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June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9

Zen of Recording

Putting Your Inspirations into Motion with Notion Version 6

by Sven-Erik SseaholmJuly 2023

We’ve covered a few Presonus products within the last year and if the new Notion 6 is any indication, the scrappy Baton Rouge company (recently acquired by Fender Instruments) has as The Who once said, gone mobile.

Notion can be thought of as a sort of ‘suite’ of three apps, all operating in separately or in tandem with each other, helping musicians and composers attain clear, professional looking music manuscripts: Notion 6, Notion Mobile 3 and the Studio One digital audio workstation. Amongst the trio, Notion is the most fully featured, as it is a dedicated score editor, but all of your notation files can be shared and edited by any of the three products.

While composing and/or editing midi tracks in Studio One, one can select between different modes of display and editing: ‘Piano View’ is your old stand-by ‘Piano Roll’ styled midi editor, perfect for surgical edits and simplified overviews, but not really all that inspiring to look at. ‘Drum view’ is great for programming drumbeats and pattern based music, but that’s still the preferred visual domain of the producer, rather than the music arrangers; people that read and write music fluently and would prefer to create and communicate within that realm.

Presonus has handled this ever-growing product with ergonomic aplomb. Notion provides even more functionality and finer control over your music scores, with onboard instrument sound sets that cover just about any need you’ll have, from cellos to bassoons, pianos to drums and all those brass and woodwinds in between. Hearing your score ‘performed’ by the kind of instruments you’re writing for is quick and intuitive and really helps cut down on the amount of time usually spent rummaging through your hard drives for sounds. However, you can also import you own audio files or virtual instruments if you’d prefer.

Additionally, their mobile app is now cross-platform, so your scores can be interchangeably opened and edited by Notion (Mac/PC)($149.95, $49.95 upgrade), Notion Mobile (iOS, iPadOS, macOS, Android, Windows, Chrome OS and Fire OS devices!) (Free) and Studio One (also cross-platform), all at the same time, if you’d like.

Utilizing Cloud Integration, Notation 6 allows users to synchronize scores across multiple devices via Dropbox, Google Cloud, Microsoft OneDrive, etc. Now you can riff in the studio, edit on the train and listen back at home!

Collaboration takes a front seat with the ability to share files through cloud-based storage, making every project a (team)work of art.

Of course, entering notes, chords, lyrics, and other musical symbols are going to be easiest to find, and utilize in the more deeply featured desktop Notion 6 program, but the tables sort of level with the new Handwriting Recognition feature. ‘Write’ music by using a stylus or your finger on your pad or phone and this app will actually convert your handwritten input into digital notation. I have been waiting for this feature all my digital life! In practice, it worked perfectly every time. Now it’s possible to converse in another musician’s language in the heat of the musical moment without slowing down!

Currently, I am immersed in a recording project with saxophonist Ed Croft. We are in the midst of making an instrumental jazz record (of a sort) and considering the amount of charting that goes on during this kind of project, the opportunity to employ these tools and clearly communicate musically was warmly welcomed.

An extensive pre-production process has led to us our current setup: A Bass/Drums/Keys rhythm section, with Ed as “lead vocalist” on tenor sax.

If that were it, we’d probably be set chart-wise. Having already roughly demoed and charted every song’s tempo, feel and structure (leaving space for the guest soloists).

There are also several opportunities for brass soli passages; weaving a small combo’s filigrees through and around the arrangements. This is where the triumvirate of products discussed here really proved its worth; the thread of clarity that runs through Notion’s creative process, from inspiration to perspiration to (ahem) adulation.

Overall, I eventually found Notion 6 easier to use than it first seemed. Just about any notation software can seem daunting at the outset, but once I started going my pace really picked up, as the logic to the layout of the symbols pallet came into clearer focus.

Still, there were some frustrations. As many files start as midi files that are exported to Notion 6, one time-honored workaround that I still needed to employ here was the “pre-quantizing” of those midi files to hyper-stiff settings, just to be sure that my notation came out right. It looked great, but the original feel would have been ruined. I found it best to have a “good audio” version saved separately from the visually superior ones. Even then, I still had to go in and re-enter notes that somehow didn’t copy over with the others correctly when editing, but these were mercifully minor incidents.

Speaking of great sounds, Notion 6 comes bundled with sound sets that cover just about any genre or configuration you might need. The sounds aren’t intended for tracking, but the textures are there, providing us with that vital info. Registered users will also receive the Notion Score Library; over 200 Notion 6 files to play, dissect or accompany.

As a subscriber to Presonus Sphere ($14.95 per month or $164.95 yearly , not only are the latest versions Notion 6 and Studio One 6 included, but a veritable avalanche of sounds, loops, plug-ins and instruments are waiting to be explored and added to your  audio arsenal.

Notion 6’s ability to facilitate musical communication within this lexicon is handled in an intuitive and versatile way. I absolutely love using my phone and iPad to work up ideas with my finger! Moving between the apps and the DAW was quick and easy and capturing ideas in the moment can be incredibly inspiring, for all involved.

You know you’ve got the right tool when it inspires you. I look forward to reinventing my working method by integrating the Notion 6 suite into my creative workflow. Who knows where that will lead?


Sven-Erik Seaholm is a singer, songwriter and record producer in San Diego, CA

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