I’ve been playing around with Visio and music notation, very slowly, for some time now.
Here’s my first offering: a Smart Staff shape that you easily configure with clef and key. You can use it to print out music note paper or illustrate bits of music theory in other documents.
My interest in music theory has been growing lately. There are several reasons for this.
- I’ve been playing my trombone in the ESME amateur orchestra in Munich, as well as the Pullacher Blasmusik (although sadly not so much lately…)
- Since orchestral trombone parts are often dull, I like to mess around with trumpet parts, which are written in treble clef, and transposed to B-flat (whatever that means). Trombones typically read non-transposed, Bass clef, which makes our lives easy and allows more time for beer. But occasionally, we like a challenge too.
- When my (very cute) 19-month-old daughter wakes up in the morning, her hair is messy and curly. It reminds me of Beethoven or some other mad composer. This sets me in the mood to invent songs in the U-Bahn on the way to work.
Since I work with Microsoft Visio so much, it seemed a good idea to combine the two interests. I don’t think Visio will ever be a practical music-notation editing system, but it could be used for light mark up, instructional illustration, and printing blank sheets of music note ledger paper.
If you’re misfortunate enough to have heard of the Circle of Fifths, you’ll know that there is an eerie system to the way sharps and flats materialize on the musical staff for Western music. Mother Nature at her most mysterious. All the major and minor keys contain from 0 to 7 sharps or flats. A limited world with a set number of parameters. Perfect fodder for a Visio SmartShape!
So I built what I call a Smart Staff. A single Visio shape that contains a clef sign, and the appropriate number of sharps or flats. You only need to set two parameters to get the signature you need! You can see how it works LIVE! in this video, or read the rest of the article.
Here’s a sample of what can be done with the Smart Staff. All of these instances come from the same shape. No need to meddle and fiddle with individual clef shapes, sharp shapes and flat shapes:
Of course the Smart Staff behaves well when you resize it:
To configure a Smart Staff, just right-click and choose, clef, key, and whether or not you want to display information about it:
Note: the cascading Key menu shown above will only show up in Visio 2010 or later. Earlier versions probably show as a single, long menu, although I haven’t checked it.
You can also configure it using Shape Data. This is particularly useful for setting up multiple staves at once. Just select a whole bunch of them, then go to the Shape Data window and make your changes there. All selected Smart Staff shapes will update simultaneously:
If you choose the Show Key Label item, then your chosen key will display as text to the left of the shape. You can easily move the text by pulling on the little yellow control handle in the middle of the text block. This is great if you are illustrating key signatures for yourself or for students.
An obvious use for the Smart Staff shape is to create your own music note paper. The download contains two Visio files. One configured for US Letter-sized paper, the other for metric A4. Here’s a sample:
You can easily change the clef and key for all of the staves on the page at once. Just follow these steps:
- Make sure the Shape Data window is visible. If it isn’t, do this:
- Right-click on a Smart Staff shape
- Choose Data > Shape Data
- The Shape Data window should appear, usually on the left
- Select all staff shapes:
- Press Ctrl + A
- Shift + Click on any shapes that aren’t Smart Staff shapes to deselect them
- In the Shape Data window, change the values for Clef and Key.
- All staff shapes should change at the same time!
Let’s have one last look at Ludwig Guy:
Ideas for improvements:
- Add tenor and alto clef signs
- Option to hide clef, since that is sometimes only needed on the first line.
- Option to hide the key signature (as opposed to switching to C-major) for non-first lines.
- Built-in common time-signature
- Option to hide time-signature (again, after the first line)
- Connections for joining mid-line changes.