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Product Review: Music Publisher

By Bob van der Poel

If you are a musician, you can only cry about the lack of music programs which run under Linux. Yes, there are many CD players, sound editors, etc. But, when it comes to notation programs your choices are severely limited. My search for notation editors (a program which will produce printed sheet music) has turned up three choices:

  1. The graphical program Rosegarden (http://www.bath.ac.uk/~masjpf/rose.html). This is a very interesting program which tries its best to be all things. It has a notation editor which handles most of the normal editing functions, a midi sequencer which will play music from the notation editor as well as record data from a midi keyboard, and the ability to import midi files and convert them to notation. Sounds wonderful...but, unfortunately, Rosegarden is a work in progress and simply doesn't do all it is supposed to, or does them awkwardly. I have been unable to get the sequencer to work using my Gravis Ultra soundcard; and I find that the notation editor is tedious to use since there are no keyboard accelerators for entering note data. In addition there is no easy way to print music. Rosegarden does have a option to export files in MusicTex, OpusTex and PMX (a preprocessor for MusiXTex). I tired some of the combinations, but was not really all that impressed by the output. However, the biggest problem I have with Rosegarden (and a lot of other music editors) is that they work on the music as if it were a long string. This means changes to the start of the music work there way to the end of the chart. For example, if in bar one of a piece you have four quarter notes and you wish to change to the first quarter to two eights, you first change the first quarter to an eighth, then insert an eighth. When the first change is done, everything to the right of the edit point is reformatted with the result that none of the music is now in the correct measure. Of course, inserting the second eighth fixes this. But, if you have several staves of music and you do a few edits, it is really easy to mess the entire piece up.

  2. The various TeX music systems. I must admit that I did not spend a lot of time with any of the variants. I can handle LaTeX for word processing, but the music variants seemed to be pretty complicated to use, all in a state of beta, and none seem to produce what looks like a finished work.

  3. MUP. This, at first look, would probably be the last program to pick. But after a fair bit of testing I have decided to use it. So far, I'm happy with my choice.

Quoting from the user's manual: "The music publisher program called 'Mup' takes a text file describing music as input, and generates PostScript output for printing that music. The input file can be created using your favorite text editor, or generated from any other source, such as another program. The input must be written in a special language designed especially for describing music."

Unlike Rosegarden (and the Windows offerings) MUP does not operate in a WYSIWYG environment. As a matter of fact, the MUP distribution doesn't even have a means of editing music. MUP uses plain text files which look much like source code for a program as its input. Use vi, emacs or whatever your flavor of editor is. Then, process the file with MUP to create postscript; and finally print the postscript file. If you don't have a postscript printer you'll need ghostscript to print things out. And ghostview is handy for screen previews. MUP uses lines of text to describe a piece of music.

For example, here are the first few bars of Bye Bye Blackbird:

The "1:" at the start of each line is the staff/voice indicator (in this example it refers to staff 1 and, since there is no additional argument, voice 1). Following the staff/voice are the notes for the measure. The first measure has an eighth note g, eight note c, etc. The next measure has several eight notes as well as two quarter notes. At first this might seem to be a bit difficult to follow, but in no time at all it does make sense.

A MUP score can contain up to 32 staves of music, each with two voices. Each voice can have multiple notes (or chords)...so complex arrangements are quite possible. In addition to the actual staves, you can also include lyrics, musical symbols, etc.

I started to use MUP when I started to play saxophone in a small combo. We all play from fake-type music (chords, lyrics and the melody line). But I'm not the greatest sax player in the world and find it pretty hard to transpose from C to B flat while sight reading. So, I started to rewrite the C charts in to B flat by hand. I find anything which needs a pen to be tedious, which is what led me to try MUP. After a few practice charts, I can enter a page of one line music with lyrics in about an hour. And since MUP can produce MIDI files as well as doing transpositions, it really works well for what I needed. I can print the music in different keys for everyone in the combo, and I can create a midi file in the right key for practicing at home.

I have included the actual mup file I created for Bye Bye Blackbird and a printed music image.

Flushed with the success of doing these simple charts, I decided to try a more complex task. I also play in a fifteen piece dance band. Most of the music we play is arranged by our leader, but recently some of the members have doing them as well. So, I decided to give it a try. My first arrangement of the old standard Fever took the better part of two days to complete. It is arranged for 11 voices on 6 staves. We played it the other night and I was pleased--not only was everyone impressed by the appearance of the charts, it didn't sound to bad either. I have printed out the first page of the conductor's score .

If you would like to see some of my other arrangements, I have posted them along with a copy of this review from http://www.kootenay.com/~bvdpoel.

I certainly don't have room in this short review to cover all the features of a complex program like MUP. Just a few of the more useful items I've been using are if/else statements to produce charts for different instruments, file includes to read in my own "boiler plate", and macros to make my input files easier to create, read and revise.

MUP comes complete with well written, 99 page users manual in postscript (you'll have to print it out), as well as the the same information in HTML format. Equally impressive is the customer support available via email. I've sent a number of queries to the authors and have received courteous, timely replies to each and every one.

MUP is not free. You can download a working copy of the program, the source code if you want it, and the manual from http://www.Arkkra.com. The program is a complete working copy--however it prints a "this is an unregistered copy" watermark on all pages of the score. MUP registration is only $29.00, after which you get a license which turns off the marks. This is a pretty low price to pay for such a well thought out program.

Copyright © 1998, Bob van der Poel
Published in Issue 28 of Linux Gazette, May 1998