Contents of the ADLIB.TXT file
Tips on Using Ad Lib's
Copyright 1990 Public (software) Library
Compiled by Nelson Ford
This file may not be copied for others prior to March 15th, 1990. After that
date, it may be freely copied so long as no changes are made to this file.
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The following ideas are not the ultimate in VC usage, they are just some things
that VC users (including myself) have found to make VC work even better. If you
have other tips or ways to improve on the following, please let me know.
It is assumed that you have read the manuals that come with VC. Just to get one
bit of terminology straight, however: the VC supports nine "Voices" if you
choose to compose/transcribe "without percussion", or six "Voices" plus five
percussion instruments if you choose "with percussion."
A "Voice" is not necessarily an instrument, it is a series of notes. A piano
chord could easily take six "Voices" by itself, with each Voice playing one
note in the chord.
It is possible to transcribe music without any prior music knowledge at all,
but it would be extremely slow and difficult, so we are going to assume that
you know how to read music. If you don't, you can easily get a book on the
subject from the library, so this file will stick to the Ad Lib's tricks.
Included on this disk are some music files to which the following notes refer.
Note that "AINT-TOO" is not completed. (Can't get it to sound the way I really
want it to sound.)
Buying Sheet Music:
I am not a composer, and I doubt that I will ever be. But I do love music, and
with Ad Lib's Visual Composer, I have been able to add greatly to my enjoyment
and appreciation of my favorite classical and rock music pieces. As a result of
my personal bias, this file looks at Visual Composer from the point of view of
transcribing, rather than composing, but most of the VC tricks are useful
Transcribing music is a lot of fun. Most good-size towns & cities have music
stores where sheet music is sold. Getting the sheet music to your favorite
numbers and transcribing it into Ad Lib format will give you an even greater
appreciation for those favorites. Sheet music usually costs under $2, or you
can get a whole book of songs (as many as 100) for under $20, although you have
to be careful because most books like that have overly-simplified scores that
have very little of the feel of the original music.
If you just go into a music store and ask for the sheet music for a particular
piece, you will probably get an arrangement that has been "reduced" for playing
on a piano. This means that instead of giving you the notes for each instrument,
the "melody", harmony, etc, have been "simplified" - converted to a smaller
number of notes that can be played on the piano.
It is possible to get books that contain full orchestral arrangements of
classical music. These are relatively expensive and look very challenging.
Furthermore, a glance will show you that these have more notes than will fit in
the six to nine non-percussion voices of VC. If you really want to have "fun",
get one of these books and take a couple of months to work on your favorite
classical numbers. (Please send us a copy when you are done.)
In between the full orchestral arrangements and the piano scores are books
showing all the parts for string quartets and other small groupings. These are
almost ideal for a six- to nine-voice synthesizer, although they will be
extremely challenging, as the ones that I have seen have been very complex and
have a lot of techniques that are difficult to program.
When getting piano sheet music, be aware that there may be versions even more
simplified for the benefit of beginning pianists. You should get the most
complex version that you can. Unlike the pianist, you can take your time and
enter one note at a time. The books that contain "101 Great Rock & Roll Hits"
generally have very simple arrangements that will not sound great without a lot
of embellishments on your part.
Visual Composer will tell you what measure you are on. Numbering the measures
on the sheet music will save you a lot of time in correlating the sheet music
and the VC score. If you don't want to mess up the sheet music, make a xerox.
You will be making other marks on it as well.
If the music is complex, it is best to just number the measures as you go
along. Tempo changes or beat changes can mess up your numbering.
The Game Plan
There are many approaches to transcribing music scores. If the notes for the
melody, harmony, etc, are clearly differentiated (such as in "Flight of the
Bumblebee"), it is easier to enter one "Voice" for the entire piece, then go
back and enter the next, etc.
If the notes intertwine and are otherwise less clearly separated into Voices in
the music score, it is probably better to work on from one measure to a screen
full of measures at a time, but no more. If you get too far ahead with one or
two voices in a complex score, you may lose track of some odd notes along the
way that never get entered.
You should also stop and play each screen full of input as you go along. It is
easier to find and correct errors as you go then after you have completed the
If you are certain that the music has no percussion, switch to the "without
percussion" option, which increases the number of non-percussion Voices from 6
to 9. Even if you don't think you need 9 Voices, we will later see that you can
use them all.
Cutting and Pasting
Before starting to enter notes, go through the sheet music looking for (and
marking) phrases or passages that repeat. Marking them in advance will keep you
from overlooking them later and doing a lot of unnecessary work.
