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FAQ - Composition Retuning

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How do I use FTS with my music notation software or sequencer?


The idea is to route the notes from your compostion software or sequencer through a software virtual midi cable or a physical midi cable to FTS. Then you can use FTS to retune the music to your desired tuning.

This means that you can use all the score editing capabilities of your composition software as usual, but all the notes are retuned through FTS so that you hear the result in the new tuning. This lets you compose directly in the tuning.

In effect you are using FTS as a kind of a retuning playback sound module.

There are two ways to do this. One approach requires no new symbols or notations at all. You just use your existing composition software as it is, out of the box, but retune the notes in unusual ways. The other approach is to add new accidentals to the software using various midi tricks.

First method - Scordatura scores - easiest approach for keyboard players

With this approach you continue to use a completely normal looking twelve tone type score - no special symbols or accidentals or anything. You don't need any special microtonal features in the composition software at all. But now it is possible to retune any of the notes on the score to any arbitrary pitch - and so you can reinterpret the standard notation as you like and use it to play music in other tuning systems.

So the score still shows the same notes as before C, Eb etc. But you can use them to play something completely different, e.g. the C could play a 1/1, the D a 3/1 and the E a 5/1. Or you could set them up to play gamelan pitches, or the seven equal systems of Thailand and part of Africa - or whatever. Whhat the notes actually play is up to your imagination or whatever your requirements are for the piece.

Keyboard players can read such a score immediately with no training at all on a suitably tuned keyboard. Their keyboard training and hand eye coordination takes care of everything. They may get a surprise at some of the notes they hear as they play. Also, the score they have to play may look very strange indeed, but once they are over that, if they just play keyboard keys corresponding to the notated notes, then they will play the intended pitches.

The resulting score could also be played by a harpist, zither player, xylophonist etc - and of course the score can be played directly from your software, retuned by FTS.

The later examples in How use FTS to compose microtonally should give an idea of how this all works.

This approach is great for keyboard players and other players of fixed pitch type instruments - but not so easy to use for other instrumentalists, or singers or the like.

Adapting the scordatura method for instrumentalists

Most of these keyboard type scordatura scores aren't easy to read at all if you need to work out what fingerings to use for the notes on a wind or string instrument say - or need to know the exact pitch to sing or play before you make the note. However, with care, you may be able to use some of these keyboard scordatura type scores with other instrumentalists too.

Repeating at octaves to make the scordatura score more friendly for instrumentalists

The main thing that will help instrumentalists to read your score may be to do it so that though the notes are strangely tuned, the system repeats at the conventional octave of the score. So for instance do it so that every C on the score notates one of the pitches of your tuning system (though in different octaves), every C# notates another pitch and so on. Then the instrumentalist has only a few pitches on the score to learn, and can play all the rest by octave shifts above or below the ones they have learnt.

Of course your tuning may have more, or less, than twelve notes to an octave. For the smaller scales, you can repeat notes if necessary to fit it in, so e.g. an unsually tuned pentatonic scale could be notated using only the white keys of the score, and since that still gives too many notes to an octave, two of them can be repeated. I include one scordatura type instrumentalist's score in the midi examples section - [midi_relaying.htm#rs_oct_pad_ex my recorder trio for the hexany tuning].

For the larger scales with more than twelve notes, you can spread the notes over two or more octaves of the score - and still achieve octave repetition - except that two or more octaves of the score correspond to one playing octave. So for instance you could spread a thirty one tone system over two octaves of the score.

Removing accidentals to make the score more friendly for instrumentalists

The accidentals in this sort of score might confuse an instrumentalist as they like the white notes can be retuned to any arbitrary pitch - the C# could be an octave above the C, or even below it.

So one way to simplify the score to make it easier ot learn is to use just the "white notes". Then you can leave the clef sign out of your score altogether, or design a new clef - maybe the player can learn to treat it as a new microtonal notation which happens to still have five lines.

If you do that, then you can decide for yourself how many lines to do to an octave. It is still technically the same thing, a scordatura keyboard type score - but by removing the clef sign and perhaps adding a new one, it looks like something new, and is more friendly for instrumentalists.

