Getting into the StaffPad workflow
The real magic of StaffPad starts to become evident as you begin to move from bar to bar. All you need to do to move to any other bar is to simply start writing in it. You don’t need to finish writing in one bar; StaffPad won’t automatically fill the bar with rests. You don’t need to write in contiguous bars or select another bar to prime it. It is so natural, it’s almost jarring if you’re accustomed to selecting an empty frame in Finale or selecting a bar and pressing N for notes before starting in Sibelius.
As you do this, StaffPad renders the bar in engraved notation; StaffPad uses the Bravura font. It automatically respaces the music and corrects stem direction. You can also tap outside the active bar at any time for StaffPad to render it. This workflow was crucially important to David: “I didn’t think you should do either constant recognition — which is what NotateMe tries to do — or recognition after you’ve written your whole score,” David said. “I thought the recognition should happen one bar at a time; that will keep it fast and predictable. If StaffPad gets something wrong, you don’t mind correcting one bar at a time, but you don’t want to go through a whole score and try and fix all of the mistakes.”
Indeed, StaffPad won’t be perfect 100% of the time. If it can’t recognize something you wrote in the bar, it will render what it can, but it will leave the unrecognized strokes unchanged, and turn the staff lines in that bar orange. This signifies a “pending” bar.
About pending bars, David explains that StaffPad “will ask you what each unrecognized stroke is. You can report it, ignore it, or tell it what it is, and the app will learn your style. Train it well! This, conceptually, is key. Sometimes you might be writing graphic notation, and not have StaffPad try and apply recognition to it. This is really the first time you can write completely what you want and be experimental. That’s where this could really get handy: when you’re not trying to write conventional notation.”
In the latest build I worked with, I found pending bars to be a mixed bag. StaffPad will try to guess at your intended stroke and present you with a few limited options. If none of those are correct, StaffPad will offer you the entire library of strokes from which to choose, remove, report or ignore. Even when I methodically went through and identified each stroke, sometimes StaffPad would still keep the bar pending, and nothing would change. The concept is good, though, and hopefully in time StaffPad will both get better at recognizing strokes and simplify the process by which one identifies those which are unrecognized.
In any event, I heeded David’s advice to not let a pending bar interrupt my workflow. The genius of the concept is that you can move right along and get back to a pending bar later; your unrecognized ink strokes will be saved, and even printed (more on that in a bit).
Once notes are rendered, you can do some pretty amazing things with them. You can erase them just like you do your ink strokes, and you can even erase the individual components of the rendered notation. For instance, tapping on a beam of eighth notes while holding the eraser button will turn those notes into unbeamed (flagged) notes; erase the flags to turn the notes into quarter notes. If you erase a stem on a half note, it will turn the note into a whole note. You can even tap-erase secondary beams between notes to break the secondary beams.
Likewise, you can always go back to a rendered bar and add or modify the notation by drawing in more strokes. If you tap on a note, it gets colored blue. You’ll hear its pitch and you can drag it up or down to change it. Drag a note left or right to temporarily add space for, say, additional notes or accidentals.
You can tie notes between bars or slur over many bars with the greatest of ease. Slurs will snap to the nearest notehead, much as they do in Sibelius or Finale. Indeed, if you want to extend or contract an existing slur, just drag its left or right handle (the handles appear once the pen is in close proximity to the slur). To reposition or flip a slur, drag its middle handle.
StaffPad supports up to four voices, like Sibelius and Finale. Tap on the voice number at the top left-hand corner of the screen to specify the current voice. Stem directions will automatically adjust once the bar is rendered.
Finally, you’ll notice a pen icon at the top of the screen. Tap this to turn on a drawing mode, where you can freely write in blue ink on the score. Toggle the visibility of this layer on or off by tapping the eye icon.
Adding instruments, text, clefs, barlines, time and key signatures
As you get more into the details of working with StaffPad, the importance of the pen and its relationship to touch becomes even more evident. The palm-rejection technology is excellent; you can rest your hand comfortably on the screen and write in a natural way. The pen is generally for writing and erasing music; your fingers are for moving the canvas, selecting bars and using the menus. There is some overlap — for instance, you can select most menu items with the pen as well as your finger — but each tool, as it were, does what it does best.
If you touch and hold your finger on the screen, you’ll bring up a contextual menu. On the Surface Pen, the button above the eraser button is a “right-click” button, and so if you tap on the screen while holding this button, you’ll get the customary contextual menu as well.
Touching and holding your finger — or “right-clicking” with the pen — just about anywhere on the screen will bring up a contextual menu with at least two options: Insert Text and Instruments. Selecting Instruments will show the same window seen when creating a new score, and so you can easily add or remove instruments in the same manner.
If you’ve touched above a bar, the Windows keyboard appears, and you can type in technique text or tempo text. Simply typing in a number will tell StaffPad that you’re entering a metronome mark, and it will give you choices to select from (although dotted rhythms appear to have been omitted from the default options). Same with the most common Italian tempo terms: StaffPad recognizes “Allegro” and “Moderato”, for instance, and will automatically place these at the top of the system. If you type other technique-type text, such as “pizz.” or “arco”, StaffPad will place these on the top of the staff you had tapped on, in roman non-italic text.
Touching below a bar works the same way, except that StaffPad will interpret this as expression text. Start typing a dynamic like “p” or “mf” and you can instantly select it. Type other text, like “espressivo” and it will appear in the appropriate spot, in italics.
You will start to notice that StaffPad does an admirable job of collision avoidance and automatic spacing. While not at the level of a sophisticated desktop program, it nevertheless is more than adequate to keep your score perfectly neat and legible. As David told me, “I initially thought we were going to keep things very simple and just say that this is a very basic front end for Sibelius or Finale. But as you can see, the output is pretty good on its own. I wouldn’t necessarily put this output down in front of the LSO, but for the majority of cases, it should be just fine.”
If you tap and hold in a bar, you’ll see a few more contextual options: Change Clef, Change Time Signature and Change Key Signature.
These are all relatively self-explanatory, with perhaps one or two details: although changing the clef will change the position of the notes on the staff, changing the time signature will not re-flow the music, and changing the key signature will not transpose the music. This, said David, is by design: “The key difference between this and Sibelius is that it doesn’t try and auto-complete things for you. If you change the time signature, it won’t re-flow the music. That’s not to say we won’t have that eventually. But when you’re working on paper, you may be writing along, and then, in your head, you may have done a time signature change, and you just want to erase a note to fix it. That’s really easy to do in StaffPad. The assumption is that, musically, the user knows what he or she is doing.”
Still, StaffPad offers a bit of assistance: under-filled bars will be colored grey, and over-filled bars will be colored red, to help you identify those bars that don’t conform to the time signature. What you do with them is up to you.
If you touch and hold directly on a barline, you’ll see the Change Barline option in the contextual menu. Familiar options are available: double barlines, repeats, and final. Be aware that selecting a final barline is final in the true sense of the word: StaffPad will erase everything in your score afterwards.
Touching a staff name is pretty interesting (you don’t need to hold). Here, you’ll be able to change both the full name and short name of the instrument, exclude it from printing, and adjust some playback options (oh yes, we will get to playback).