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Review: Harmony Assistant 8.4.4

Harmony Assistant by Myriad Software is a complete software package to help you arrange, score, edit, and compose music. It creates clean sheet music, handles lyrics well, and has several ways of displaying and printing chords and tablature. It's uniqueness is in the assistance it gives you in creating chordal backgrounds and accompaniment sequences that harmonize with your melody. It also can provides drum patterns, digital sound editors and effects, but most GarageBand users probably would not use Harmony Assistant for audio output. Its genius is in how it can help you arrange a composition and print out sheet music. And although some of the features are difficult to discover how to use, they do work once you find them. Coolest of all, however, is the pallette of virtual voices that can sing your melody lines and lyrics (included in the add-on module, Virtual Singer.) But more about that later... Read on for the full review.
Harmony Assistant's main interface looks like sheet music and enables the user to place notes on the page with click-and-drag mouse moves, a virtual keyboard window (like GB), the qwerty keyboard, or from a MIDI controller (however, I found latency issues too great to overcome and stuck to entering notes with my mouse). Although it helps to know basic music theory (chords, ability to read lead sheets), what is cool about this software is how it does things for you. You can either have it choose chords to accompany your melody line or let the program create some for you that you can play along to. The accompanying chords can be voiced in ever way possible and made as complex as you like (within each chord, 3rds, 5ths, 7ths and 9ths are editable to be major/minor/diminished/augmented). The screen tools are displayed on the screen with fully customizable floating pallettes and are intuitively organized.

There is a large pallette of music symbols, accents, trills, etc., that actually effect playback, so you can hear what they do to the music. But the best thing for GB users may be that Harmony Assistant calculates tablatures for any fretted instrument (Guitar, Bass, Banjo, Lute...), harmonica or accordion. Compared to expensive programs like Finale, this is worth the price all by itself (if you want to print out music, that is.) For drums, you have the option to use grid staves or standard MIDI notation. Which note/shape plays what drum preset is fully customizable. Rhythms can be played back in varying degrees of swung intensities without changing the look of the sheet music.

Harmony Assistant also supports digital input (I didn't try this feature) and can import audio files. The literature says it can import mux, mu3, mid (0 and 1), kar, cmf, sty (Band in Box), mod, s3m, abc, .ab, brt, cmf, wav, aif, mp3, sf2 and ogg formats. It can also export most of these formats. It can also export sheet music into eps, epsf, pict, and bmp formats. Add samples and tracks to your song, yet keep the sheet music right in front of you.

Help screens, interactive tutorials, key searchable manual, and online assistance make navigating Harmony Assistance's large bag of tricks much easier, although it can still be a frustrating program to learn and master. There is a very nice rollover/help screen feature that tells you what each icon means whenever your cursors passes over it. A keyword search assistant helps find what you need (even though you may need to scroll through a ton of things you don't need first). But the answers are all there. The Myriad website has active forums and many other features that help you along. The learning curve is still pretty good for a program that is so extensive yet inexpensive.

My absolute favorite aspect of this program was Virtual Singer. This was so much fun to play with! After inputting your melody, you can type in lyrics and have the pallette of Virtual Singers sing your song in a surprising array of styles and languages. The Virtual Singers had trouble keeping up when the tempo was too fast, mainly because they have realistic slides between notes and other features that make them sound more realistic when singing ballads. Virtual Singers can sing more than one note at once and more than one singer style can be chosen (one style per staff). There are also canned choirs. For the few MacJams members who shy away from singing their own tunes, this would really come in handy.

In summation, you get a ton of features for your money. Harmony Assistant is a great value for someone looking for an easy way to create sheet music, for assistance in arranging, and for an inexpensive way to have a synthetic french street singer give a go at singing your Spanish lyrics!

Harmony Assistant and Virtual Singer are both multi-lingual : English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.

Harmony Assistant is $78. Virtual Singer is $18. Melody Assistant is $18. OmeR (which plays sheet music from your scanner!) is $18. Myriad has a CD-ROM that provides higher quality sound samples for playback available for $35. It comes in Mac OS X, OS 9, and Windows formats.

