Digital Technology and Music

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One of the most exciting applications of digital technology is in music. Getting started in music creation and recording using computers and associated software and hardware can be a daunting and sometimes very frustrating experience. One has to learn a whole new language - one that is filled with exotic acronyms and concepts. This page presents some links to material that can help the newcomer, and may even be useful to old hands as well. Check out the links to a number of available freeware programs. Some very cool stuff is out there - and free!

Before we go any further, I want to point you to THE SITE for the field of computer-based recording of music. An incredible on-line resource. Be sure to check out Tweak's Guide to Recording Success.

Tweakheadz Lab

Jargonbuster: Technical Terms Explained
This defines a number of common technical terms associated with recording, MIDI, audio, computers and music technology compiled by the excellent Sound on Sound Magazine.

Freeware Mac and PC Audio Programs
An excellent listing of Mac and PC freeware audio programs can be found here. Updated frequently.

Top Ten Mac Audio Freebies
Go here for the top ten picks for Mac Audio Freeware by Jay Shaffer, the Mac Audio Guy. If you have a Mac, then be sure to check this out!

Freeware Sequencer Program
Want to get started with a sequencer but have little money to invest in the big programs? Go to Mutools and get yourself a free digital audio host sequencer program, MU.LAB. Available for PC and Mac.

Create Digital Music
There are only a few truly fine digital music websites out there offering the best news about music and gear . Created by Peter Kirn, this is the top one! Visit every day. You'll be glad you did!

Virtual Instruments


For the pianist, there are several outstanding programs available:

Ivory Grand Pianos. By Synthology. Top rated program.

Acoustik Piano. By Native Instruments. 15 Gigs of samples of Steinway D, Bechstein D 280, Boesendorfer 290, and Steingraeber 130 vintage upright.

Pianoteq. By Pianoteq. Sound is not based on sampling technology, but is a true modelled piano. This is the first product of its kind.

Synths and Samplers

There are amazing sounds possible with computer-created virtual instruments. To get an idea of the range of possibilities, check out Omnisphere and Stylus RMX by Spectrasonics.

One of the major companies creating software synths and samplers is Native Instruments.

Symphonic Software - The "Super Tools" of Today's Digital Composer

Symphonic software includes sampled instruments from the orchestra. These are the incredible tools of the digital composer. Top products are:

EastWest/Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra

Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL)

Symphonic Instrument by MOTU

Garritan Personal Orchestra


What is a Sequencer? The simplest definition is a computer program that arranges sounds chronologically. Also referred to as a "host", a sequencer is a program in which audio is recorded, arranged, and processed within the computer. Sequencers "sequence," or arrange audio information to assist musicians in structuring music.

Originally based in hardware, sequencers relied on MIDI timing to arrange these sounds and phrases. Today, software sequencers still utilize MIDI, but sequence many types of audio data, including raw sound files, mp3's, and even video data.

Software sequencers also "host" other programs that either produce (synthesize) or alter (effect) the data that the sequencer inputs. This ability to arrange different types of data, record incoming audio, process MIDI data, and apply effects without timing errors is one of the most significant features of computer sequencing programs.

The "host" sequencer program serves as the heart of a digital audio workstation setup. As noted above, there is a free sequencer program, MU.LAB, available for both the PC and Mac platforms. This is a good option if you want to get your feet wet with a relatively simple host program. The learning curves of the more advanced programs can be steep. However, once you can begin to realize the immense power and versatility of these types of programs, it becomes a very worthwhile effort.

For today's composers, students, and musicians, the digital audio workstation centered on a pro level host sequencer is one of the most amazing pieces of technology you can imagine! Together wih sampling technology and a fast computer with lots of RAM, one can write, synthesize, perform, record, arrange, revise, and manipulate an entire orchestra - and throw in just about any exotic instrument on the planet, or synthesized sound you can imagine. This is truly a new world of music and where it will take us is limited only by our imagination.

The leading sequencer programs are listed below:

SONAR by Cakewalk

CUBASE by Steinberg

LOGIC by Apple (Mac only)

FL STUDIO by Image Line Software

LIVE by Ableton

PRO TOOLS by DigiDesign


Notation Software

There are many music notation software programs available. For a brief, but informative review of the topic, check out Electronic Musician Magazine's article. Here are three of the top programs. Sibelius and Finale, the two industry standards, are especially noteworthy for their ability to use VST and Audio Units plug-ins (Sibelius), and Kontakt-2 player (Finale) for playback. They also have a fairly steep learning curve. Notion, from Notion Music, is highly recommended due to its functionality and especially its ease of use.