Even if there are some minor differences between two similar passages, copying
passages and making the changes is usually much easier than keying in the same
notes from scratch. If the same notes are played in a different key, it is easy
to highlight them and move them up and down the scale.
Even when entering a single Voice, if you see that it repeats the same note for
many measures (which happens most often with the bass or drum parts), then
enter one measure, mark it, and then hit Ctrl-V to copy it for the appropriate
number of measures.
If you know there are a lot of volume changes in the passage to be copied, make
those changes before copying the passage. Entering Volume changes is a slow and
not-particularly-fun process, and you don't want to have to make them twice. If
you forget, go ahead and delete the duplicate passage, make the volume changes
in the first passage, and then copy it over again.
Assigning Notes to Voices:
This may seem obvious, but it bears stating: try to stick to the same Voices
for the same parts of the music as much as possible. If the music switches
between chords in the treble cleff and chords in the bass cleff, the middle
Voices will have to move between the two, but the top note should almost always
be Voice One and the bottom note of the bass cleff, the last Voice.
The reason for this is that after entering all the notes, you will probably be
trying out different instruments, pitches, and volumes, so you will want the
use of the Voices to be consistent.
The exception to the above is that if you have to use a Voice for just a few
notes in one particular place, try using a Voice that you have already used,
but which is not being used in that particular place. That will keep you from
using up one Voice for just a few notes.
After entering all of the notes, I listen to the original artist's recording of
the music. (Since I see the purpose of transcribing music as being a way to
learn more about and to become more appreciative of my favorite musical pieces,
I normally have a recording.) Then I try to assign instruments to match the
I add percussion at this time, also to match the recording. The sheet music for
piano will not show the percussion or fill-in or "embellishment" instruments
like trumpet. Starting about measure 12 in AINT-TOO, you will hear some trumpet
"highlights". I got these from listening to the recording, not from the sheet
It is usually pretty easy to add these things by listening to a little bit of
the recording at a time. This is easier to do if it is on tape, so if you have
it on compact disc, make a recording of the disc.
As I listen to the recording, I focus on one instrument at a time, such as the
percussion, and try to follow on the sheet music at the same time, making marks
to indicate where drum beats and cymbols (etc) come in. Some kind of short-hand
notation will make this easier (eg: just but a "b" for bass drum, "s" for
Since the instruments in Ad Lib are not going to sound exactly like the real
things, and since Ad Lib is limited in the number of different Voices it
allows, it takes a lot of experimentation to find the best combination of
instruments. The hardest thing is to find the best instrument to carry the
vocal part, assuming there is one. I was pleased with the sound of the Oboe for
the vocal part in "Mull of Kintyre", but it did not sound as good in some other
pieces. All you can do is keep experimenting.
Sheet music normally shows all the words, but does not indicate when words are
to be sung by someone other than the lead singer. Make note of these things when
listening to the recording and change instruments accordingly. In fact, there
may be some backup singing on the recording not shown on the sheet music at
Some Voices are intended for certain areas of the scale, and will not do well
in other areas. For example, I just heard a piece where a banjo was used in the
two measures below middle C, and it sounded bad. Changing to CLAVECIN gave a
better banjo-like sound in the lower registers. In fact, since the piece was a
polka, I changed an even lower-pitched banjo to TUBA1 and it improved the
If you are lucky, after entering all the music, you may have a Voice or two
left over. This is good because that means you can copy the vocal or other key
Voice over to the extra Voice(s) and create a fuller sound. I never leave a
The way to create a fuller, richer sound is to copy the notes for one Voice
over to a second Voice, and then vary the pitch accuracy. In "Mull of Kintyre",
three (or sometimes more) Voices are used for the Bagpipe parts with the
pitches at .95, 1, and 1.05.
You can also vary the instruments for the extra Voices. Use Piano1 on one,
Piano2 on another, etc. Be sure to listen to the Voices individually (Ctrl-Y)
as well as together. Some instruments are too soft to hold their own when mixed
with others. You may have to adjust the Volume for such instruments too.
Most of the Ad Lib music files I have seen don't have any volume variations in
them. VC allows volume changes from 0.1 to 1.0. Volume must be individually set
for each "Voice". The way the volume control works in VC is one of its few
major design weaknesses. Using it is a lot of work, which is probably why most
people skip it, but it is worth the effort.
If everything is done at the same volume, the sound is very bland. This is
where sheet music comes in handy. It is very difficult to detect all the subtle
volume changes by just listening, but with sheet music, you should see symbols
telling you how to vary the volume.
However, you also have to listen to your final work and note where volume
adjustments are needed due to the nature of Ad Lib. For example, different
instruments have different inherent volumes, so if the sheet music calls for
"pp" and at the same time, it is going from a predominantly loud instrument to
a soft one, you will not need to adjust the volume any more than that.
