capella-playalong use

Producing an MP3 or audio CD is very simple. The whole process is controlled by a series of steps that ask a series of simple questions. You can go through the steps (in order to ensure you have taken advantage of all the possible settings) or if you know your way around playAlong you can go directly to the steps that you need.

The steps are:

  1.  Assemble source files You can select up to 99 capella, MIDI or XML files.
  2.  Select staves This allows you to deselect any staves (instruments) that you don’t wish to hear playing back on the final CD.
  3.  Transpose Useful if your solo instrument is a transposing instrument.
  4.  Midi channel to instrument allocation Done automatically, but you can change this. For example you might wish to change the instrument’s sound from its original capella one of a violin to a viola.
  5.  Set base volume The base volume is the starting point for each instrument on which any dynamic changes will be based. For example when playAlong comes across a piano or forte it changes the volume down or up from the base level.
  6.  Set the stereo positions (balance). You can noticeably improve the realism of playback by spreading the instruments between the left and right sides of the stereo sound image.
  7.  Percussion instrument settings This step assigns the non pitched percussion voices in the piece to specific pitches on the percussion stave. The process is similar to the soundmap in capella. Some music XML files do not have any percussion voices set and the voices can be set here. Percussion instruments are always on channel 10.
  8.  Set tempo The tempo settings in the original capella file will be replaced throughout any score where you click on the “Absolute change” button. If you click on the “Relative change” button then the tempo settings in the original capella score are kept, but varied by the amount which you stipulate in this step. A useful feature if you want to produce variations of tempo for teaching.
  9.  Set dynamic values This step establishes how loud or how quiet each dynamic symbol used in the score should sound.
  10.  Touch and articulation The term “velocity” is a Midi term. It is an attempt to represent the effect that the speed of key descent has on note volume. The musical term is more normally referred to as “attack”.
  11.  Set specific articulation values.
  12.  Quantization This is a MIDI term for the process of moving notes slightly before or behind the beat, and slightly changing their note value. In playAlong the main purpose of quantization is to introduce ‘swing’.
  13.  Count in and metronome
  14.  Reference note. This step takes on one of the roles of the conductor, that of giving singers and brass players a reference note to help them pitch their first note correctly.
  15.  Converting source files to Midi.
  16.  Prepare for Midi to Wave conversion. Choose whether to use the built in TiMidity© program (which converts each file in a few seconds) or your own soundcard (which works in real time). You also specify “Normalising” in this step. Normalising evens up the base volume for every track. Without this the tracks might play back at such different base volume levels that you would have to keep adjusting the volume on your HiFi.
  17.  Midi to Wave conversion.
  18.  Write to CD
  19.  Clean up and finish. Unless you plan to make more copies of the CD in the near future it is usually good practice to let capella playAlong delete your Wave files. They take a large amount of space on your hard drive.

Using capella playAlong you can create your own play-along accompaniment CD to help you play your own part. And the great thing is – you decide which part this is! All you have to do is leave out your “part” while you’re creating the CD. If you want to play along to the CD as a duo or trio, you can remove other parts too.
You can fine tune all the key elements in a musical performance. Some of the key ones are described below. If you are a singer or performer look at Melody Trainer which will help you be pitch perfect.

playing, dynamics and articulationturning a score into a performance
Step 9.
The screen below shows the individual tracks in the left window and three tabs in the right window for: articulation, dynamics & rhythm and trills and ornaments. Dynamics and rhythm is showing. There are several presets for swing and waltz that modify note durations to give a correct feel for these.

Under articulation you can re-define what will happen when a printed articulation sign is encounterd in the score and add or change articulations.

adding articulation and dynamics

adding articulation and dynamics

Under dynamics the bars and numbers represent the actual volume on a scale of 0 to 127. The articulation signs can be changed for the strength of ‘attack’ and where appropriate, the length of the note as  a percentage of the normal value.

Under Trills and ornaments there are over 30 signs defined and a range of ways of playing each of them.

setting trills and ornaments

setting trills and ornaments

After making any changes you want to the basic settings: lead in time, pitching note, relative volumes of instruments etc. you are ready to press the button and create an audio file. Well almost – first you convert to MIDI, which takes a few seconds per track. Then you need to choose how you will produce your audio tracks. There are three methods.

Use Timidity.™ This is the most usual choice. Timidity.™ is a fast file conversion way of producing audio it takes a few seconds per minute of playing time. The results is on apar with a medium quality soundcard and usually better than the soundcards that come by default with a PC.
Use your soundcard. This takes the same time as playing the piece, so if you are producing a twenty minute score it will take 20 minites, not the 20 seconds or so for Timidity.™ If you have bought an expensive soundcard this may be the better way.
Finally you can buy high quality sound samples. These usually cost in the hundreds of pounds but produce the very best performance. They are used via the VST plugin interface.

The last step is to decide how you are going to use your audio files. You can choose either MP3 or CD. MP3 files are a compressed format which will be perhaps a tenth the size of the equivalent CD files with no discernible loss of quality. For example an audio CD is about 700 megaBytes where the equivalent MP3s will be about 70.

MP3s are very convenient in that they are small enough to attach to emails so you can circulate them to all members of the choir as accompaniments.