Why you should not use Microsoft Word for music notation

Dec 25, 2016  

Many music notation publication sites provide notation in the form of Microsoft Word “doc” or “docx” files. There are many reasons to avoid using MSWord for notation of Indian classical music. I will try to list down a few here and while on the topic argue why the approach taken by Patantara is much more enduring.

Why is MSWord bad?

  1. If you only ever used MSWord notation files, consider yourself lucky. Those creating notations of reasonable detail in MSWord know the real pain of doing it for you. Hope you give them the respect they duly deserve!

  2. Precise alignment of svara and sahithya characters is a hard job. Change the page from “A4” to “US Letter” and you may lose all that hard work.

  3. How a character appears is completely dependent on the system and software version used to view the document. If you use an earlier version of MSWord, you may see an arrangement of characters that is slightly different from how another who is using a more recent version would see it.

  4. One computer may not have the fonts used to create the document on another computer. This especially hits hard if the document is created on Windows and viewed on MacOS.

  5. To compound the machine and version problem, there are many kinds of “dots” and “dashes” in Unicode and not all machines have the necessary fonts to render all of them.

  6. The underlying structure of the document usually ends up being very different from the musical intent or how the notation gets displayed by MSWord. This makes it very hard for a program to be written to reformat the notation. It does not help that different musicians use different notation systems and symbols. This is called the “semantic gap”, which is very wide in the case of MSWord documents used for music notation.

How to share notation then?

Use PDF files. Unlike MSWord, PDFs appear the same on any machine. If appearance of the notation is your only goal, then PDFs will solve the problem.

Music journals in India please take note - Never ask for music notation in MSWord documents. You may end up printing something other than what the authors intended. Always ask for and use PDF files.

How does Patantara help?

  1. Patantara’s notation is specifically targeted towards capturing the music with high fidelity and then using typesetting algorithms to render the notation in a number of ways.

  2. Patantara’s notation is in plain text and with a known public structure, which means the music can be analyzed by programs to derive new insight into our culture.

  3. Patantara’s scheme - called “carnot” - can be used to describe the music at multiple levels of detail. You’ll usually find “prescriptive” and “descriptive” notation both being given. This level of detail takes very hard labour to produce with MSWord based notation.

  4. Patantara can show the notation in a number of language scripts without additional effort on the part of the notation creator. In fact, a notation can also be shown as staff notation for those who are not comfortable reading our “sargam”.

Write once, view in a large number of ways.

  1. The fact that the underlying representation used in Patantara has high musical fidelity means that the music is now amenable to kinds of analyses that weren’t possible before.

  2. The “Print” action on Patantara produces a webpage that can then be “printed to PDF” on most systems to get a high quality notation sheet.

  3. You can also render notation on Patantara and make images out of them and use them as parts of your documents. Use “Print screen” on Windows or “Grab” on MacOSX to copy a portion of the displayed notation as an image.

  4. Patantara is committed to solving the communication problems in Indian music and is open to introducing new kinds of descriptions. We’ll do this while staying close to the music in fidelity. So do not try to work around the limitations of a tool like MSWord and please get in touch with us instead.

Our rich musical culture deserves tools that best capture and propagate it. That will not be possible if we adopt a compromising attitude to the tools we use to make our cultural artifacts.