Using Anvil Studio: Free Music Writing Software

People new to writing music have a few ways to write a song. While strumming a guitar or arranging piano chords and melodies may work for a soloist, musicians more used to band or ensemble work need something more. Anvil Studio, a great piece of music writing software, allows composition for up to sixteen separate parts.

After downloading and installing the software, the interface can be intimidating at first. At the center of the screen is a single track with the familiar grand staff. Writing music into this track is easy. Below the staff is a panel with musical notes; select the desired note length and click a note on the keyboard (which can be switched to a guitar fretboard). Triplets can be written into the track by checking the “Triplet Note” box to the right of the note durations. Staccato, Dotted, and even Harmonized notes, which fill in chords automatically, are created the same way.

Under the note duration buttons is an “Insert a Rest” button, and when clicked it inserts a rest of the same duration as the selected note.

Chords are no harder; just hold the Shift key while clicking notes. Releasing Shift will put the chord into the staff.

To save important riffs, motives, and even chord progressions, highlight the riff and select “Edit,” “Save selected notes to Riff.” The riff can be named and even assigned a hotkey for quick entry.

After making a chord progression or lead line, it’s time to create another track. Selecting “Track,” “Create,” and “New Track” will bring up a blank grand staff again. Click the button to the left of the track name to move from track to track.

To keep track of the song’s structure, right-clicking on a chord or note and selecting “Chord Label” allows the user to jot notes about the song or label the chord.

If the song is written in anything but C Major, it will probably look like a mass of accidentals, particularly in keys like B. To correct this, look to the left of the note duration buttons and select a new Key from the drop-down menu. Below the Key menu is a Time Signature one, allowing just about any meter length. Both key and time signature can be changed in the middle of a score. For lead or bass writing, the grand staff is unnecessary; yet another drop-box allows for Treble or Bass clefs, and even Alto, Baritone and guitar clefs.

MIDI instrumentation is fully available, and while MIDI never sounds quite like the real instruments, there are ways to give the tracks a little more life. Each note has its own volume, and the meticulous and/or bored composer can comb the piece and alter every note’s volume. Much easier is using the “Track,” “Add Accent Notes” function. The composer can select which notes in each measure should be accented, but some volume tweaking may be needed to keep the notes from sounding too mechanical. “Play Track with a Swing Rhythm” does just that, and can liven up a stale-sounding composition when used judiciously.

Whether a downloaded MIDI is desired in another key, or a written song needs transposition, Anvil Studio has an easy transposition feature. Selecting “Track,” “Transpose” allows the shifting of selected notes, or an entire track, up or down diatonically or chromatically.

While classical composers might have no need for percussion, what’s a rock song without some drums? Choosing “Track,” “Create,” “Rhythm Track” makes not a grand staff, but a grid. Clicking “Add Sounds” brings up a wide variety of instruments, from conventional bass and snare to congas, cowbells and woodblocks. Entering notes on the grid is much like a piano roll; again, note lengths can be selected, and complex rhythms are easy to write. However, selecting long strings of notes for copying can be buggy, so reducing the scale to quarter notes can make the process easier.

For new composers, Anvil Studio is an excellent piece of free music writing software. While its audio isn’t the best quality on its own, Anvil Studio helps in writing for other musicians and getting an idea of what the parts will sound like. It’s perfect music writing software for classical, rock, jazz, and folk composition.

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