice until I found Symphony Pro, is on the computer called Score Cloud. It is free and works on both Mac and PC computers. Notes can be entered using the mouse but also by connecting a USB keyboard. There is also a tablet version that stores all the music you have created and you can click the Play button and listen to the composition. You can also send the link to a composition in an email or put it on a web site. 

My students really enjoy learning how to write music notation correctly and look forward to that time spent either during the lesson or in their Independent Lab time.​

Catching Butterflies (Garage Band Project)
Black and White
 

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