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Music Notation Software

Notation Programs

Nessie Russell wrote (August 25, 2007):
Russell Telfer wrote,
< I am most interested in music notation programs and will write off list. It would be great if we could pool the BCML's resources on this, but unfortunately it's too far Off Topic to be justifiable, besides which, in my experience notation programs don't handle singing anything like as well as instrumental music, which is in direct conflict with our rules of engagement. >
I am also interested in music notation programs. I make piano arrangements of songs for singers. I use three programs. Each has pros and cons. I would be most interested in what others have experienced. If you don't think it appropriate for this list perhaps we could move it to the instrumental list? There is not much traffic there.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 25, 2007):
[To Nessie Russell]
That's good news! I'm not familiar with the instrumental list, but yes, let's talk within or outside it. Could you provide some details? I will enquire whether Jean L is interested in exchanging information as well.

If any other BCML members are interested, please let me know.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 25, 2007):
[To Russell Telfer] I would be happy to have a discussion of the notation programs and process, and in so far as I am able to contribute some discussion of notation programs using various sound fonts. I think the musicology list might be a good location, and certainly communicating individually with various questions is a good idea. I am always happy to learn more about such topics.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 25, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] I'm interested too, particularly if a program could be found that does figured bass correctly. It must be able to input/format the figures quickly and accurately; and importantly it must also be able to transpose all the figures automatically if the bass part gets transposed. The figures must of course also move along with the bass note, or along with designated spaces between the bass notes, if the part gets reformatted with more or fewer bars per line.

Most of the music I arrange or compose uses figured bass, and I end up doing so much of it by hand (pencil/pen) out of necessity; takes at least twice or three times as long to try to get a computer to understand and format it that there's no point.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 25, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I'm interested too, particularly if a program could be found that does figured bass correctly. It must be able to input/format the figures quickly and accurately; and importantly it must also be able to transpose all the figures automatically if the bass part gets transposed. >
The only problem is that by the time you entered the figures you could probably sketch out a realization. Unless there was a FIGURES menu that you could use. FINALE has a chord system so figured bass can't be that hard. Even if it just figured harmony on the note, it would be helpful. I'm trying to write a contunuo part for a Palestrina motet and I would love to just enter the figures and have a rough-and-tumble realization pop out.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 25, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] That would be a dream come true. Especially for someone like me...this takes a lot of time.

Nessie Russell wrote (August 26, 2007):
Does anyone on the list have Sibelius? I have heard that it is the best notation program on the market. I don't know this for myself because I can't afford it. It might have a menu for notating figured bass.

It has been my experience that the notation programs are just as time consuming as writing by hand. They are of course much neater. I don't think publishers will except hand written manuscripts anymore.

Band in a Box does something much like a realization of a figured bass. You type in the chords you want, pick a style and it composes a realization. The jazz styles are very good. The Baroque styles not so good. I imagine it would not be any more difficult to make a program which would have a "rough and tumble realization pop out." The problem would be the market. There are tons of wanna be jazz musicians around. Not so many who care about a realization of Baroque style figured bass.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Nessie Russell] As a composer, arranger and music professional I use Sibelius and it is much quicker than doing it by hand. You can be up and running in 15 minutes (unlike other programs that you must sit down pat your foot, jump through a bunch of hoops, and spend a month to learn the ins and outs of the program before you can input the first notes) without getting a Phd to be a computer geek ---like the other programs are written for. The more you use the program and the short cuts the faster things go-- it is like touch typing. There is a manual and great personal support if you need it.

It is truly amazing what Sibelius help one do ---from film scoring to writing rock n roll, jazz and symphonies as well as Operas and it does not take all that long to do it.

Nessie Russell wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Ludwig] Thanks for the feedback on Sibelius. I have heard many such comments about it. One of these days I plan to use it myself. I have spent a lot of time jumping through those hoops, but I think I have PrintMusic, Powertracks and Cakewalk mastered - kind of.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Nessie Russell] Keep your Cakewalk--it does one of the things that Sib. does not do---record and figure out what you have played accurately. I use it to help me figure out tricky rhythmic pasages when using Sib. that otherwise would cause me agonizing hours of pulling out my hair trying to get the passage notated correctly. I then copy and paste in to Sib when allowed if not I printout and either manually input it or use photoscore to put it into score.

You can also instantly orchestrate with Sib. Simply by exploding say a piano score or other score and the notes will fly to other parts of the score.

Don't wait to get it because they are improving and adding to sib all the while which means that it is getting more expensive. If you already have a oopy--upgrades are much cheaper than the entirely new deal. There are two forms of it---the educational version which is not that different from the professional version---but it is cheaper and then there is the full professional version which runs around 500.00.

Currently there is a huge choice of ethic instruments, exotic instruments, normally used instruments and Vienna software comes with it et al. All these licenses separately would run much much more than the price of sibelius professional version. So you are getting quiet a deal.

If you are an educator and can prove it---there is a significant discount for educators.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Nessie Russell] I began with Personal Composer, and I moved up to Print Music and then to Finale. As Ludwig has mentioned, it takes some learning to work with programs like Finale, and I'm on my third year with it. Each year the program becomes a little more amazing. I don't notate in Cakewalk, but it is good for transferring recordings from a small recorder. Band in a Box is a plug-in with Finale, but although I tried it out in the end I didn't find the results I was looking for, though the idea is kind of interesting. I looked at a download for trying Sebelius a few minutes ago, but would have to put a MS .net update on my computer, along with the new program, and decided that would kind of overload what I have going here. Amazing how fast one can fill space on a computer. Once Finale became more or less automatic I found it pretty amazing to use, and since my composition is minimal, and I'm more into sequencing clear public domain material, it really does work great
for me.

