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Melody Assistant: A software review

by Brian G. Mason

 Washington Apple Pi Journal, July/August 2000, pp. 71-76, reprint information

I have been looking for a music sequencer ever since I moved off of Music Studio on my Apple IIgs onto the Mac platform. However, I really did not want to spend $400 for a program since music is a hobby with me, not a profession. (For those of you who haven't done any music on the computer, a sequencer is a program that tells the computer or computer-driven devices in what order to play sounds. A synthesizer is a program that tells the computer or other sound-producing device how to create sounds.)

After looking on the Internet and searching on Delphi and other sources of shareware, I ran across Melody Assistant. This is the most incredible program for working with music on the Mac! It is so full-featured, it is really hard to believe it is only $18 (paid through Kagi. It's $15 if paid directly to Myriad.) It is much more than a sequencer. In fact, it does so much so well, I have had a hard time trying to figure out how to tell you about it. That is why I've included so many screen shots with this article.

Sources of Music

Where to start? I guess I'll start with the various methods of getting music into the program. First of all, you can enter the music onto a staff. Its power as a sequencer is superb! The program comes with several templates or sample staves that you can use to get started for a variety of music styles. These are divided into 3 folders: choirs, orchestra, and solo. Under choirs there are samples, for example, of quartets, quintets, and even of Gregorian choirs. Under orchestra you will find folders of samples called brass, classical, jazz, miscellaneous, and modern. Under solo you will find folders of samples called banjo, dulcimer, bass, drum set, guitar, harmonica, keyboard, and lute. Each of these samples brings up the default staff and set of musical instruments for that particular kind of music. For example, to begin working on a string quartet, you can go under orchestra and find the classical folder. In that folder is a string quartet sample. When you double click on the sample, you are presented with four staves, one each for the first and second violins, the viola and the cello.

Edit keyboard

Once you have your staves on the screen, you can then begin entering your score using all of the tools and palettes Melody Assistant makes available to you. You can place the notes one at a time on the staff using the mouse. You may use the mouse to select the notes using the on-screen keyboard. You may also define the keys on your computer keyboard to place notes on the staff or to do any number of other actions within the program (See Edit Keyboard.pict). The problem with using the computer keyboard is that the notes do not sound when you press the key. If you use the on-screen keyboard and mouse, however, the notes do sound.

You can set up your computer to accept input from MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) devices. Melody Assistant uses the Open Music System (OMS) from Opcode to interface with MIDI devices. Since I now have a PowerMac G4 which has no serial port, I have not been able to connect my MIDI keyboard to my Mac. I spotted a hardware interface in a catalog, but haven't bought that yet. So I haven't been able to fully test the MIDI capability of Melody Assistant.

You can also bring music in from a wide variety of computer application formats. These include .aiff, .wav, mp3, and even a Mac sound resource. All of these types are brought in as digital sound files. That is, they are not translated into notes on a staff. You can, however, combine this digital input with written music in a score to create your total musical experience.

On the other hand, with other types of formats the attempt is made to translate the music into notes on staves. These include Stand-alone (*.mux), MIDI (*.mid), Karaoke (*.kar), Creative Music File (*.cmf), Band-in-a-Box (*.sty), MOD (*.mod), S3M (*.s3m), Tab Text (*.txt, *.tab), OMeR File(*.msf), ABC (*.abc), and Backup copy (*.bak). I was only able to test the MIDI and MOD formats since I had earlier acquired music in these formats. It was amazing to see the notes appear on the staves for music that I had only been able to listen to before. The interpretation done by the program was not accurate. But it is like scanning a document into a word processor. You have to do a lot of editing to get it to spell and format everything correctly. For example, with one song I imported, the melody was written on the staff for the second piano and the bass line was written on the first piano staff. I did not try to take the time to figure out how to correct this "problem".

Saving Your Music

Music saved in Melody Assistant is saved as a *.mus file. But music can also be exported as Stand-alone (*.mux), MIDI 0 (*.mid), MIDI 1 (*.mid), Karaoke (*.kar), Tab Text (*.tab), Creative Music File (*.cmf), ABC (*.abc), Brut (*.brt), AIFF (*.aif), WAV (*.wav), and MPEG (*.mp3), and a Macintosh Resource.

What this means, of course, is that you can use this program to record your music from almost any source, including the microphone input on your Mac, and save it as an MP3 file. Thus you can even use this program to preserve your old vinyl records and 8-track tapes. Of course, this takes some memory resources, but that is to be expected with digital audio. For example, I recorded 1 minute and 19 seconds of a song off of a cassette. It consumed 19MB of RAM, and when saved to disk in native Melody Assistant format (.mus), it took 12.8 MB of disk space. When Melody Assistant converted it to the MP3 format, the same snippet of music took 1.2 MB on disk. If you have a CD recorder, you will want to save your music as AIFF files and then use a program like Toast to create your own audio CD's. The possibilities are endless.

