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Topics - Fred Nachbaur

Tips & Tricks / Writing Orchestral Percussion and Drum Staves
Here is an easy method for writing orchestral percussion parts, not requiring dual staves for "sounding" and "viewing."

Parts for Gran Cassa (a kind of bass drum), Piatti (cymbals) and Triangle are usually written in orchestral scores on a single-line staff, using standard noteheads, and no clef. NWC V1.75 therefore supports everything necessary for an authentic visual aspect.

However, the sounded aspect poses a problem. While the sounds themselves can be reasonably approximated with sounds available on percussion channel 10, the "pitches" on this channel represent the different instruments. If staff properties is set for a single-line staff, this line will always be the middle line of a "normal" 5-line staff (i.e. the B above middle C in treble clef, or the D below middle C in bass clef).

This dilemma can be solved by using the Staff Transposition option in Staff Properties. A step-by-step example is given below, using Gran Cassa, Piatti, and Triangle.

  • Open the file drumref.nwc, included in the "Samples" folder under your NWC directory. Use SHIFT F5 to play either of the two staves, to find the desired sounds you want to use. Let's assume that you want to use the following sounds:

    • Gran Casse - "Bass Drum 1" ("C" 2 oct. below middle C)
    • Piatti - "Crash Cymbal 1" ("C#" below middle C)
    • Triangle - "Open Triangle" ("A" an octave above high C)
  • Create three staves (CNTL-A), one for each instrument. For each staff, hit Staff Properties (F2) and set the following:

    • General Tab: set Name, Group and Ending Bar as desired.

    • Visual Tab: set Vertical Size, Color and Style as desired. Set Lines to 1.

    • Midi Tab: Set Volume, Pan, and Playback Device as desired and appropriate to your system. Set Channel to 10. Set Transposition according to how many semitones your desired sound is away from the center line of the staff. Specifically, using our example:
      • Gran Cassa: this has to sound 14 semitones below the D below middle C (center line in bass clef), so set Transpostion to -14.
      • Piatti: this is the C# just below the D, so set transposition to -1.
      • Triangle: this one is best handled in treble clef; the high A is 10 semitones above the B above middle C, so set transposition to +10.
    • Instrument Tab: Set to 1 (1-based) or Acoustic Grand Piano (GM), or other instrument as appropriate (if your sound hardware supports additional percussion banks).
  • Add a clef at the beginning of each staff, as appropriate for the sound on that staff. In the example, "Gran Cassa" and "Piatti" would get bass clefs, and "Triangle" would get a treble clef. In the Visibility Tab, select Never.

  • Add the appropriate time signature after the clefs.

  • Setup done! Write your percussion parts on the single-line staves.
A sample file is attached.
Tips & Tricks / Echo Effect in NWC
Most modern sound cards offer a variety of effects, such as reverberation and chorus, but unless you use an external software or hardware FX processor, you'll find that an "echo" effect is generally not available.

This effect can be very effective to "fatten" the sound, especially in techno and similar musics. It's actually quite easy to implement in NWC. Here's a procedure which will do a "pan echo" effect on a selected melodic line:

  • Write your melody line as usual. Assign to it a pan setting at or near center, and for best results use a percussive patch: piano, guitar, harp, bells, xylophone, and marimba are but a few suitable patches.

  • Create from three to five new staves, and assign each to a new channel, and the same instrument patch. Set the staff volume progressively lower on each succeeding staff, and alternate the pan settings from hard left (0) to hard right (127).

  • Copy the original staff to each of the new staves.

  • Add rests to each of the "echo" staves, to give a progressively increasing time delay. The larger the rest, the slower the echo. The absolute time delay will depend both on the rest value, and on the tempo of the piece; experiment until you get the results you're looking for.
A sample NWC file, echodemo.nwc is provided as an example. To see what's happening here, select Page Setup and check the group marked "Hidden."
Tips & Tricks / A Method for Exporting *.nwc Files to the *.pdf (Adobe) Format
(Last Updated July 23, 2003)

There's been some discussion on various aspects of printing, both here and on the newsgroup, so I thought I'd detail a method for exporting NWC score files to the popular PDF (Adobe) format. The idea is to use NWC to create a PostScript file (with the help of the suitable Windows driver), then use GhostView to convert the resulting *.ps file into *.pdf.

Here are the gory details (you might want to print out this message). Looks scary, but once you've got it set up, it's a piece of cake. If you haven't got a PostScript printer driver installed in Windows, do so first. In the Control Panel applet select Printers, and click on Add Printer. Select the AppleWriter printer. Follow the dialog as required to copy the drivers from the original Win diskette or CD. Optionally, you can at this time specify "Print to File" and give a generic filename (since these will only be intermediate products.

