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Bank Street Music Writer is an excellent music composition program that not only teaches you the basic concepts of music, but also allows you to write and "play" music as well. Although it helps if you can already read musical notes, that isn't a prerequisite for the program: Mindscape includes a clear and concise 64-page documentation -- an introduction to music fundamentals that will teach the most tone-deaf neophyte such basics as notes, tempo, pitch and melody (I will try to scan this manual sometime soon ;))
Writing notes on the screen music "paper" is a very simple affair of positioning the cursor at the line corresponding to the note you want, and pressing a number key. Four is a quarter note, eight is an eighth note, and so on. If you make a mistake, the program's error protection alerts you and prevents the note from being entered. Notes already entered can be erased with a keystroke, and the music you have already notated can be heard at any time. Each of the four separate voices is highlighted in different colors as each note is played, like a follow-along bouncing ball. To demonstrate finished results, Music Writer has includes a dozen complete pieces of music you can read and edit. These range from a long excerpt from Tchaikovski's "Nutcracker Suite"' to Scott Joplin rags and "On Top of Old Smokey." This last song is used as the basis for the program's tutorial, which quickly teaches how to operate the keyboard commands and use them to start writing music.
Another intriguing idea of the program is that it was shipped with the "Mindscape Music Board" intended for people who didn't have Tandy or PCjr. This is a 6 voice sound card which turned out to be a sine or square wave generator with simple attack, sustain, and delay parameters. It also allows you to print out real sheet music, and you could follow your voices on-screen as they played. A great piece of hardware that sure beats cheap plastic guitar picks that come with most modern music programs ;)
Overall, Bank Street Music Writer is a revolutionary program that is still surprisingly playable today. It is not as intuitive or pretty to look at as EA's Music Construction Set, but it's got enough different features and user-friendly options to stand up to the best.
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Bank Street Music Writer screenshot
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