Helpful Notion 5 “Hacks”

PRE-notion_5_boxAs I’ve gotten to know Notion 5 better and better, I’m more and more in love with it. The interface is super clean and (mostly) highly intuitive. As with any system I’ve used, some things are clearer than others during the course of writing a composition, depending on the scope and nature of the work, and on the occasions I get stuck, if I can’t find the answer in a manual somewhere, there’s always the Internet and its forums to rummage through for answers. So I’ve never had a cause to worry in the years of my experience working with Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore, and, now, Notion. Out of all of these, though, purely based on my own preferences and work style, I by-and-far prefer the look and feel (and – oh.em.gee – the sound!) of Notion 5.

Having just completed my first large-ish orchestral composition in a long while, certainly my first of such scores on Notion, and having just finished polishing up each of the twenty individual parts for the work, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the handy work-arounds and tips I’d discovered during the course of it. My biggest excitement is the clean and elegant creation of parts for my doubling musicians (Flute II/Piccolo and Oboe II/English Horn); you can jump to the bottom of the article to view my advice on working with those specific and potentially tricky parts.

Many of the basic ideas below are pretty general and should have equivalent solutions to be found in the various major notation systems that are out there.

  1. You’re writing a work for orchestra: Great! Set up TWO documents.
    1. One will be the Formal Score document, the other will be the Parts document.
    2. To clarify for the uninitiated, a typical formal score has two like instruments of winds and brass sharing a staff (e.g., 2 flutes on one staff), whereas each part itself will have its own individual sheet music part to look at (e.g., Flute I looks at one piece of music while Flute II/Piccolo looks at a separate sheet). See why it’s helpful to have two documents?
  2. When I’m first composing a piece from scratch, I like to work from the all-parts-separated document, so that I can see clearly which instrument I have doing what at any given moment. Even for those musicians who will be doubling on another instrument, I keep their doubled instruments on a separate staff and I just double check myself as I go along to make sure I don’t have them accidentally playing two instruments at once!
  3. The full work is complete. Now what?
    1. Here I will note that, yes, it is perhaps an extra step of manual labor to write your original work first from a Parts-driven document, rather than from a Formal-Score-driven document, because you will have to do some retyping to place the, for example, Flute II part as a second layer with the already existing Flute I part. And if you feel comfortable composing straight to a shared-staff blank slate, then go for it. I myself tend to write complicated, layered works with a variety of atypical couplings and colors/textures, so I like to see what all my options are at any given moment… Plus, Notion offers a very nice, open, continuous view option where I can scroll throughout a heavily layered score and still keep my bearings.
    2. If you started by writing to shared staves in the Formal Score doc, then you only need to copy/paste each part into a second staff (for, say, Flute 2) and delete the now-extra layer found in each part. So, in Flute 1, you’ll delete Layer 2; in Flute 2, delete Layer 1. Unfortunately, in Notion, I haven’t found a way to do this, save for manually typing and deleting. So you’ll have to go on to the following option, unless you happen to find an automatic work-around in Notion…
    3. If you, like me for most cases, prefer to start with the separated Parts doc, you’ll need to copy/paste, say, Flute 1 into the “2 Flutes” staff of the Formal Score, and then manually type in the second Layer of Flute 2. This is one less step and way easier/faster than having to type/delete twice, for two staves, rather than the one. (I honestly don’t mind such instances of tedium as it gives me a chance to re-evaluate what I’ve written.)
  4. Cleaning up the Formal Score doc. Really quite straightforward in Notion. Go to Score>Full Score options. From there, you’ll be able to tweak thScreen Shot 2014-12-29 at 10.08.30 PMe page layout, tweak fonts for all the various texts found in your score, and more.Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 10.08.52 PM
    1. If you need to add elements such as: copyright notice, dedication, subtitle, etc., go to Score>Add Title, Header, Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.38.39 AMFooter… This menu item works for both the full score view and the parts view (which we’ll get to next).