All these type of score are easy to set up with the Tune Smithy retuning. The challenge is for the instrumentalist to learn the pitches to play. It may help if they have audio clips to listen to to learn the pitches, or reference instruments to play them on.

Second method - Scores with fine shades of accidentals


This is another approach. This time the score notates the exact pitch to play. So the notes on the score are interpreted normally, a C is still a C and a C# is a C# of some description - and special symbols for the accidentals are used to specify the pitch more exactly than usual. This is harder for a keyboard player to read but may be easier for an instrumentalist.

One common approach is to notate the music notated using ordinary twelve equal notes, with special accidentals by way of an indication of how much to sharpen or flatten each note. So for instance you would notate an E 5/4 above C at 1/1 as E flattened by 14 cents.

This works because conventionally trained instrumentalists are used to pitching the notes to twelve equal. Also, most of the instruments they use are designed to achieve twelve equal pitches. So for instance a wind player might play the 5/4 type E by fingering a normal twelve equal E and then shade it just a bit flat to get the 5/4. Or perhaps play an Eb 6/5 above C at 1/1 by making the normal Eb just a bit sharp until they hit the sweet spot where it is in tune. Or play a 7/6 similarly by tuning the Eb a bit flat.

NOTE though twelve equal is a common starting point here, the same idea can also be used with other tunings as the starting point. Any tuning could be played by the naturals, though in this context, normally one that is close to the twelve equal pitches.

For instance you could take the pythagorean scale as your starting point, or any tuning that is more or less twelve tone. The players need to adjust to your tuning system before they play (e.g. a wind player may prepare their instrument for the tuning by closing / opening the holes a little before they play or indeed use a specially constructed instrument).

The challenge then is - can we use our composition software to notate - and also play - fine shades of accidentals such as 14 cents flat or whatever. It can be done - with a bit of ingenuity.

Playing fine shades of accidentals using conventional composition software

Indeed, we can do this in FTS. You can make a score that can actually play arbitrary accidentals, using conventional notation software again, with a bit of extra work to set it all up.

First you set up a scale in FTS which has all the accidentals you need. Then set the arpeggio to play the naturals of your tuning. It doesn't need to be diatonic, you can make the arpeggio a mixture of black and white keys. Also, depending on the method used, you may be able to have as many accidentals as you like between the notes of the arpeggio. All the methods permit at least two distinct pitches for every note of the score.

Then you need to add suitable notations to the score. The thing then is - how to tie the two together? How can you get those notations in your score to be respected by FTS so that when you play the score in FTS, you hear correctly pitched accidentals for each note?

Anyone familiar with midi will realise at this point that the only way to do this is to send some midi event to FTS as that is the only means of communication from the software to FTS. Aat least, it is the only way if you are using conventional midi software and can't collaborate with the programmer to devise other ways of communicating from one program to the other.

We could use MTS sysexes - they are ideally suited for this purpose - but unfortunately they aren't well supported by composition software so in practice aren't easy to use.

So, since there isn't any midi event we can send that is built into notation software as standard, we have to invent new ways of interpreting the standard midi events that you can send.

How to do it in FTS

FTS has a wide range of options here. You can find them in the Accidentals symbols and special opts window (Ctrl + 61)

Volumes as accidentals

One simple approach is to use volumes as accidentals - play all the notes at half the usual volume in the notation software and get FTS to double the volume before it plays the note.

Then any note above say 64 midi volume is interpreted as an alternative accidental, and as its volume it uses double the offset of the volume from 64. E.g. a volume of 70 means to play the alternative accidental very quietly with a volume of 12 i.e. 2*(70-64). A volume of 127 will play the alternative accidental at maximum volume (well 126 instead of 127, but it is close enough).

An example may help make the technique clear. Suppose you want to distinguish D# from Eb. To get the D# with volume 80, you might just play an Eb/D# at half that volume, 40. If you want the Eb at the same volume, play your Eb/D# at half volume again - but with a volume boosts of 64 to give a total volume of 104. FTS will then retune your note to an Eb at volume 80. This may seem a bit complicated - but if your notation software has the flexibility to let you enter in volumes for individual notes, it shouldn't be hard to get used to the system.

