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If you've ever wanted to rehearse your part along with all the other parts in the privacy of your own home, and you wish you could adjust the tempo, the starting point, and volume level of each SATB part separately, AND you have a computer (Windows PC or Mac) with a sound card, speakers, and an internet connection, then read on.
You need to get two things. The right kind of midi file and the right kind of midi player.
These are files with music in midi format which is a digital synthetic music format. It is not possible to represent words in midi, so each of the choral parts is represented by a synthetic sound such as a flute, clarinet, or bassoon. For a midi file to be useful for rehearsing, it must be created with each part assigned to its own channel so that volume can be adjusted for each part independently. This means you can turn down those other pesky parts and sing along with your part playing at full blast until you know it. Then, you can turn your part down or off completely and sing along with the other parts so that you can rehearse with the full harmony. Luckily, a huge selection of midi files set up for choral singers is available free on the Internet. Some good websites to find them at are the Sylvis Woodshed, the Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL), and Classical Archives.
Most audio players will play midi files but don't have the features that let you change tempo, volume on individual parts, etc. etc. The Sylvis Woodshed website provides pointers to midi players that have the right features. I prefer Melody Assistant as it displays the musical score and lets you do the basic things like changing tempo, volume per part, and setting the start point. It also lets you correct errors (you'll find some in the midi files) and assign any instrument you want to each part. This is especially handy when the author of the midi file has assigned a piano which fades out well before the end of the full duration of the note. You can get Melody Assistant free from the Myriad website and it's available for Windows PC and Mac.
Step 1 - Install a free midi player. For Melody Assistant, go to the Myriad website , click on the link to Melody Assistant, then click the "download" link near the top of the page and follow the instructions for downloading and installing Melody Assistant.
Step 2 - Download a midi file. Go to the Sylvis Woodshed or the Choral Public Domain Library and find a piece that you want to rehearse. Now you need to download the midi file (or zip file) to your hard drive so that you will be able to open it from Melody Assistant. If you skip this step and simply left-click on a midi file, it will launch your default midi player and play the file, but you won't be able to adjust the volume of the parts independently, or choose which bar to start on, or slow it down, or do any of the other powerful things that are useful when rehearsing. You must first download the file to your hard drive so that you can open it in Melody Assistant. For Windows users (and Mac users with a 2-button mouse) you can download by right-clicking over the link: hold down the right mouse button and you will see a small menu; select "save target as" or whatever looks right (different browsers call it by different names) and you will get a dialogue which will let you choose a folder on your harddrive and save the file. At this point, you should be able to see by the extension whether you're saving a midi file or a zip file. If it's a zip file, after you save it, unzip it to extract the midi files. Mac users with a one-button mouse can get the same effect as a right-click by holding down the ctrl key while clicking the mouse button.
When downloading from the Choral Public Domain Library you should right-click over the little speaker icon to get the midi file. Otherwise you might get the pdf file which is the score itself.
Step 3 - Launch the player and open a midi file. Launch Melody Assistant, open one of the midi files (from the File menu) or drag and drop the file into Melody Assistant. Then you'll be able play it (see tips below).
Step 4 - Adjust all sorts of things. Do things like change the starting point, the tempo, volume of individual parts, etc, etc. Since Melody Assistant is fairly subtle I have included some tips below.
Note: These are for Windows. Things may work differently on a Mac.
In the menu bar at the top, click on "Configuration", then select "Global Setup" from the drop-down menu. In the window that comes up, in the list at the left, click on "Play". Then make sure that the box at the left of "Scroll music while playing" has a tick mark in it (if not, then click it). Once you have a check mark in that box, then click OK. Even though it's not practical to look at the score display while singing (no words for one thing), it's useful to have it scrolling as it plays so that you can see where it is if you stop it.
In the menu bar at the top, click on "Score", select "General Tempo" from the drop-down menu. In the Window that comes up, set the tempo as you wish.
There is palette with a lot of useful tools, usually over at the left. You can use these within the palette, but it's easier to drag them out and put them under or on top of the music if there's no room underneath. Or you can click on the Windows menu item and select the tool you want from the drop-down list and it will appear.
After you install Melody Assistant, the Play Tool may already be visible (it has a speaker icon at the left). Click on the Windows menu item, then check to see if "Play Tools" has a check mark beside it; if not, click it so that a check mark appears and the Play Tools palette will appear. To play the music click on the speaker in the Play Tools palette. Click again on the speaker to stop it. Or just use the space bar to toggle start/stop playing. There's also a pause button.
First, scroll the music so that the bar at which you want playing to start is visible (see bar numbers above the top staff). Windows users can right-click on the relevant bar number and will see a drop down menu with an item called "set and reset play mark". Select this and you'll see a little blue triangle on the bar. This is where the playing will start next time you click on the speaker icon in the play tool. Mac users with a one-button mouse can substitute for right-click by holding down the Ctrl key while clicking.
You need the Complete mixer tool for this. Click on the Windows menu item, drag you mouse down to "Mixer", then select "Complete Mixer" from the menu that appears. Alternatively, drag the "Complete mixer" out from the palette (4th from the bottom, it looks like a knob). On the Complete Mixer tool you'll see balance and volume knobs for each part. To adjust volume, with your mouse grab the red triangle on one of the knobs in the lower row and move it around. If you want to turn a part off completely, click on the little green triangle under the knob and it will turn red. You won't hear the part when you play the music. Click it again to turn it back on. You can also do this with the little green triangle to the left of the staff of the relevant part.
In the Complete mixer tool (the same thing used to adjust volume above), click on the exclamation mark and you'll get a menu that will let you assign any instrument to a part. This is useful when a piano is assigned as the sound dies out too quickly. Also, I don't like the so-called "choir-aahs" instrument so I pick something nice like a clarinet or a tuba.
You'll find errors in the midi files and it is possible to correct them using the Editing Tools or sometimes the Accidental Tools. But if the timing looks odd, it's not necessarily an error. It may look as if the notes are not lined up properly with the beginning of a bar or with each other, but they may be right. This is something to do with delays assigned to the notes by the editing tool. To check the timing, don't look at the score and don't turn on the metronome - just listen and see it's right.
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