UI: Use drop-and-configure as a better note entry method

edited August 2014 in Symphony Pro
The Big Picture of Toolbars for Entering Notes and Symbols

It seems to me the biggest part of the whole SP user interface is concerned with two things -- (1) entering notes or rests, and (2) entering symbols. I think this way because when I look at the SP toolbars (6 of them in total), 5 of them are left toolbars for entering notes and symbols.

My most recent postings (on a pop-up edit bar for the selected note) made me realize that the current SP user interface for entering notes has been missing a big opportunity to make the note entry experience far more efficient and less error prone.

Here's how I think about the note entry process now.

1. The major part of the SP interactive user interface (toolbars and menus) is for entering notes, and entering symbols (crescendo, bowing, D.S, etc).

2. There is a great divide between the complexity of entering symbols (4 toolbars) and entering notes (1 toolbar).

I propose that there should be a second big divide between the two ways of entering notes -- "configure and place" (the current method), and a new method called "drop and configure."

(1) "Configure and place" -- choose your options first (note type, length, sharpness, tie, etc), and then delicately try to place the configured note into the right spot by tapping on the score. This is the method that SP supports.

(2) "Drop and configure" -- In this new method, drop any note somewhere close to the desired location, and then configure and locate it using buttons on the pop-up note entry bar. This method is not supported by SP at all.

A New Drop and Configure Method for Entering Notes

Currently the note entry toolbar is for the NEXT (FUTURE) note to be added to the score. You choose a note type (note or rest), a length, sharpness, tie, etc, and then delicately generate the configured note by tapping (and rolling for fine placement) on the score.

Currently SP does not support editing the CURRENT selected note (the most recently entered note that SP leaves selected right after it is entered).

The current way of entering notes (configure and place) is not optimal, because it is so error prone. It's easy to forget to change sticky toolbar options between successive notes, easy to misplace the note when you tap, easy to have the note move when you lift your finger off of it, easy to mistakenly generate another note when you try to pick up the misplaced (but still selected) note, and it's tedious to use the undo button to correct all those errors.

A better approach would be to support a new "drop and configure" process for the CURRENT (not future) note. A drop-and-configure method has several big advantages:

(1) The pop up note edit bar is visually closer to the scene of action (the note insertion point), which means the user context / focus is preserved. No need to scan eyes back and forth to the toolbars.

(2) The edit bar is physically closer, so finger tap reaches are shorter, and faster. No need to go all the way to the toolbars to set up the next note. Just drop the current note, and configure it where it sits.

(3) There is no need to worry about sticky toolbar options between successive notes. Just change them as part of the normal drop-and-configure entry process.

(4) Drop and configure makes it easy for users to configure the current note both completely and quickly using a fast "scan" down the edit bar buttons. This point seems really, really significant, because it gives users a reliable, clearly defined, efficient process for entering the right notes in the right place without making errors (a major goal of SP and users, for sure).

For example, suppose I drop a note near my chord location, but the note is the wrong type (it's actually a rest), it's the wrong length, the wrong pitch (rests have no pitch), and the wrong location (I misplaced it when lining it up on the chord that I'm building).

Using the pop up edit bar, and scanning in from the left, I could tap "note" to change the type from rest to note, tap one of the 16/ 8/ 4/ 2/ 0/ buttons to change the length, tap dot "." to make it a dotted note, tap up/down to set the pitch, and tap left (join) to force it to join the chord. (Or maybe I tap "tie" to make it a tied note with the previous note.)

See how fast and smooth that drop and configure process is? No scanning to the toolbars. No forgetting to reset unwanted sticky toolbar options between successive notes. No precise positioning finger rolls required to set the pitch. No misplacing or moving the note when you lift your finger. No difficulties trying to pick up the selected note and move it back into the right place. No accidentally generating another note in the pick-up process. No need to scan up and hit the undo button to start over a second time (Yay! Yes, I've had to do that a few times... :-)

If this new method was implemented, the core note entry process would be improved because Drop and Configure is a fast, efficient, and well-defined procedure for getting a completely configured note in the right place, with far fewer cycles of errors and corrective actions.


The main suggestion of this posting is to recognize "drop and configure" as a good alternate way of entering notes. The pop-up note edit bar (explained in another posting) would be the main implementation method, but that posting did not explain "drop and configure" as a legit entry method. Hopefully this posting has made a good case for it.


  • This comment records another idea (not my own) for note entry that I have found to be quite useful and convenient. It comes from MusicStudio, which uses a 3-step note entry model that I might call "configure-place-OK" to place notes on it's piano roll (MS doesn't do sheet music notation).

    The MS 3-step model "configure-place-ok" (or "configure-place-lock") compares to the 2-step models being discussed here for SP, "configure-place" and "drop-configure".

    The convenient idea in the MS 3-step model is that your finger does NOT have to be right on top of the note that you're trying to place by dragging. Instead, your finger can be an inch or two away from the note that's being dragged. Having your finger off the note gives you wonderful visibility of both the note and the placement site, because your finger is not in the way. Here's how it works.

    In the 3-step model, the FUTURE note is always shown on the screen in a big bubble, ready to be dragged around and locked into place. You configure the note in the bubble by selecting a note length, then drag it around, and then tap OK to lock it in place.

    The interesting point is that your finger doesn't have to be directly in (or on) the note bubble to drag it around. Instead, you can tap and drag anywhere on piano roll to create a placing arc with your finger, and MS applies the arc of your dragging motion to the note, AS IF your tap and drag started right on the note. When the note is where you want it, tapping OK locks that note in place, and generates the next FUTURE note in the bubble. The bubble disappears when you leave note entry mode.

