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Joined: Jan 2004
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Hi, All.

When hand notating compositions. I often outline note heads that should be blackened in. That is, the center of the note head is left blank. Then, after finishing the entire composition, it's necessary to go back to fill in the note heads - which can be very time consuming.

Is there any writing implement, pen, or whatever that fills in the note heads with a single stroke?

To clarify, is there a pen that writes lines as usual, but in addition, will deposit a black dot (a note head) onto paper by gently pushing the pen (smooshing it) onto the paper?

The push onto the paper I'm talking about could work something like those white out pens - that you push down onto the paper to get the white out flowing out. Or maybe there's some other way we could "activate" the pen to deposit the note head onto paper?

Does something like this already exist?

Jeanne W


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Hi Jeanne
I've been preparing my scores using Finale now for 25 years, but I do remember how I developed my facility with pen and ink, and the scores still look pretty darn good to me now.

When I first started hand-notating compositions with an eye to having them actually look good (some 50 years ago now), I found some great tips in a little book called Preparing Music Manuscript by Anthony Donato. Up to that point I'd been just using a black felt-tip pen. But after reading the book, I experimented with (cheap) fountain pens and Pelikan fount India ink (a good black India ink designed not to clog the insides of the pen). The important thing was the pen hold - you need to hold it so that a vertical stroke gives a thin line (stems), and a horizontal stroke produces a thick line (beams). For me, that meant holding it not quite how I held a pen for writing. I also filed off the little bits at the end of the nib (which make for even writing - but they're no good for the thin/thick characteristic I'm talking about). It ends up being a bit like a calligraphy pen, except the tip of the nib is straight across, not slanted.

Now, with this modified fountain pen I could do very quick and neat notes, beams, stems. As for the note-heads, which is your question, depending on the size they can be done with one stroke - a push (horizontally, towards the right, but into the paper) so that the two halves of the nib spread a little - or if it's a bit bigger, two pushes (one doing the upper half of the note-head, the second doing the lower half). With a bit of practice I could produce really good-looking scores quite quickly. So much so that (as an impoverished student) I began earning money as a copyist for other composers, and doing orchestral parts etc. This is all ancient history now, of course, with notation programs, but as you are still hand-writing your scores you would probably find it worth your time to experiment.

I have to say that the best thing about notation programs like Finale (vs hand-scoring) is that you avoid that awful situation where you've beautifully scribed a whole page and only then realise you left a bar out, somewhere up near the top...

Anyway, good luck! It's nice to think that good hand-written manuscript is not totally extinct. smile


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Hi, Currawong:

Thanks for the info. The fountain pen method you used for hand notation sounds like a good one and sawing off the end of the nib was ingenious. It does sound a little daunting, though, would surely take some practice and getting used to and I wonder if I could master the skill; also, how exactly I'd need to hold the pen to achieve the different thicknesses of the strokes. I see Pelikan fount India ink is still available for purchase. I'm giving serious thought to giving this a try.

Your comment about "that awful situation where you've beautifully scribed a whole page and only then realize you left a bar out, somewhere up near the top…" AUGH! Been there. Done that!

On these dreaded occasions I'd start over again with a fresh page of composition paper, but just this past month or so, I tried, quite literally, the cut and paste method fix - out came the scissors and Scotch tape (instead of paste), and I snipped and cut and patched away. Quite the botch up job, that was. I don't think I'll be doing that again!

Jeanne W


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Hi Jeanne,

I studied composition in the days before Finale, Sibelius and the like.

I always used Rotring Rapidograph pens. They come in a range of line widths. Thin for stems, medium for beams, thick for note heads.

Can be a tedious process and needs a bit of getting used to, but leads to a very neat, precise handwritten score.

Why not use a computer? I wish I had one when I was composing.

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Originally Posted by CharlesXX
Why not use a computer? I wish I had one when I was composing.

On the whole, I agree. I actually enjoyed the physical act of notating with pen and ink, but the ability that a program like Finale or Sibelius gives you to tweak little bits, change your mind about a note, experiment with different sizes, layouts, copy and paste repeated sections etc really outweighs the pen & ink high I get while hand-copying. smile


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Hi, Charles.

It's good to know you're still around these parts. I'll check out the Rotring pens. It's good to have choices. I wish there were more questions here having to do with actual composition. This forum seems to have devolved almost exclusively into a place to post recordings.

