Basic concepts

Now you have some idea what VBRhapsody can do and how you use it, it is time to discuss the philosophy behind the program, how it actually works and what its limitations are.

Design philosophy

The fundamental idea was to create a program that would do for musical notation what the word processor does for text; after all, a musical score is very similar to a text document in a number of ways. Firstly, both are essentially linear and the way the music or text is formatted makes no difference to the composition or the story. Secondly, both can be edited by placing a cursor in the score or document and adding or deleting certain symbols. Lastly, both douments and scores can be printed in a variety of ways depending on things like the page size, the size of the print etc. etc.

And so the basic principles of the program emerged: firstly, the score would initially appear without formatting in one long line; secondly, notes would be added using a cursor and lastly, formatting would be a separate step before printing. The advantage of this approach, as opposed to the more graphical, WYSIWYG approach adopted by most other notation programs, is that you can concentrate on one thing at a time: composing the music is separate from laying out the pages; deciding what note you want to play is separate from deciding how you want it to be printed. Another advantage is that the score can hold many different formats simultaneously. This is important because, unlike a text document which is usually only printed once, a score may need to be printed part by part as well as in full score.

Another important similarity bewteen a text document and a score is that both types of document embody countless formal and informal rules concerning what you can and cannot do. It is my view that a good program should educate the user into doing things the correct way rather than forcing them to. For example: while a word processor can and should point out when you have spelt a word incorrectly, it is not the business of a word processor to instantly correct your spelling as you type. In the same way, VBR provides assistance when thing go wrong rather than preventing the user from making mistakes.

In other respects too, VBR is like a word processor. Standard operations like cutting and pasting are obviously provided but VBR does lots of things which have no equivalent in a word processor like extracting parts, transposing staves and, of course, playing the finished score.

As you can see, a 'music processor' is a far more complex piece of sofware than a word processor!

How it works

It is useful to know a little about how VBR stores the musical data.

Firstly, all the notes and symbols in one vertical 'slot' are collected together and are played simultaneously. It follows that if you have triplets playing in one part against duplets in another, the second and third triplets must be in a different 'slot' from the second duplet. In the example below, only the first bar will play correctly.

(I have placed the cursor in the first bar so that you can see the extra 'slot'.)

This arrangement is ideal for developing a sense of the way parts fit together time-wise but if you want to write music where different parts are playing in different time signatures or in unrelated tempi, VBR will not help much.

Secondly, notes on the same stave with the same stalk direction are collected together in a 'cluster'. Some attributes - eg accidentals - can be attached to individual notes within the cluster; other attributes - eg accents, and most importantly, notelength - are applied to the whole cluster. This means that it is impossible to put a minim and a crotchet in the same cluster. (For information about how to overcome this problem, though, see here.)

Normally it is not possible to have two clusters in the same stave/slot with the same stalk direction so if you have two parts sharing one stave, one sounding a minim while the other is sounding a crotchet, they must have different stalk directions. Here is an example:

Notice how, when a crotchet and a quaver share the same line on the stave, VBR automatically displaces the notes to make them more readable.

The window layout

VBR is a MDI (Multiple Document Interface) program. This means that you can load several scores into VBR at the same time. In addition, it is possible to have multiple views of the same score open at the same time, perhaps showing different formatting - and it is possible to edit any score within any window. With such a lot of possible windows open at the same time it is all too easy to loose a score by clicking on the wrong 'close' icon. Unlike many other programs, therefore, VBR does not discard the score when you click on the close icon, it only closes that window on the score. (Surely this is the logical thing to do). If you want to get rid of a score you must explicitly choose the 'Discard' option on the 'Score' menu. If you have closed all the windows on a score and you want to get it back, you will find it listed under the 'Open' item in the menu of the main window.

Again, unlike most other MDI programs, you will not find the 'Save' and 'Print' options in the main menu because it is not always clear which score you will save or print. That is why operations which are specific to a particular score appear in the score menu; only global operations - such as loading a new score or stopping playing - will be found in the main menu. (Surely this is logical too?)