Music Construction Set

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Music Construction Set
Developer(s) Will Harvey (Apple II version), Richard Plom (Atari ST version)
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Designer(s) Will Harvey, Richard Plom (Atari ST version)
Engine Custom
Platform(s) Amiga, Apple II, Apple IIGS, Atari 400/800, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS (PC booter)
Release date(s) 1984[1]

Music Construction Set (MCS) is a music composition notation program. It was originally developed in 1984 for the Apple II, and quickly ported to other systems of the era. It was designed and developed by Will Harvey and published by Electronic Arts. Harvey designed and programmed the original Apple II version of the game in assembly language when he was 15 and in high school.

Though it is entertainment software, strictly speaking it is not a game, though it is often lumped together with them. It is also considered edutainment since users could learn a bit about music notation by using it.

Music Construction Set was a prototype for much of today's scorewriting software.


With MCS, the user can create musical composition using a graphical user interface, a novel concept for the era of its release. Users could drag and drop notes right onto the staff, play back their creations through the computer's speakers and print them out. The program came with a few popular songs as samples. Most versions of this program required the users to use a joystick to create their songs, note by note, which could be a lengthy and time-consuming process for a long song.


Though novel, the music creation process was cumbersome due to the fairly primitive input mechanisms of early home computers. Also, the Apple II and PC had very limited native sound production capabilities. However the Atari 400 and 800 computers have 4-voice onboard sound generation via their custom-chip set which is fully supported by the Atari 8-bit version of the program.

The program took advantage of advanced equipment for those who had it. For example, the IBM PC (DOS) version allowed the user to output audio via the IBM PC Model 5150's cassette port, so they could send 4-voice music to their stereo system. The same program also took advantage of the 3-voice sound chip built into the IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000. The Apple II version supported the expansion card Mockingboard for higher fidelity sound output. In addition, use of the Mockingboard allowed the musical staff to scroll along with the music as notes were played. Without it, the Apple II needed nearly every spare CPU cycle to produce audio, and as such couldn't update the display while playback was in progress.


As a powerful and novel concept for entertainment software, MCS was lucrative for Harvey and Electronic Arts. As such, Electronic Arts quickly had it ported from the original Apple II version to other popular platforms of the era, including the PC and the Commodore 64. In 1986 it was ported to the Apple IIGS where it made use of its advanced built-in Ensoniq 'wavetable' sample-based synthesizer.

The version of Music Construction Set for the Atari ST was not a port and shared no source code with the original versions. The Atari ST version was developed by Richard J. Plom for Intersect Software Corporation under the name The Orchestrator, it was acquired from Intersect Software by Electronic Arts and rebranded Music Construction Set in 1987.[2] The Atari ST version was the first version to support the new MIDI standard.

The program was completely redesigned for the Amiga and Macintosh, but under the name Deluxe Music Construction Set. It was given the more glorified name because of the advanced music and sound producing capabilities of the computers. This version had more features and better graphics than the other versions of the program. This version also allowed users to type in lyrics for their compositions, though these were strictly for the user (the program didn't attempt to "sing" the lyrics, a feat which both computers were capable of with the speech synthesis software that they came with). It can also read and write IFF SMUS files.[3]

Another port was written for the Apple IIGS by Randel B. Reiss;[4] it was never released, but its music engine was used for producing the soundtrack for the Apple IIGS game titles Zany Golf and The Immortal, which to date is the only existing audio sample of the software for the Apple IIGS.

The title screens of all the versions included the prefix "Will Harvey's" (i.e. Will Harvey's Music Construction Set), but Harvey had little to do with any version but the original and the follow-up Apple IIGS release.


II Computing listed Music Construction Set third on the magazine's list of top Apple II education software as of late 1985, based on sales and market-share data.[5] Ahoy! stated that despite some limitations, Music Construction Set for the Commodore 64 "will aid both experienced songwriters and dedicated novices alike. It's a powerful music processor and a joy to use".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Music Construction Set at MobyGames
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Randel Reiss, Producer at the Wayback Machine (archived February 6, 2005)
  5. ^ Ciraolo, Michael (Oct–Nov 1985). "Top Software / A List of Favorites". II Computing. p. 51. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Davies, Lloyd (May 1984). "Music Construction Set". Ahoy!. p. 49. Retrieved 27 June 2014.