In answer to your question "Why not use a computer?"… Perhaps explaining how I compose will help answer…

I compose while at the piano with composition paper on the music desk and a Bic pen. I noodle around until I hear something I like, sounds catchy or interesting. Not the most highly regarded way of composing, I know, but that is how I do it.

So I sit at the piano with composition paper and a Bic pen and create an initial draft, build on a catchy or interesting bit, then work to perfect form. (Form is my biggest challenge.)

Once I think the composition is complete, I copy my handwritten draft (which sometimes is quite the road map with bits inserted here and there, numbers and arrows where to go next) to a neat, final copy.

I'm somewhat familiar with "NotePad", the free version of Finale. I've taken drafts and inputted them into NotePad. I believe it takes more time and is much more tedious to enter the notation into NotePad using a computer keyboard than it is to copy by hand the notation onto composition paper. And, strangely, as of late, I've actually begun to enjoy and feel a sense of satisfaction from notating the 'final' copy neatly by hand. The only thing I use NotePad for now is when I'm trying to figure out a tricky rhythmic pattern - are those dotted sixteenth notes or something else altogether?

I just wish there was a quicker way of doing the hand notation. My compositions are typically only a 3-4 page solo piano piece so not very involved, but even that is time consuming.

I have an acoustic piano. I do not have a digital keyboard. I've considered and done some research into playing the music directly into a software program like Finale using a DAW set-up, digital keyboard, the works, but keep reading on PW that if you deviate from the tempo things go awry and I'd probably wind up spending a lot of time fixing the notation after the fact. I must be missing something. There must be an easier way?

Jeanne W


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I'll add my answer to your question too, because I should have made it clear that I don't compose using Finale.
Like you, I compose at the piano, or (more often) at my desk, with manuscript paper and pencil. I said in my initial post that "I've been preparing my scores using Finale now for 25 years" - "preparing my scores" being the relevant thing here. I notate my scores using Finale, but I don't *compose* using Finale. I don't have a digital keyboard either. I use Finale purely as a notating program. Yes, it was a bit of a steep learning curve at first, but it was only a matter of weeks before I was becoming quite comfortable with it. I tend to use the point and click on the stave rather than the computer keyboard input method, but the important thing is to find what works for you.
(I don't even use the playback function...) smile


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Originally Posted by currawong
I'll add my answer to your question too, because I should have made it clear that I don't compose using Finale.
Like you, I compose at the piano, or (more often) at my desk, with manuscript paper and pencil. I said in my initial post that "I've been preparing my scores using Finale now for 25 years" - "preparing my scores" being the relevant thing here. I notate my scores using Finale, but I don't *compose* using Finale. I don't have a digital keyboard either. I use Finale purely as a notating program. Yes, it was a bit of a steep learning curve at first, but it was only a matter of weeks before I was becoming quite comfortable with it. I tend to use the point and click on the stave rather than the computer keyboard input method, but the important thing is to find what works for you.
(I don't even use the playback function...) smile

I agree with currawong. That's the approach you should adopt, Jeanne.

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Hi, Currawong and Charles,

Thank you for lending your thoughts on this subject.

Something I should clarify... When I said I use the computer keyboard to enter notes - I think that probably is misleading. When I enter notes into NotePad, I do use the computer mouse.

Also, I'm not sure if I made clear that my main interest is in a speedier process for coming up with the final master finished copy, not necessarily getting a final copy that looks like it is professionally printed, although that would be a bonus!

I see, Charles, that your PianoWorld tagline references "Adelaide, South Australia" and Currawong, yours references "Down Under". I hope you are doing well in your part of the world.

Cheers to you "Down Under"!

:-)

Jeanne W


Music is about the heart and so should a piano be about the heart. - Pique

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Not exactly what the OP specified, but I will mention. An iPad app called GoodNotes using lined score templates is what I've used recently. Along with an Apple Pencil 2. Also, I ordered a screen film - Paperlike (as I recall) that gives some friction when writing, similar to real paper.

It doesn't fill in note heads although that would be a nice app enhancement. What it will do is straighten crooked lines - note stems and bar lines. Also of course, it has the digital capabilities like copy/cut/paste - which is preferable to pencil and paper.

Just another option.

Last edited by indigo_dave; 08/14/21 09:42 AM.

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