Likewise, if you are going from a series of chords to a single Voice being
played, there is going to be a natural drop in volume simply because Ad Lib
plays chords louder than single notes.
As I work on the volume changes for a piece, I try to set a scale for the
volume so that I can be consistent. For example, the scale might range from .5
for "ppp" to 1 for "fff", or it might only be .8 for "ppp" to 1 for "fff",
depending on the instruments being used and how the music actually sounds when
played. For "William Tell Overture", I had to adjust the range of volume many
times because the jumps from "pp" to "ff" were just too jarring, in my opinion.
Lastly, if the music has a vocal, focus on the Voice(s) in the recording to see
which words are stressed and put extra volume on the them, even though this
won't show up on the sheet music. For example, in "The Chain", the vocals are
"DAMN your love. DAMN your lies.", so I upped the volume on the "damn's", even
though this is not shown in the sheet music.
The main thing is that no matter what the sheet music shows, you should always
do what sounds best to you.
Tempo changes are how you work magic in Ad Lib. Tempo changes are the only ones
that affect all of the Voices at once, so at least you do not have to go
through and change the tempo for each instrument.
At the simplest level, tempo changes can be used to play trills and grace
notes, which are a series of notes meant to be played very quickly. For an
example, load the file WILLTELL.ROL into Visual Composer, change the display to
Tempo, and go to measure 74. You will see that in the last fourth of that
measure, the tempo changes to 5 for 1-1/4 measures and then back to 1.
That means that 5 quarter-measures (1-1/4 = 5/4ths) are being compressed into
the space of one measure by increasing the playing speed to 5x. These numbers
were chosen based on two factors: (1) the number of notes to be played (8 notes
could not have been played in less space) and (2) the desire to make the start
of the next measure still begin on a measure bar line.
Load "The Chain", stay with the Tempo Display, and look at measure 9. In the
sheet music, measure 9 starts with four grace notes shown before any other
notes are played. To allow the rest of the notes in that measure to start at
the beginning of the measure, I added a whole new measure for the grace notes,
but I changed the tempo of that measure to 10 (the fastest possible). I
adjusted the length of the grace notes in VC so that they sounded right to me.
That left a pause in the first part of that measure, but at a speed of 10, it
is not noticeable. (Mark that measure and play it to see.)
Now load the file "AINT-TOO" and look at measure 1. Because I was ad-libbing a
drum intro, I was able to change the tempo to 2 temporarily without having to
worry about expanding the measure accordingly, and I was still able to start
the main score on the measure bar to match the sheet music. (Note that the
first measure on the sheet music would be numbered 2, since I added a measure.)
Now look at measure 3. In this case, grace notes are played at the same time
other non-grace notes are being played. Again, a quarter of a measure is being
expanded to fill 5/4 measures, so the tempo is set to 5x. The notes in that
quarter measure that are not grace notes had to be lengthened proportionally.
A note that spanned the 1/4 measure would be lengthened to span 5/4 measures at
the 5x tempo.
"Triplets" consists of a set of (usually) three 8th notes that must be played
in the space of two 8th notes. Here is how to do it: enter the first two notes
as 16th notes and the third as an 8th note. Change the Tempo from 1 to .7 for
the first two notes, then to 1.3 for the third, and then back to 1.
Here are the mathematics: the average Tempo is still 1 for that section, and
the 8th note, which is twice as long as a 16th note, is played at roughly twice
the tempo at which the two 16th notes are played, so everything balances out.
This will only work if either no other notes are being played at that time or
if the other notes are being sustained across that stretch (in which case they
will not be affected because the average tempo for that stretch is still 1).
If other regular 8th or 16th notes ARE being played at the same time, you'll
have to fake a triplet like this: enter the first note as an 8th note, skip a
16th space, and then enter the third voice as a 16th note. Then change to
another Voice and go back to enter the middle note as an 8th note that starts
in the middle of the first 8th note. It looks a little like this: __
As a last resort, you can do triplets by expanding the number of ticks per beat
by a factor of 3x, but that makes the measures so long that it you may not even
get one measure on a screen. This makes it more difficult and time consuming to
enter and edit music.1
More Uses of Tempo Changes
Load the file "TOGETHER", set Display to Tempo, and scroll through the first
part of the score to see how many Tempo changes are used. The "incoming mortar"
sound at the start is an ingenious use of tempo changes, pitch changes,
instrument selection, overlapping notes, and pitch placement. (This originally
came from the Programmers Reference Manual.)