As your scale you would use a scale in FTS that runs

... D D# Eb E

and as the arpeggio in FTS, choose the pitches you want to use for C D E ... from the same scale.

The other methods all follow similar principles, but differ in the midi events you use in the score to communicate the choice of accidental to FTS.

Unused midi instruments as accidentals

Another method is to use some of the rarely unused midi instruments to indicate accidentals. Most scores won't need the helicopter or bird tweet or sea shore for instance, so those could be inserted into the score as accidentals immediately before the note you want to change. This particular one works best with monophonic lines - it would be ideal for orchestral scores. If used with chords, you have to ensure somehow that the notes of the chord are sent in the right sequence so that each accidental is sent immediately before the note it applies to (e.g. always slightly arpeggiate the chord, as imperceptibly as possible if it is meant to be crisp).

You could make a graphic for the accidental and associate that graphic with a midi event to change to the corresponding instrument. Then just insert that graphic and instrument before every note that needs to be changed. By using several instruments in this way you can distinguish fine shades of accidental in the score, for instance to get three sizes of sharp and three sizes of flat you need six unused instruments. Then make sure you set up FTS to interpret them appropriately.

With chords, you need some way to put the accidental before just one note of the chord. E.g. to play C E G with the E slightly flat, you need the notes to be sent to FTS in this order : C, instrument corresponding to 14 cents flat, E, G. But your software may re-order the events as instrument change, C, E, G in which case the C would be flat instead of the intended E.

You can deal with these sorts of issues by staggering the notes to get a broken chord - or by saving to midi and editing the order of the events in the midi file.

The advantage is that it is so flexible as you can have any number of shades of accidental.

This method works, eccentric as it seems. The score will look fine, and sound as intended when played in FTS - but what is actually happening behind the scenes is eccentric.

Since the results can't currently be achieved at all in most notation software then this may well be an attractive first step forward for some composers.

See [midi_in.htm#patches_as_accid Patches as accidentals] and [midi_in.htm#Playing_accidentals Playing fine shades of accidentals from the music keyboard]

Adapting scores with special accidentals for keyboard players

A keyboardist may also be able to use a score with accidentals if they have a specially designed keyboard, maybe with split keys - and spend some time learning the accidentals for it.

Also maybe they could learn to use the volumes as accidentals - play a note a little over half its normal volume to get the sharp played very quietly.

I've tried it myself and find it tricky to use, especially if you want to play your sharp ppp. It feels odd to play a note that feels loud to the touch, to achieve a quiet sound. Also you need very fine control at that volume level. If you make the note just a fraction quieter than you intended, it changes your quiet ppp sharp into a sudden loud fff flat which is rather disconcerting. But that is probably just a reflection of my own lack of training.

I expect a professional trained keyboard player would probably find their way around the volumes as accidentals system easily enough. Maybe amateurs too can learn how to do it with enough time to learn how to use the technique in the tricky case of ppp passages using the sharps.

Some of the other options in the window are particularly meant for use by keyboard players. A keyboard player may find it easier to use the sustain pedal or sostenuto etc pedals as accidental shifting keys. Those options work best for solo lines, or in polyphony in which all the notes to play either sharps or flats. They are tricky to use if you want to have a sharp and a flat played simultaneously (the only way around is to play one note fractionally before the other with a bit of nifty footwork on the pedal between notes - or a very quick adjustment of the controller between the notes of a chord).

These options again could also be useful for notation software as well - anything the keyboard player could send as a midi event you can also notate on the score.

Sagittal notation

In the introduction I assumed that the accidentals were shifts in pitch away from twelve equal. But as you can see the way it is implemented in FTS will let you use any pitches you like as the accidentals. The shift is just a fixed number of scale degrees, not a particular interval - so depends on what you have set up as the "master tuning" in FTS for the complete scale including all the accidentals.