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 10.08.36 PM

  1. Cleaning up the Individual Parts. Here’s where it can get tedious, but it’s well worth it–your musicians will thank you and your music will sound better the first time, just for the effort of making each part clear from the get-go!
    1. Go to your Parts-derived doc and visit Score>Dynamic Parts. You’ll see a list of all the available parts to view. FYI, these parts are indeed dynamic; change something in part view and it will change in the score, too. Which is either really handy, or potentially dangerous, depending on what you might be changing; another good reason for having your formal score in a separate doc. 🙂
    2. Once you’re viewing the individual part, you can adjust as necessary. Use Score>Parts Options and Score>Add Title, Header, Footer… as before to adjust fonts, sizing, layout, etc. If you add a Part Name to the upper left hand corner, you’ll need to re-enter a different part name each time you view a different part, as the currently typed name will carry over to everything else. I simply get each part to look right according to its own needs and save it as a PDF before moving on to the next one. No harm done.
    3. NOTE: Working with the multi-measure rest function (under the More tab in Full Score/Parts Options) is a bit confusing at first, unfortunately. What I’ve found helpful is to highlight my span of blank measures, then input the number of measures I want the multi-measure rest to be. Once I’ve done that, all the parts usually fall in line and automatically create multi-measure rests, regardless of the exact number. There is the occasional snag to work through:
      1. If there is an automatic line break in the middle of the multi-measure rest, the system may neglect to combine those measures. Try lowering the number of measures under the More tab, or play around with the line breaks to see if it will trigger and adjust. I have found that one or both of these options works for me, and it usually gives me no further trouble.Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 11.14.03 PM
      2. Also, be aware that multi-measure rests will not be viewable in Continuous view, but will be viewable in Pages Across or Down views.
    4. Line break options (as with Page breaks, etc.) Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.48.30 AMcan be found by highlighting the measure you want to start the new line with, right-clicking, and hovering over the “Measure [X]” option at the bottom. Here, you’ll also find handy measure options, like turning that measure into a pick-up measure or a partial measure. I’ve found that both creating Line Breaks and adjusting the notation size (under Score>Full Score [or Part] Options>Layout) to be the two most effective, and easy, tools for formatting both my parts and score clearly.
    5. A note on the Dynamic Parts view and tempo-change indications like rit. and rall., etc.: Tempo-change indicators are automatic, and do translate from the general score view to each part view. But, if the tempo-change indication is situated over a rest in the individual part and you have multi-measure rests working, the tempo-change indication will be shoved off to a margin somewhere and will not be visible over the proper measure.
      1. An easy fix:
        1. In your Dynamic Parts view, go to View>Continuous. Multi-measure rests will not be viewable in this view, and all blank measures will be visible and therefore tweak-able.
        2. Look for the “offending” tempo-change, and create a Text double of it. In other words, type out Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 11.26.07 PMthe indication using the Text function. This will lock it to that measure.
        3. Click to highlight the original indication and right-click. Hover your cursor down to Attachments>Hide. 
        4. Now when you switch to Pages Across or Down views, the blank measure with the tempo-change over it will not be included in the multi-measure rest and will be visible to the musician.
  2. A general tip: DO use rehearsal letters and tempo indications liberally, especially in a longer work. Not only will your musicians and conductor thank you, but the score and parts will be MUCH easier to manage, in regard to the elegant layout of sections.


  1. The Doublers. In Madrigal, I have two doublers: the Flute II/Piccolo and the Oboe II/English Horn. In other systems I’ve used previously (Finale, Sibelius, and MuseScore), I was able to combine two different parts of my choosing into one separated part; granted, it still wasn’t a flawless process and needed a lot of tweaking regardless. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate that option at all with Notion. Perhaps I’m missing it, but I’m thinking somehow this option was left out of the Notion 5 update, as it seems to have been around in previous versions, according to some forum searches. Nonetheless, I would say that the work-around I hit upon was, in many ways, easier and more reliable for me than trying to finagle with the two-parts-into-one conversion of other systems. And the results were far cleaner and more traditional – more akin to what a Classical musician is used to seeing on his or her music stand. So I’m not at all too put-out by this seeming oversight in Notion 5. 🙂 Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.25.08 AM
    1. The Hack:
      1. Go to your Parts doc. and Save As something else (e.g., “Parts_ob2.enghrn”).
      2. Go to Score>Score Setup… Delete (click on the red X’s) all the instruments except for the two that will be played by your one Doubler.Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 8.28.21 PM
      3. Choose which of the two instruments will be your main line
        Full Score view, copying second instrument into main line.
        Full Score view, copying second instrument into main line.

        – I pick whichever is the first instrument my Doubler will be playing. Now copy the occurrences of the second instrument into the rests of that main line part. You don’t have to delete the original line, and there’s safety in being able to check your copy/paste against it. Use the Text tool to create an indication in the main line to switch instruments.

      4. Be sure to change key signatures appropriately, if your Doubler is switching between two instruments of differing keys!! (As in the case of Oboe II/English Horn.)
      5. Now when you view your main line instrument in the Dynamic Parts view, you will see the instrument-switch Text indications with all the parts combined into one, one switch right after the other. It’s really quite elegant and simple.
      6. Adjust the look of the part as necessary, as before with the other singular parts, and save as a PDF.

Hope these tips are helpful to you as you explore the world of composition and the constantly evolving technology that aids us in our Craft!


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  1. I agree: Notion 5 is excellent, especially for the money. Would I prefer to hear real flute sounds instead of an accordion? Sure! But, the price….. Very helpful tips here. Here’s another related tip that may not be obvious to users: when viewing Dynamic Parts, if you want to insert a page break between two blocks of rests, you can’t select any of the items within the block and thus can’t insert the break. However, if you temporarily turn the multi-measure rests setting off (“-“), you can then insert the break where you want, then turn the multi-measure setting to what you ultimately want. The page break will now work the way you intend.

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