In some pieces, the beat may change from, say, 3/4 time to 4/4 time. VC can
handle it - all you have to do when transcribing music is change the beat via
the Display menu when you are ready to enter notes at a different beat.
When you have entered notes at one beat, numbering the measures on your sheet
music as you go, and then change the beat, the measure markers will change for
the whole score, throwing off your numbering. This will NOT affect the timing
of the notes you have already entered. The measure markers are for reference
only. All this means is that the numbering on your sheet music will look funny
at the point where the beat changes.
We've already discussed some uses of Pitch changes, so this is just a recap:
1. In real life, instruments are not all in perfect pitch, so vary the pitch
of your instruments by a percentage point or two for more realism.
2. If you are using two instruments to play the same notes, varying their
pitch is even more important to keep them from washing each other out.
Slurs & Bends:
Pitch changes can be used to create note slurs and pitch "bends" (moving from
one note to another without "hitting another key").
Pitch can be varied from 0 to 2. The testing that I have done seems to indicate
that going from 0 to 1 does not increase a full tone, but going from 1.5 to 1
decreases by a full tone. As always, experimenting is called for. Like Volume
changes, Pitch changes are a bit of a pain, since you usually have to make at
least four changes just to get a decent sounding bend. Again, refer to the
start of the piece TOGETHER for a use of pitch bends. Also scroll through the
song and look for a more traditional use of a pitch bend.
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end of VC tips file
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[The following is a pre-release copy of an article that will appear in the
March 1990 issue of PsL News. This file may not be copied prior to March 15,
PC Music Making
Copyright 1990 Nelson Ford
This is an expanded version of an article from the 3/90 issue of PsL News.
The added material is indented from both margins.
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The PC was obviously never intended by IBM to be a killer game/music machine.
The original IBM Monochrome Display adapter would not do graphics and the
speaker was designed only for emitting an occassional beep. The PC's sound
system is normally limited to playing a single note ("voice") at a time; the
sounds it makes are just tones - it cannot emulate different musical
instruments; and the quality of the speaker is only marginally better than a
tin can on a string.
Despite these limitations, games and music playing programs, as crude as they
were, soon came out for the PC. The BASIC programming language, which was
built into each IBM-PC, contained commands for playing music. People took
advantage of that to play the melodies of songs, which was all the one-voice
limitation of the PC would allow.
Programmers even wrote software for entering and playing these monophonic
tunes. PC-Musician and Music2 (disk # ) are two examples. In addition, some
programs turned the keyboard into a piano keyboard on which you could play
one-voice tunes. PC-Synth lets you play and record music from the keyboard by
pressing the letter corresponding to the note (C for middle C, for example).
It also has relatively sophisticated features such as Vibrato and Glissando,
although it is still limited to monophonic play.
"Monophonic" and "one-voice" both refer to being able to play one note at a
time. It would take three "voices" to play a simple three-note piano chord,
for example. "Polyphonic" means that multiple notes, such as chords or
multiple one-voice instruments such as trumpets and violins, can be played.
Neil Rubenking was the first person to write a program for the stock PC that
would allow multiple voices (eg: three- or four-note chords). His Pianoman
program (disk # ) simulates multiple voices by alternating very quickly
between the notes for the different voices. The resulting sound works well for
many types of music. The idea is not that you are going to get a life-like
rendition of the music, but that you get a different, but enjoyable version
played on the computer. The Pianoman program disk can be used to create music
files that can be compiled into self-playing files. A large collection of
self-playing files is available separately (disk # ). Our favorites are the
William Tell Overture, Circus, and the theme from Monty Python, each of which
is ideally suited for the approach used by Pianoman and are quite enjoyable
despite all of the inherent limitations.
In 1985, programmers began taking advantage of techniques that allow true
polyphonic music on the PC's speaker. Tim Holden was the first to write a
popular true polyphonic music playing utility for the PC. His program, Vmusic
(disk # ) requires you to use a text editor to create files with the notes and
other controls in them for playing by Vmusic. Vmusic actually has quite a few
relatively sophisticated capabilities (one example: the ability to handle
triplets), although a graphical interface for entering music scores would
increase its value tremendously, and it is still unable to emulate
While Holden's Vmusic pushed the limits of the PC hardware, other companies
developed add-in cards for the PC that could be programmed not only for
polyphonic sounds, but which could also emulate different musical instruments.
External amps and speakers hooked up to the cards generate a sound quality many
magnitudes better than the PC's cheesy speaker.
