FAQ: How I Write On-Screen For Lessons

As you might know, hand writing music is an integral part of the teaching approach with ScoreClub courses, and the most common question I get asked from students is how I produce the digital pen and paper writing you see in the on-screen writing demonstrations.

The courses always have on-screen writing demonstrations for a number of reasons, here are two of them:

1. I firmly believe that hand writing music is still the best way for a student to learn, practice, develop skill and a clear grasp of the concepts

2. As a student I always wanted to watch my teachers working and know what they were thinking, and so with ScoreClub, I made a point of doing just that: real-time on-screen demonstrations where I explain the mechanical and thought process as I write. Through years of private teaching I found this was invaluable.

And actually, it was with my private teaching that I started doing this digital approach in order to easily screen-share as I wrote.

Here’s the Writing Setup

A Wacom Intuos tablet and Photoshop Elements


That’s it.

I then create various manuscript pages in Finale that I import as PDFs into Photoshop. Since the manuscript PDF is transparent I add a layer underneath to give it a parchment colour rather than pure white. Then all writing is done on layers above the manuscript and background colour so that I can easily erase the musical notation without erasing the staves.

The layers look like this in Photoshop.




The pen is pressure sensitive which enables strokes to be thicker or thinner, allowing for notation that looks like this, with a pretty natural pen feel. You do have to get use to it, but it’s fun.



Do I Compose With it?

This setup is only for recording lessons, I do not compose with it. I tried to because the ability to use CTRL-Z is great! But here’s why I do not use it for composing:

  • When zooming out it’s harder to write accurately with the Intuos tablet. (To make it work, the tablet would need to be as big as possible or use a writing surface like a Cintiq.)
  • I like being able to see multiple pages at once when I write. I have developed my thinking process this way over the course of many years. And I like paper. (I write on a drafting table and a big board on my piano, see the picture below. A Cintiq, although better, would still be a single page at a time.)



Joel McNeely uses a Cintiq I believe, and so this is clearly a workable option.

I have not tried Surface Pro or other writing surfaces, but I do feel the surface would need to be tabloid sized (11×17) for me to consider it.

And there you have it! Let me know if you use something like this in your writing.


September 14, 2017

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About Alain Mayrand

Alain is a working composer, orchestrator, conductor and orchestrator. His credits include "Elysium", "Ender's Game" and more.

Read more about Alain on the About Page

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