The other general system one can use with accidentals uses a number of fixed size accidentals. Then you start from the nearest Pythagorean twelve tone note as a basis. This scale is very close to twelve equal, but can be more suitable as a basis for getting to just intonation notes, as exactly the same size accidental is needed to get from E (pyth) to the 5/4 major third or (in the opposite direction) from Eb (pyth) to the 6/5 minor third, and so on. So if you want to show just intonation ratios using the twelve tone system with accidentals, it may be best to notate them in pythagorean. You need fewer accidentals, yet you can notate the pitches exactly rather than approximately. This is the approach used in the just intonation version of Sagittal (the new general purpose notation system for this kind of thing). It is soon to be supported in FTS hopefully.

This doesn't mean your player has to be able to find those base pitches or pitch the notes relative to them to that extreme level of precision - but for just intonation music for instance, they won't get that far wrong if they treat the accidentals as pitch shifts from twelve equal instead as a first approximation, then can find the sweet spot by ear around that pitch. As a composer of just intonation music, one will feel happier with this system perhaps, because one knows that the score notates the pitches exactly, so anyone well up on the notation who reads it immediately knows that you meant a 6/5 here, a 7/4 there, and a 13/8 somewhere else, and so on.

Ideas for the future to use with Sagittal

Sagittal type accidentals can be supported in existing notation software again using the same patches or volumes as accidentals idea - but it would be far easier to do with fixed sizes of accidental rather than to try to work with a huge scale that already has all the combinations accidentals in it that you might ever need.

When support for Sagittal gets added, I plan to add optional fixed size accidentals for patches (rather than the present ones which are numbers of scale degree steps) and a distinction between temporary and key signature accidentals, also a way of setting which note the accidental applies to by using an extra controller before the patch. All that should make it possible to write Sagittal scores directly in any conventional notation software and immediately hear them suitably tuned when played in FTS. It would be a matter of making a suitable midi events + graphics symbol for each accidental you need - and to save the need to edit the symbol for each note name one might do it for each twelve tone degree (so twelve copies of each symbol you use). Also a suitable Sagittal preset to set up FTS with the appropriate accidental sizes for each one. After that it would just be a matter of copy and paste to add the Sagittal symbols to the score.

If you have any comments or suggestions for the future, or ideas or want to give feedback about your findings about using any of these new tools in FTS do contact me Robert Walker

Future directions

It is possible to achieve either type of score separately using this retuning methods and your conventional composition software. However, if you use these techniques, there is no routine way to convert the two types of score - keyboard scordatura scores for keyboardists - and ones with fine shades of accidentals for instrumentalists - into each other.

This is a must have feature for anyone who wishes to write a proper microtonal notation program. As of writing, I don't know of any such program - plenty that have some support for microtonal accidentals in twelve equal, but none that allow easy conversion from the scordatura type layout convenient to a keyboardist to the accidentals type layout suitable for a string player, wind player or voice say.

One should certainly have both as the scordature score is by far the easiest way to play microtonal music for a keyboardist with a conventional keyboard. Mainly because you don't need to learn new fingerings or systems of notations to use it. It is also quite refreshing for a keyboardist, when you get unfamiliar sounding chords from the familiar fingering patterns. But alas at present it means you have to make two separate scores if you need to support both systems.

Also I don't know of any notation software that will let you show a score with a layout of any number of notes to the stave, e.g. sixteen notes to a stave or whatever. You can experiment with such layouts in the Tune window in FTS, but it is for display only. It is not editable after you have played your notes, and it is very rudimentary too with notes positioned spatially according to the timing, and with no notation differences between the notes of different sizes, just the spacing to show the length of the note to play..

I have plenty of ideas for such a program and would love to write one but it involves a _lot_ of work. That rudimentary window took far more work than you might think to get it done - you are talking there about some months of work at least over the years, possibly more. Though I may learnt some new coding techniques since then, and got a bit faster at coding some things, I hardly dare to think how long it would take to get anywhere near a reasonably functional editable notation software that would please microtonalists.

For instance to write a microtonal version of something like NWC - you would need a team of maybe a dozen programmers like me for a few years to get it done. Programmers who are particularly skilled in that particular area, maybe could do it much more quickly. There must be many programmers around who have long term experience of writing notation software already, or who may have tools and techniques to hand that will make it far easier for them to do this.

Though often asked to add this as a feature to FTS, and though I have plans to tentatively add a very rudimentary piano roll type score maybe some day - I rather hope someone else will write it first :-).

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