DOWNLOAD: http://www.myriad-online.com/cgi-bin/download.pl?lang=EN&prod=HA

ONLINE OVERVIEW: http://www.myriad-online.com/en/docs/harmonydesc.htm

ONLINE TUTORIAL (may require a special Myriad plugin - it comes with the progam): http://www.myriad-online.com/cgi-bin/video.pl?l=GB

VIRTUAL SINGER SAMPLES: http://www.myriad-online.com/en/products/virtualsinger.htm#download

Harmony Assistant Main Features:
Harmony Assistant as Score editor
If you use often printed scores, it'll be easy to enter them on your computer. Harmony processes almost all the break symbols used in musical writing, and uses them while playing the music. A flexible editor allows you to place and move the notes on the staves with ease.

Automatic accompaniments generation and drums sequences
Automatic accompaniments can be generated. They'll be harmonized with your tune and will be played with it. You'll be able to create your own accompaniment sequences as simply as dropping notes on staves. You can edit drum or percussive sequences and use it in your tunes, by placing them at the desired locations on the score.

Chord grid calculation
Harmony can find automatically the chords matching the notes on your score, and shows the score chord grid. You can then edit and modify this grid to rearrange your tune.

Digital output
A complete digital instrument database is integrated to Harmony, which gives hi-quality musics, even if you don't own professional hardware. A basic sound card (SoundBlaster AWE64 for example) is enough on PC, no specific device is needed on Macintosh. Digital effect processors (Reverb, Chorus, Distortion, Wah...) can be applied anywhere on score.

Digital sound editor
You can record your own sounds from a CD or a microphone (or load a sound file like .AIFF or .WAV) , and use them as instruments in your tunes. You can also record complete digital audio tracks from a CD or a microphone (or import them from a WAV, AIFF or MP3 file), edit them and use them in your documents. These digital tracks can be mixed with regular or MIDI staves.

Your tune files can be played either on PC or Macintosh, since Harmony exists on both platforms. Harmony allows also to import and export musics in MIDI, Rich Midi, ABC,TAB,KAR format as well as in digital formats like AIFF, WAV or MP3. Harmony can read MOD and S3M files. For example, you can then convert easily a MIDI file to MP3. Scores can be exported in PICT, BMP, EPS and used with a word processor or an image editor.

Tablatures and chord diagrams
Guitarists and Bassists haven't been forgotten. Harmony calculates tablatures and displays the chord diagrams. You can even define your own stringed instrument and calculate tablatures for it ! Harmony Assistant can also compute tablatures for all fretted string instruments (Banjo, Balala?ka, Ukulele ...) but also for Harmonica, Appalachian Dulcimer, Diatonic Accordion and Baroque Lute. A complete library of guitar chord diagrams is given with Harmony. You can complete this library by defining easily your own chords.

Real-time MIDI input
According to the literature, you can perform real-time MIDI input. You can record at the same time a digital audio track. You can then record your voice with the microphone while you play on keyboard. However, there may be latency issues to overcome...

You can input lyrics to a tune, and let the music play in Karaoke mode. Lyrics scroll while you are singing. Harmony loads and processes the MIDI Karaoke file format (.KAR). Harmony manages Karaoke with several voices (useful for choirs). You can record a complete track from an audio CD, soften the singer's voice and replace it by your own. "Shape notes" notation from Gospel choirs (FaSoLa) are recognized.

Graphics and colors
Graphics in black and white or color (in BMP or PICT format) can be inserted at any point on the staves. All the symbols can be colorized, globally or individually, in order to enhance the attractiveness of your document. For example, you can set all "C" to blue, and "D" to green... Useful if you're learning musical notation. You can drop texts and comments where you want on the score, and define your own background patterns.

Sheet music printing
Printing is widely user-defineable.You can define what staves you want to be printed or not, whether you want the ruler, tune name, or the complete lyrics below the score. You can also print the complete sorted list of guitar chord diagrams to make a very useful customized handbook. You can even print punched cards for street organs !

And many other cool features...
like drum editing, floating tool palettes, multi-voices staves, floating tool palettes, Gregorian notation, help window, and more...

Harmony Assistant Formats:
Harmony Assistant for Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP
Harmony Assistant for Mac OS 8 and 9
Harmony Assistant for Mac OS X

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