The User Manual

User manual

The User Manual is done in hypertext markup language, which means that you use it within an Internet browser. This makes it very user-friendly. Double click on the file index.htm. The manual opens up in your default browser. Double click on the flag for the language you chose when you installed the program, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, or Japanese, and you are ready to go. The table of contents appears in a frame on the left, and the manual appears in the right-hand frame. Throughout the manual there are hyperlinks so you can move quickly within the documentation. (See User Manual Image.pict)

The major topics in the manual include the Introduction, a What's New, a section on musical theory and a very complete lexicon. The manual includes a tutorial, information about the models / templates that come with the program, information on the digital effects processor, how to work with digital audio tracks, working with MIDI, how to use the vendor's resources on the Internet, how to work with lyrics within the program, how to use the Karaoke features. There is a How To section, a FAQ section, and two appendices, one dealing with using Melody Assistant with the Yamaha S-YXG50, the other explaining how to make an audio CD. Finally, there is the index, in which every single reference is hyperlinked back to the manual. If you ever have the need, a printable version is also provided for printing from within your browser.

The Tools

There are a total of 17 palettes of tools. In the latest version, there is an 18th palette, a master palette which lists all of the other palettes and windows you can place on your desktop. Using the master palette, you don't have to keep all of the other palettes open in order to select a tool from a particular palette.


In addition, there are 5 windows that can be accessed from the master palette or under Windows on the menu bar. The windows include a custom palette. Here you can place all of the individual tools you want to use most frequently. You can also have a full-size mixer, a small mixer, the virtual keyboard, and a MIDI monitor. (See Keyboard2.pict)

All of the palettes are floating palettes. You can put them anywhere on the desktop your heart desires. You can have as many open or as few as you like. On all except the master pallet, you can double click on the blue end bar, and the palette will switch from vertical to horizontal or vice versa.

Tools & palettes2

Then there is the information box. No matter where you are on the screen or what you are doing, the information box provides information about the item you are rolling over or pointing at with your mouse. This is an extremely helpful feature when you are learning the program. (See tools & palettes2.pict)


The 3 mark tool palettes contain an amazing variety of tools to create a large number of effects including trills, tremolo, slurs, etc. If there is a purple corner on the tool icon button, it has an effect on what is played. If it has a blue corner, it applies to tablatures. Otherwise it is placed on the score for information. All of the dynamic tools affect how loud the music is played. (See tools2.pict)

The Staff

I could not take the time to calculate the number of instruments available to the program. Just for example, there are 11 different types of pianos including three regular pianos, two electric pianos, a honkytonk piano, a harpsichord and a clavichord. You can assign one staff to each instrument, you can have multi-voiced staves, or you can even establish rules such that a triangle-shaped note will be a piano, but a diamond-shaped note will be a trumpet.


At the left-hand end of the staff are tiny icons which open powerful menus or windows. (See staff2.pict) An example is the icon for opening the staff's key menu. By "key" is meant "important." This menu consists of two columns of selections divided into 5 sections. The "edit related instrument" icon opens a window to the program's synthesizer where you can create all kinds of mischief in trying to develop your own unique musical sounds. (See synthesizer.pict ).


There's More

Doc info

While you are creating your masterpiece, Melody Assistant is creating a record of its own, compiling statistics about your creation. If you View Document Info... under the File menu, you will see all the work that you and the program have done. (See doc info.pict).

Edit chord

The program is very friendly if you play a fretted instrument of any kind including cellos, lutes, ukeleles, or guitars. (You can even define your own fretted instrument.) Through the use of tablature, you can show on your score how your selected instrument should be fingered. And since there is more than one way to play the same chord, the Edit Chord Diagram window allows you to specify how the chord is played. (See edit chord.pict).

Melody Assistant has a jukebox feature that allows you to develop lists of music which can be played in whatever order you set, including a random order. The jukebox allows you to automatically create an html file which can be posted on the Internet or run from a browser.


Finally, to end my brief overview of the program, printing is extremely flexible and capable. If your music appears on music staves, you can print your music. Melody Assistant allows you to position all of the elements of your score on the page so you get a very nice-looking printout. The print preview allows you to make adjustments to the margins, adjust the scale of the image, create headers and footers, decide how to print instrument identifications next to the staves, decide which staves to print, etc. Then you can print to an EPS file or to your printer. (See printing4.pict).

How You Get It

I think you can tell from the tone of this review, that I am extremely excited about this program. I expect to have lots of fun with it for a very long time. I have placed my first completed effort on the WAP TCS. The name of the file is nostalgia.mp3.sit. This is a song by Yanni that I entered into Melody Assistant from some sheet music for piano that I happen to have and saved as an MP3 file.

Melody Assistant is currently up to version 5.1.1 and is available for download from Myriad at http://www.myriad-online.com. It runs on Macintosh (Mac/OS 7.5 to Mac/OS 9, 68020+ or PPC) and Windows (95,98,2000 or NT4). Again, it is only $18 if paid through Kagi. It's $15 if paid directly to Myriad.

E-mail support is free for all users (registered or not), but infers you are using the most recent version of the software. You may contact Myriad by sending an e-mail directly from the program. You can contact other users on : http://www.myriad-online.com/bbs

The company has several other offerings besides Melody Assistant. Harmony Assistant is Melody's big brother. On top of all the Melody options, it brings harmonizing, drum sequences and other MIDI input capabilities. It costs $65

OMeR allows you to scan a musical score into your computer and then converts it into music you can hear, modify and print with Melody Assistant or Harmony Assistant. OMeR can be run as an independent program, but you'll need Melody or Harmony to view documents generated by it. OMeR's cost is $15.

For a sample MP3 file created with Melody Assistant, see the Pi's Web site at


Return to electric pi

Revised July 1, 2000 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/