Sierra, a company that makes a lot of games for the PC, has been a leader in
supporting add-in music cards such as the Game Blaster, the Ad Lib, and
others. Game Blaster costs well under $100 and has poor sound (relative to
more expensive cards, not relative to the PC's speaker). The Covox Speech
Thing, a $49 device, is also supported by most Sierra games, and despite its
name, Sierra uses it for music and sound effects rather than for speech, and
there is no music composition software for it.
The Ad Lib retails for $180 and is sold by PsL for under $110. Its sound is
significantly better than Game Blaster's. It is not only supported by many
games, but it will play music files such as are found in PsL. For those who want
to compose or transcribe music, the Visual Composer can be added.
Ad Lib's Visual Composer has from nine to eleven voices to which you can
assign any of a lot of different instruments that come with it. While lots of
instrument files come with VC and more can be found in the public domain,
another optional program lets you create instruments the way you want them to
sound. Best of all, the Ad Lib Pop-Tunes program lets you play music files on
your computer while you run other programs, so you can listen to music on your
computer all day while you compute.
Sound Blaster is by the same company that makes Game Blaster, C/MS (not to be
confused with a MIDI company named CMS). Its PsL price is $175 and it features
compatability with Ad Lib and Game Blaster. It also allows digitizing sounds
through a microphone, such as voice or sound effects or instruments.
Unfortunately, this is a new card and while there is a lot of software that
will run on it by its emulating Ad Lib or Game Blaster, there is little or no
software available yet that takes advantage of all of the Sound Blaster's
As good as Ad Lib is, you will never confuse its instruments with the real
things. Also, while the Visual Composer is quite easy to use, entering notes
on the screen with a mouse can be a slow procedure. A MIDI interface and an
inexpensive music keyboard/synthesizer to generate the sounds, along with
"sequencing" software, allows you to key music into the Ad Lib and even play
music back through the synth, taking advantage of the higher quality
instrument sounds built into the synth.
Using MIDI with Ad Lib requires an MPU-compatible MIDI card, the Ad Lib
Visual Composer, and the Ad Lib MIDI Supplement software. All of these
things are available from PsL. You should be aware that most low-cost
MIDI keyboard/synthesizers are relatively limited in the number of
different instruments they support. So despite the better-sounding
instrument sounds in MIDI synths, you can actually get better sound in
some cases from the Ad Lib synthesizer because of the ability to create
(or use already created) instrument sounds that more closely match the
TYPE of sound you need. For example, the Kawai MS710 keyboard/synth has
one sound patch for "strings" (violins). With Ad Lib, there are at
least six different types of violin sounds available. So although the
quality of the Ad Lib sounds is not as good, the variety makes up for
it in many cases.
A large number of different music composition and sequencing programs are
available for the PC. A large number of different music hardware systems exist
as well. Fortunately, the computer and music machine makers got together and
settled on a standard named the "Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI).
MIDI is the hardware standard that allows devices to be hooked up to each other
and communicate. MPU-401 is a "smart" MIDI card that allows software to more
easily do more sophisticated tricks. More programs are written for
MPU-compatible cards than any others.
The non-serious hobbyist may be able to safely ignore the MPU standard
if you are happy with the software that is available for the MIDI card
you are getting, simply because you may never want any other software.
If so, you can save $50 or so. Note that Ad Lib DOES require an MPU
Getting into MIDI can be intimidating because there are a tremendous number of
different options and sorting through them all to find the "best" system is a
foreboding task. Although plenty of low-cost MIDI-compatible equipment is
available, the MIDI magazines from which the novice might hope to get some
guidance are aimed primarily at professional musicians.
The MIDI forum on CompuServe is better. At least a novice can post a question
there and hope for some useful advice, depending on the interests and
expertise of the other participants. The response we received ranged from none
to terrific. We called all of the music stores in Houston; at the only one
that carried low-cost keyboards, we were never able to get anyone to talk to
us. We called wholesalers and discount music dealers around the country and
had trouble getting information from the best (reportedly) of them. The phones
of the well-known Sam Ash stores in New York were busy every time we called.
(Something to keep in mind should you ever have a problem with an order from
them.) Others took our number and never got back to us.
The most common type of MIDI hardware device is a keyboard with built-in amp,
speakers, and music synthesizer. (It is also possible to get a synthesizer
without a keyboard, such as the Roland MT-32, a popular, but not great nor
A popular non-keyboard MIDI synthesizer is the Roland MT-32, mainly
because Sierra pushes it for use with its games. However, it is not
very highly thought of by the MIDI users we asked, it is not cheap,
and the lack of a keyboard will be significant for some people.
