You first need a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Then the tools and strategy will fall into place.

The tool may be anything; not necessarily made for the purpose you have in mind. But the result is less to do with the tool, and more to do with the clarity of vision. (it’s not about the paint brush, eh Pablo?)

I was inspired by a promo video by LinkedIn Learning of a course by my pal Oz du Soleil. Love Oz’s style of explaining. Recommended.

In my example (and Oz’s), Excel wasn’t made for music arranging. But it’s a tool we could both readily use to achieve a vision we had.

Responding to popular demand, here’s more on my Excel vocal harmony app.

Note: everything on this sheet is NOT entered by hand.

The buttons on the left open a dialog so I can select a MusicXML file. Excel runs a macro. The color coded shapes are actually just cell fill color.

MusicXML is a standard export format for score writing software. I use Notion 6 for score writing because it is on a PC as well as on iPad. Or I download other people’s arrangements in MusicXML from MuseScore.com.

On the sheet, the actual columns are very narrow and represent 1/96th of a measure. That’s how I get gaps between the notes, and what may look like ‘a cell only partially filled’.

The color coding is: Paul (yellow), John (blue), George (red). The song is ‘Please Please Me‘ recorded by the British beat combo (lol) called The Beatles in 1962.

The lyrics are part of the MusicXML standard. So, even that comes from the import and not entered by hand.

Everything on this sheet comes directly from the score. Nothing is manually entered by me. So, it’s like a dashboard in PowerBI.

By clicking any of the colored buttons on the left (indicates the 4-parts) I can re-run the graphic so that it highlights any of the parts by graying-out the other parts. Only takes a second.

Sometimes the notes overlap. Can’t do much about that. See at measure 13 for Paul and John? Both briefly on the same note. But when I run it for Paul, only the yellow will show.

On an earlier version, I got Excel to play the notes via MIDI on the PC. But that became unnecessary, as I arrange on Notion app and that will play the notes (to verify that the harmony is correct). It was also a bit clunky on Excel. Scrolling through the song was bit erratic! But while it lasted, that version is where I clicked the note-shape and it played a piano sound, as did clicking the keyboard on the left. You gotta be prepared to dump an idea if something better exists (Notion in this case, for writing the arrangement).

The rendering of the score (as cell fill color on the sheet) wasn’t hard. The tricky part was learning the way the XML standard treats note values, and getting Excel to do the calculations. Maybe someday I’ll write a techie article about that part of it.

A longer term use for this is to convert all the Beatles vocal harmonies into visual score like this for a book. If you’re interested, check out Galeazzo Frudua on YouTube. He has deconstructed 93 Beatles songs’ harmonies and he presents it well. I thought a visual score to accompany his great audio work will be a good way to thank him and show my appreciation.

My vocal harmony rehearsal tracks are here. singperfectharmony.com

Hiran de Silva

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