Win 3.11 users: if you haven't installed Win32s yet, get it now. (It's available for free from Microsoft.) This will let you run the 32-bit version of GhostView (at least twice as fast as the 16-bit version, and not as buggy.)

Then get GhostScript and GhostView. Go to Ghostscript home page and download the following files:

  • Current version of AFPL Ghostscript
  • Current version of Ghostgum "GSview"
Download both into the same temp directory. First run the Ghostscript setup program, and when done install GSview. This will set up both GhostScript (a command-line PS file manipulator) and GhostView (a GUI Windows shell for GhostScript).

Familiarize yourself a bit with GSview, then go into NWC and find a file you want to convert to PDF. Select your PostScript printer driver, select "print to file" if you haven't done so already (use the .ps extension), and let 'er rip.

Exit NWC, bring up GhostView, open the *.ps file you just saved. Then go to File: Print. and select the "pdfwrite" print device, select resolution (300 dpi recommended), and again "print to file" (this time with .pdf extension). Print the file, exit Ghostview, and bring up Adobe Acrobat viewer to verify that the magic worked. Voila!

Some additional notes:

It should be noted that current versions of GSview are now registrable, and even though the license still allows you to use the program for free, it's at the "expense" of clicking past a registration screen. The older (and perfectly functional) versions are still out there, but are a little hard to find. As of this time, check out my Ghostscript/GSview info page for links to the programs, and further information on installing them. More tips are available at my PS Tips page.

As a final note, here is an extract from this last page, to help in setting up GSview for optimal screen display:

"Click on Media --> Display Settings. Set Resolution according to your display resolution: suggested values - for 800x600 use 96. For 1024x768 use 120. For 1280x1024 use 144. Set Text and Graphics Alpha to 4 bits. Set Depth to 8 bits, or leave at default."

Yet another update - 23 July 2003

Regular contributor and all-round good guy Robert A. sends an endorsement for PDF Creator, which automates the whole installation process (including the installation of Ghostscript) and results in an easy-to-use "virtual printer". One minor drawback is that it embeds all fonts (including the ubiquitous Times, Arial, etc. fonts) so the resulting PDFs may be a tad larger than using other approaches. However, it's easy, and bulletproof.
Tips & Tricks / Notating for Guitar
Guitar is a challenging instrument to sequence. So I'll write a little mini-tutorial, hopefully without getting too verbose. First off, to sequence for guitar, you have to think like a guitarist... or get a lobotomy ;-) [I can say things like that, I'm one myself...] Joking aside, you have to treat the guitar as six separate instruments - one for each string.

One of the first lessons in classical guitar is "Don't move a finger of the fretting hand unless you have to." A corollary is "Don't right-hand-mute the strings unless you have to."

The way guitar pieces are written are not how they're played, in terms of note duration. I'm attaching a little file that illustrates this. The file (4K) includes the files gitsampl.nwc and study_c.nwc.

The first staff of gitsampl.nwc is how you would more-or-less enter it in from a piece of sheet music (within the limitations of NWC). Go ahead and play the file. The other six staves are muted as supplied. Sound pretty awful and chunky, doesn't it?

The other thing people forget is that guitar music is sounded an octave lower than written. Guitarists, being simple-minded creatures, would find it tough to cope with a grand staff. So, to allow squeezing everything on one staff, the music is written an octave higher. The first staff is with a "regular" treble clef, and the guitar sounds too high and plinky. So be sure to select an octave lower when defining the treble clef for your actual guitar staves.

Back to the other point. Thinking like a guitarist means actually figuring out which string each note is played on, and writing a staff for each string to allow the notes to ring for their full length until a "virtual finger" changes position. See staves 2-7 of the gitsampl.nwc, which represent strings 1-6 of the guitar.

Another refinement is to "arpeggiate" the chords. Most guitarists will intuitively break up chords by running a thumb or finger over the strings. This gives that unique guitaristic "feel" to chords, especially at the end of a piece. Finally, adding dynamics can make a world of difference.

So let's hear what this is all about. Reverse the "mute" status of all the staves; the easiest way to do this is to press the "m" key, then click the "reverse all" button, click OK. (Thanks to Richard Woodroffe for this shortcut suggestion.) Press home, then F5 to replay the file. Sounds more like a guitar now, doesn't it?

Also included is the completed sequence of this little study by Sor (study_c.nwc), for your midi-ing enjoyment. Additional sequences by Sor are available from the Scriptorium.