In the low-price range (under $300), you can expect to find a keyboard with a
49-key, four-octave keyboard with mid-sized keys. While this looks like a toy
(and in some stores, inexpensive keyboards with MIDI output are sold as toys),
you can quickly become accustomed to playing on it. The major drawback to such
a keyboard is that the reduced number of octaves makes the playing of some
wide-ranging compositions difficult, if not impossible. The very high and low
keys are just not there. In addition, the smaller keys do not lend themselves
to serious piano playing.
We consider any keyboard with mid-size keys and less than five octaves
to be of use only for keying into and playing from sequencing software.
Even on these keyboards, the instruments sound much more like the real things
than the Ad Lib or Sound Blaster cards do because most of them use digitized
recordings ("sampling") of actual instruments. They still might not fool
anyone in a blindfold comparison to the real instruments, but the worst
synthesizer made is still infinitely better than the PC's speaker. In general,
the more bits used in the sampling, the better the sound will be. The number
of bits used range from 8 to 16.
Cheap Casio keyboards are available everywhere. Many of these do not
have a MIDI interface, but even worse, many of the low-cost ones use
8-bit or 12-bit sampling. Low-cost Kawai keyboards use 16-bit sampling.
In fact, we found in a comparison that the Kawai MS710 had more
features and higher sampling rates than Casio keyboards costing twice
as much. However, one advantage of the Casio is cheaper keyboards
(<$400) that have full-size keys.
When buying a low-cost keyboard, you have to keep in mind that even though it
may look like a piano keyboard, getting a small MIDI keyboard is not about
playing the piano (primarily). It is about playing an entire band, chamber
music ensemble, or even an orchestra. It is about enjoying and learning more
about music in general.
Even low-cost keyboards have a couple of dozen instrument sounds built in,
plus a wide range of percussion sounds which can be made to play automatically
in a wide variety of tempos. By playing with the different instruments, you
learn to recognize and appreciate them more in all the music that you hear.
In the mid-price range ($400-$1000), you can get 61-key keyboards that span
five octaves and have full-size keys. Many professional musicians use this
size keyboard, which should be sufficient for popular music, although it
still will not have the number of octaves required by some classical music.
As you get above $600, you get extra features that make the keyboard more
suitable as a piano substitute. Keys may be weighted for a better touch, and
the keyboards may be touch sensitive and pressure sensitive. Keyboards that
are not touch-sensitive always generate the same volume, no matter how hard
you hit the keys. Touch (or velocity) sensitive keys sound louder the harder
you hit them.
To show you have subjective all of this is, some people told us they
love the Kawai K1-II, others said that the K1-II is no good and that it
is worth the extra money to get the K4. Others preferred the Roland
U-20. These keyboards cost from $800-$1500. Since it is so subjective,
you should really try listening to these keyboards at a music store
As we said, the point of MIDI is usually not the ability to play a single
instrument, but to create your own orchestra or band. Some mid-priced
keyboards, such as the Kawai WK50, allow you to record parts for different
instruments on different tracks (up to 12 on the WK50) and play them back.
Even the low-cost Kawai MS710 will let you record one instrument and play it
back while you play a second instrument. (This could be used to play a piano
duet by yourself, for example.)
But even keyboards with sequencing capabilties built in are no match for
computer programs. Sequencing software will store the notes you enter and will
let you edit them, change the instruments, pitch, tempo, etc, overlay other
instruments, and then play it all out together. You can create your own new
music, or you can learn to really appreciate your favorite music of others by
doing your own MIDI arrangement.
There are many approaches for composing or transcribing music on the PC. The
best approach for transcribing (copying sheet music) is the notes-on-a-staff
approach, because you can simply copy what you see on sheet music without even
having to understand what it is. CMS's ShowTune software uses such an
approach. ShowTune will also print out sheet music for notes you have entered.
For composing original music or transcribing from memory, a more visual
approach is better. Ad Lib's Visual Composer software uses a keyboard-related
approach. Although we think that VC is very efficient and easy to use, having
transcribed such pieces as "Flight of the Bumblebee" and "William Tell
Overture" with it, it is a time-consuming way to go.
Some people have complained that transcribing music with VC is
difficult if you do not read music. If you are interested in learning
more about music, this is a good way to do so - go get a book on music
Using the music keyboard is an easy approach for entering music. However, if
you are not reasonably adept at the keyboard, you may spend more time cleaning
up the music files you create than if you had entered the music manually in
the first place. Several things can help make keyboard input easier: you can
slow the tempo down to a crawl and do one finger at a time; a built-in
metronome helps you keep the beat; and you can record a section at a time
rather than having to play through the whole piece at once.
The Prism software is primarily designed for recording from keyboard input.