    I'm writing this posting to record the idea of NOT requiring SP users to have their finger right on top of the note that is being placed, because of the wonderful visibility it gives you of the note placement site. No more trying to look around the end of your finger (hopeless), or looking at the cross hairs (the next best way) to place a note in SP.


    Currently SP helps users to place notes by creating a set of cross hairs under the users finger. This is because a normal-sized finger tip usually covers both the note and the placement site too, making it impossible for users to place the note properly.

    To solve this problem, SP creates a set of cross hairs to help users drag notes. The cross hairs extend outward beyond the user's finger tip. It's a good solution to the problem, because users can infer the pitch of the note by matching the horizontal cross hair with staff lines. Also, the cross hairs turn red when the note is vertically joined to a chord of previous notes.

    However, cross hairs are not optimal because it is more natural and intuitive for users to actually see the note itself on the staff lines while they are placing the note. Then the cross hairs would not be needed.

    Sticking just to SP models, a better approach (than the current SP "configure-place" model) is the "drop-configure" model suggested by the first posting on this thread. The "drop-configure" model is a 2-step model, where "configure" includes positioning the note using first a tap, then arrow buttons for fine adjustments.  


    I added this comment to the original thread just to highlight the differences between the 2-step and 3-step models.

    I'm still convinced that "drop-configure" is the best approach, even better than the MS 3-step "configure-place-lock" model described above.

    In addition to its other advantages, "drop-configure" also gives users that wonderful, "finger-free" visibility of both the note and the placement site (because it uses arrow buttons for fine note placement).

  • edited August 2014
    Just playing with ideas this morning, I imagined a "bulk note entry process" based on the drop-configure model.

    I realized that the "drop-configure" (DC) doesn't really force users to treat each note completely before moving to the next note. In other words, a cycle of DC, DC, DC is not required by the model. Instead, something like DDDDD, drag C, drag C, drag C is also possible.

    For example, if I know I'm going to be working with a pile of quarter notes, a few sharp quarters, and a few half notes, I might configure a FUTURE quarter note (with the left toolbar), drop a pile of them, configure a sharp quarter note and drop a few of them, and configure a couple of half notes, and drop them.

    Then I could drag a note from my pile to the target location, do fine adjustments with the arrow buttons on the pop-up note edit bar, drag another note into place, and so on. Then I could select and delete the notes from my pile that weren't used.

    The point here is that "drop-configure" gives users more ways of entering notes than just DC, DC, DC (which is a very efficient process already). Using the left toolbar, users could also do a bulk C configure process ONCE for each PILE of notes, instead of one full C operation (using the pop-up bar) for EACH note.

    For example, imagine a melody that needed 20 interleaved quarter and half notes. The normal DC process would require that you flip the note length 20 times. In contrast, the bulk process (using the left toolbar to configure the FUTURE note) would require only 2 flips of the note length. Calling the toolbar configure action TC, the normal and bulk processes would look like this:

    Individual: DC, DC, DC .. do that 20 times
    (This requires 20 note-length configure operations with the pop-up bar.)

    Bulk:  TC-drop 10 quarter notes,  TC-drop 10 half notes, drag and place 20 notes.
    (This requires 2 note-length configure operations with the left toolbar.)

    The bulk process requires a LOT fewer note-length configuration operations, compared with 20 for the individual DC process. The numbers would be even more convincing if sharps, flats, and naturals were involved.

    So it seems to me that the bulk process would increase user productivity, more or less in proportion to how often it was used. And the nice part is that the bulk process requires no development resources at all -- it comes along for free with the pop-up note edit bar that implements the "drop-configure" model. :-)

  • This idea -- "DROP-and-configure" -- has been included and superseded by a more recent posting "UI:
    How to fix the core note entry problem." That post shows how more
    actions can be applied to the current note using a new
    "DRAG-and-configure" note entry model.

    Drag-and-configure is more efficient and more complete than drop-and-configure, even though "drop-and-configure + the bulk dropping idea" was where drag-and-configure was conceived. I wondered, "Why do I have to drop a fixed number of notes before configuring? Why can't I have an infinite pile of dropped notes, and just drag off the ones that I need?" And so the drag-and-configure model was born.
  • Hi Kevin, 

    We will need additional time to evaluate your recent feedback in order to provide a response that can reciprocate its thoughtfulness. We are doing our best to follow-up as soon as possible.

    Please expect at least 1-2 weeks before a more complete response. We look forward to correspond over email after the follow-up on our own behalf regarding your suggestions as well as the availability of the next stable beta.

    It's a tremendous privilege for us to have you as a supporter.

    Thank you,
    SP Team
  • Hi Guys,

    Please, there is no problem about taking time to respond quickly -- I certainly don't expect that. My guess is that even after concluding that my posted suggestions were well-reasoned good ones, you'll have to dig down another layer or two into details, so that you can get a sense of probable implementation costs and schedules and priorities against all the (many) other things and features that you're responsible for.

    While I do think the note-entry issues are front and center for your product and users, I'm just as certain that for a development team there are many, many other issues and constraints and work tasks that are not visible to us external users. For example, someone has to manage the beta programs, do the testing, interface with other software (email, ITunes, etc), answer forum postings (smiling), etc.

    I just wanted to get my ideas visibly recorded for public view so that you could read them, consider them, and put them into your thinking mix (and hopefully development path). Best regards.

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