Finale, Sibelius, and music making software are not crutches, they are emancipators of every human’s inner artist.

Finale, Sibelius, and music making software are not crutches, they are emancipators of every human’s inner artist.

It should be noted, that the majority of composers and instrumentalists (probably) do not have this geezer-ish attitude towards technology. But, there are some very important social and artistic points that need to be discussed with the advent of music software.

The first point- we exist in the post-industrial revolution, post-scarcity world. Before the Phonautograph (created in 1857), the only way the majority of the world could hear music was if they performed it by themselves or with family and friends. In the common practice period, those in the upper echelons of society could see a chamber or symphonic ensemble from time to time. And if you were royalty you could simply have composers and instrumentalists on staff to use them as you saw fit.

Now, imagine yourself as a nine-year old boy (or girl…well, probably not if we are talking pre-20th century), who comes from a family of Polish cabbage farmers in 1825. Most of the your time is probably spent…with cabbage. And dirt. Maybe you are lucky enough to be literate and you own some books, you would probably read those from time to time. But in your hierarchy of needs, you do not often reach a point where you can find time for creativity and the arts. It is likely that the only music you will ever hear is folk music passed down through an oral tradition. The lack of economic equality is an unfortunate part of human history, and it continues to this day. Because of this disparity, art was a priority of only a fraction of the population throughout most of human history. *

When I was studying music at Grand Valley State University, I took a course on 20th century music history. We only covered about 50 years if I remember correctly. The problem with classes on 20th century music is that there is so much material to cover. This is for multiple reasons- the arms race between super powers, European instability, the World Wars, etc. But this is just the standard political dysfunction present since the birth of civilization. I will assert that the most important factor when discussing music created after the second industrial revolution is technology.

Which brings me to my second point- the rapid advancement of technology over the last 150 years has played a significant role in bringing art to new demographics.

Now imagine you are a nine-year old boy from a family of farmers living in the early 1900’s. You have a rare afternoon of freedom and you and an older sibling go in to town to peruse the shops. In one of the stores you hear this strange and beautiful sound coming from some bell-shaped device, you ask the shopkeeper what it is and he tells you it is a song by Franz Schubert. This song moves you and you want to hear more. You keep going back to hear more artfully crafted music by the giants of composition. You hear Brahms, Mahler, Wagner, and you are hooked.

We take this kind of experience for granted now. We can hear EVERY piece of music ever recorded if we have the internet or access to a library. It is almost comical that a lot us will sit and read or goof around on the computer and use Vivaldi or Chopin as background music.

From a very early age I have been exposed to all kinds of music. Mostly popular music, but classical too. My family was by no means wealthy when I was an adolescent, but my Mother loved the music of Mozart, and thanks to the cheap and abundant resources available to most people in the 20th century I was exposed to glory of Mozart at an early age.

I played clarinet from 5th grade to 12th grade and picked up guitar in 7th grade and have not stopped since. In middle school and into 9th grade I used Windows Sound Recorder to record weird sounds from my guitar. However, the most important event in my life as a composer came to me when I was 14 or 15. My Dad purchased (not pirated, definitely not…that would be wrong) a sound looping/editing program called Acid. It was basically the coolest thing I had ever encountered. I could mix clarinets, trumpets, synthesized sounds, seemingly anything, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I would get on our families desktop PC whenever I could and create new pieces of music. No staff paper. No pen. Just me and a computer. Using a program that damn near anyone could get their hands on. I took some of these pieces I created to a girl I liked at the time who was going to Interlochen Center for the Arts and when I got her approval, I really thought that this was something I wanted to do.

Now I am 24 years old and in grad school, and I still love playing with music making software. I have sat for hours (literally, hours) and created soundscapes of static in Pro Tools. And now the embarrassing admission- sometimes I enjoy opening up Finale and composing. Composing with no idea in mind, just creating for the sake of creating. That happens less and less now that I have to be speedier with my process. Usually I’ll sketch out stuff feverishly on manuscript paper and create a visual outline and THEN open Finale.

For the minority who truly believes that Finale, Sibelius, Logic and Pro Tools are compositional crutches, I can only say that without these tools I would NOT be a composer. I am not a genius. I never will be. I need some sort of extrasomatic assistance often times and I hardly think that should count against me. For example, I may have a really great idea for a chord progression in a piece for clarinet and piano. Finale affords me the opportunity to hear that my great chord progression actually sounds like a cat walking across a piano. I can tweak it, trash it, or move on from it- but now I know for sure that it does not work. I am certain there are those who can come to this kind of conclusion using only their imagination, but I am not one of those people.

In my teenage years, I was almost completely dependent on software as a medium for composing. Maybe I would have been able to just use staff paper and come up with some groovy stuff in the same amount of time that I spent using software, but probably not. And I would argue that the romanticized notion of a melancholic composer stooped over his desk with pen and paper is quite an unnatural way to create music. It is merely a symptom of standardization of notation, which stems all the way back to the time of Charlemagne and his attempts at creating unity and conformity amongst the competing musical styles and notational practices in Europe. I believe it was Beethoven who said that composers must escape the prison that is the bar line. That is an important concept to remember. Bar lines can indeed be a prison. Notation in general can be confining. It is simply an organizing and record keeping tool.

Use Fruity Loops to create beats. Use Finale to check your scores. Use Photo Shop to create a picture, hell, use MS Paint. Even better yet, use spray paint to have your voice heard. Use everything at your disposal to say whatever it is you want to say. We are all artists in some way and thanks to technology, the chains of economic inequality have been broken, or at least loosened.




*I am making assertions based on my nowhere near scholarly understanding of history. Please feel free to refute any of my claims.