The recorded music is presented as just a list of notes, which is not the
easiest form to edit, particularly for non-musicians. But Prism's
tape-deck-like controls make it easy to record and play back music, once you
get used to the "pressure" of keeping up with the metronome and "tape
You might want to get the general music disks in the PsL just out of
curiosity, but if you really enjoy music, you will most surely want some kind
of music card, given their low cost.
For $175 or less, the Sound Blaster promises more features than Ad Lib, and
will very likely have software to support them sometime in the future, but the
Ad Lib card at $110 along with the Visual Composer software at $60 give you a
lot more for your money TODAY. Sound Blaster has a MIDI interface, but it
requires an optional connector box and it is not MPU-401 compatible, which is
a significant, though not necessarily critical, drawback.
Sound Blaster's music composer software is a joke compared to Ad Lib's, but
then, you can buy the Ad Lib Visual Composer and use it with the Sound
Blaster. In fact, doing so is the only way to get the drivers needed to play
on the Sound Blaster the public domain Ad Lib music files in the PsL.
Either of these cards is worth the cost, even if you do nothing but use one to
hear the sound tracks of games (such as Leisure Suit Larry) and the music
files in PsL.
With either system, should your interest in music grow, you can easily move up
to MIDI. In fact, even if you start with the MIDI system, you may want to
consider the Ad Lib or Sound Blaster (along with Visual Composer) for their
many capabilities which few, if any, low-cost MIDI systems can match, such as
game support and a virtually unlimited number of instrument sounds (with the
If you opt to jump right into MIDI, you will need three things: a MIDI
interface card, which should be MPU-401 compatible, a keyboard with MIDI
output, and MIDI composition (sequencing) software.
Trying to find a music store willing to sell you low-end gear could put you
through a real MIDI-life crisis, so we put together a low-cost bundle with
everything you need. We have tested this bundle ourselves and checked with
many MIDI experts and received thumbs-up on this system all the way around.
The PsL MIDI Intro System includes the Kawai MS710 keyboard, the ShowTune
software (notes-on-a-staff), the Prism software (keyboard recording), and the
MPU-401 compatible interface card. The price of these items purchased
separately would be over $550. The cash price of the bundle is $375 (credit
card price, $389). (The components are also available individually.)
The 49-key MS710 keyboard with its "mid-size" keys is the best available in
its price range, but you may decide you want a 61-key keyboard with full-size
keys. The same bundle described above with the Kawai WK50 full-size keyboard
is $200 more (a total of $575 cash/check, $598 credit card). Of course, there
are a lot more additional features with the WK50 than bigger keys, such as
being able to overdub up to 12 different instrument parts.
The next step up is a keyboard that has more and higher-quality sampled
sounds, weighted, velocity sensitive keys (hit harder = louder), and many
other additional features. Most of the people we spoke to preferred the Kawai
K1-II (and this consensus was verified by the fact that we found more programs
and public domain music files for the K1 than anything else in its range). Of
course, several of the K1 owners were lusting after the next step up, the
Kawai K4, but the desire for the next better model is an endless trap in
The best price we were able to find for the K1-II is $695, which is a savings
of several hundred dollars. The K4 lists for over $1400 and we are able to get
it for you for $980. MIDI card and software are extra for either keyboard.
A tremendous amount of research went into these choices and we are confident
that each of these systems represents unbeatable combinations of features and
prices. All of these systems are available from PsL.
Chuck the Piano?
We had originally hoped to be able to find for PsL'ers a low-cost MIDI
keyboard which could be used to input music to Ad Lib and other software
programs AND which would be a good device on which to practice and play the
After investigating the low-cost keyboards with the mid-sized keys, we have
difficulty recommending them as a substitute for a piano. On the other hand,
they are excellent for learning about the piano and for gaining a
greater appreciation of all types of music and instruments.
From a child's perspective, these have to be more fun and interesting than
simply playing a piano, but that may be true only if the keyboard is tied into
a computer. One person whose child takes piano lessons and also has a low-end
electronic keyboard says that the child will put time in on the piano, but
only plunks on the electronic keyboard.
Another individual, who has an expensive MIDI system with full-size keyboard,
told us that he has trouble getting his 8-year-old child off his computer-MIDI
system, and that the child quickly picked up on how everything worked.
We suspect that the difference is that for all of its features, a low-end
keyboard requires the MIDI software to really be interesting. While a keyboard
may have 20 or more instrument sounds, you can normally only play one at a
time without the use of a computer, and even with a computer, the keyboard
must have "multi-timbral" capabilities, which many low-cost keyboards do not
Multi-timbral means being able to play more than one instrument at a
time. Unlike "Voice" which refers to playing one note, each instrument
in the multi-timbral set allows playing several notes on one
instrument. However, this also brings into play the unit's "polyphonic"
capabilities, which is how many notes can be played at once. The MS710
will play ten notes at once, so the number of notes played by all
instruments within the MS710's 5-instrument multi-timbral capabilities
must total no more than 10 notes at once, which is still a lot, since
most instruments are mono-phonic.
Another feature to look for is keyboard splitting. This can allow you to
allocate part of a keyboard to different instruments, so that you could
play two instruments at once.
Keyboards with full-sized keys are reasonable piano substitutes, if you do not
find the five-octave limitation to be too constricting.
Frankly, it appears that a LOT of classical music exceeds a five-octave
range. However, money is such a big factor between five-octave (61-key)
keyboards (available for under $500) versus 88-key keyboards (around
$2000 and up) that even classical players should consider trying a low
cost electronic keyboard for a while and moving up to the 88-key
keyboard when you are sure that you like electronic keyboards.
A related point is that some keyboards will *play back* sound features
which they cannot produce, such as higher or lower octaves than there
are keys for, key velocity, etc.
If you are thinking of paying in the $2000-and-up range for a piano, you
should consider a full-size, 88-key electronic keyboard instead. We asked on
the MIDI forum for opinions of an electronic keyboard vs an upright piano.
While this group has an obvious bias, most are also trained musicians with
experience with electronic and non-electronic instruments. The unanimous
opinion was that short of a prodigy training to become a concert pianist, the
electronic keyboard is the better choice than a piano in the same price range.
It will actually have much better action and piano sound than a comparably
priced piano(!), will never need tuning, never break any strings, never need
mechanical adjustments, etc.
The most recommended system was a Yamaha KX88 keyboard controller with a
Kurzweil PX1000 sound module - a combination available discounted to under
$2000. Other advantages: your child can plug in headphones and you are spared
hearing two hours of fractured Chopsticks; and because the KX88 has MIDI
plugs, modules can be plugged in for generating other instrument sounds.
We had a miserable time trying to find suppliers for and information
about MIDI products. The owner of "Music Alley", who has a section on
CompuServe, ignored our Email, "wasn't in" when we called, and would
not return calls. Calling a big discount dealer in NY got us nothing
but busy signals.
We originally began selling the Ad Lib card when we had the same
difficulty locating that product and information about it, now we are
one of the leading retailers of Ad Lib products. Frankly, we wouldn't
mind being the leading retailer of non-professional MIDI equipment too.
If you need big-ticket MIDI items, you shouldn't have any trouble
getting help from your local music dealer. As we have previously
stated, we feel it is important to be able to test the feel and sound
of any high-dollar MIDI equipment, but if you don't HAVE a local music
dealer, PsL will be glad to sell you high-end equipment too.
PsL normally stocks the following items (prices are subject to change):
List Credit Card "Cash"
Price Price Price
Ad Lib Music Card $180 $109.95 $105.95
- Visual Composer 90 59.95 57.95
- Instrument Maker 50 39.95 37.95
- MIDI Supplement 40 32.95 29.95
- Pop-Tunes (plays music 40 32.95 29.95
- C Programmers Manual 40 32.95 29.95
Sound Blaster 250 175.95 169.95
- features stereo, voice
digitizing, amp, more voices,
Ad Lib compatibility.
Covox Speech Thing 70 49.95 47.95
- text-to-speech; supported
by many games.
MIDI Intro System 550 389.00 375.00
- MPU-401 compatible MIDI
interface card by CMS
- ShowTune music transcription
and playback software
- Prism music recorder, editor
- Kawai MS710 keyboard/synth
with 16-bit sampled sounds,
49 mid-sized keys, stereo
chorus, pitch bend, vibrato,
one-finger ad-lib, 5 instr.
multi-timbral, 500-note record,
percussion pads, auto-percuss.
MIDI Full-Size System $800 599.00 575.00
- same system as above,
but with the Kawai WK50.
61 full-size keys. 12-voice
recorder with overlay.
12-note polyphonic, with
Keyboard/Synths with weighted,
velocity- & pressure-sensitive
Kawai K1-II $1100 716.00 695.00
Kawai K4 1500 1010.00 980.00
CMS MPU-compatible card $160 139.00 133.00
Kawai MS710 Keyboard 200 179.00 169.00
Kawai WK50 Keyboard 450 375.00 359.00
Prism Software 100 77.00 74.00
Showtune Software 100 77.00 74.00
Public (software) Library
Houston, TX 77235-5705
Orders Only: 1-800-2424-PSL
Info & Help: 1-713-524-6394
FAX Number: 1-713-524-6398
CompuServe ID #: 71355,470