The new Finale allows one to record a vocal to an accompaniment, and it works very well indeed.

I imagine the folks at Finale would work on a figured bass plugin if there was enough demand.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 26, 2007):
Thanks to everyone who has written so far about Notation Programs. I have found it really interesting. There ia lot of information to absorb, and probably a great deal for any of us to research.

One reason that started me off with Music Notation Programs (MNPs) was to help me play keyboard, organ and piano better, and that certainly is effective bearing in mind that all the programs allow control of tempo, volume of each part, etc. A second reason was that on occasion I have been really disappointed by a performance of a cantata movement and have wanted my own version to bring out the (as I perceive it) beauty of the music. I would quote BWV 17'1 and the famous soprano aria from BWV 208.

As to MNPs, I have used two low-end versions of Cubase, which I find a bit of a secret society, and Harmony, which is probably the best value for money you can get, albeit advanced (for me). The owners of Harmony are not in it for the money but for professional pride, and they might pick up on the figured bass problem that Brad mentioned.

More later.

Another thing. Wherever I go, in southern England, I look in libraries and bookshops. There is rarely much on offer on serious music, and usually nothing on making your own music using a computer. Am I missing something?

Time to do some more web research. Here's one site that might be of interest, although it doesn't mention several top of the range MNPs: Sibelius, the two I mentioned and two at least that Jean has used.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Russell Telfer] I use MusicTime Deluxe. I bought it after having tried Encore, which I found too expensive for my requirements.

With the Chapelle des Minimes, we use Encore files (.enc) to work on the cantatas before the rehearsals.

MusicTime has almost all functionalities of Encore (at least, those I use) and reads .enc and .mid files.

I use it also to work on the pieces I learn for my singing lessons. With that, I do not need to work with the acommpanyist until I feel at ease with the piece. If I cannot find a midi file, I encode the score directly by hand.

It is also quite useful to pratice a voice in a polyphony. For example, you can mute your own voice and try to sing your part against all others + the orchestra.

The only shortcoming I have found is that I cannot export directly the scores to PDF files, but for me it is not a big problem as I have Acrobat. I just have too choose the Acrobat distiller as a printer.

Alain Bruguières wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Russell Telfer] Thank you very much for this link:

Nessie Russell wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] Band in the Box is amazing as an accompaniment. The jazz styles are great. I bought the Classical styles and rarely use them. Most people use BIAB for accompanying themselves on an instrument. I have typed in the chords to most of the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) and use it to practise. It is not meant to be a notation program. It is good for printing out lead sheets. That's about it.

Nessie Russell wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Ludwig] Cakewalk was the main reason I bought a computer. I was totally computer illiterate. Cakewalk taught me how to use a computer. I have made hundreds of midi files with it and I love it.

One of my clients bought me Finale's PrintMusic. It's notation program is far superior to Cakewalk. The record feature stinks.

At the moment I only need voice and piano notation so I can't justify the expense of Sibelius.

I do believe it is as good as you say.

Russell Telfer wrote (August 26, 2007):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< Back to the website Russel mentioned: I note that one of the software reviewed there, namely MusicMasterWorks, is both reasonably cheap (< $35) and very well rated. Does anybody know about it? And does anybody know of a good freeware? >
I don't know anything about MusicMasterWorks I'm afraid. Someone may step forward. Just a few words about Myriad's Melody and Harmony. As an added bonus to you, Alain and other French speakers, they're based in Toulouse.

Melody Assistant (shareware US $20) does everything at entry level and above. It's got a good digital soundbase. You can certainly get a good idea of it from the free trial version.

The top of the range product is Harmony, which aims to challenge Sibelius. It's $70. Have a look at the website, especially the Products page. You can get a trial version, but can't do much with it in my experience. I use it, but I've exploited less than half the capabilities so far. There are some add-ons, most of which are another $20, for example OMeR, an OCR-type music reader.

Alain Bruguières wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Russell Telfer] Thank you very much again. Your advice is precious. I've had a look at the Harmony website, and the features of this software are very attractive. Apparently one can even program new features using an inbedded scripting language. After all $70 is not so large a sum...

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Russell Telfer] I have used Cubase for combining audio and midi tracks. I found a copy on eBay some years ago at an irresitable price. I have several textbooks on Cubase, and have studied them extensively, but I don't use it often as it has so many features and I find the racks a little tedious. However, I do use Kontakt, and I often wish for nine lives so that I had more time to go deeper. I have not used Cubase for notation.

Thanks for sharing your background with notation programs.

Thanks for the extra URL.

Joel Figen wrote (August 26, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman] While it doesn't do quite what you asked, Sibelius has a function that realizes figured bass, deducing the harmony from the other parts. You don't enter any figures. Occasionally it produces something useful. Its output can be edited.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (August 27, 2007):
[To Nessie Russell] If you are an Educator---Sib. will give you a big discount and they also have other nice software for teaching music. Sibelius is primarily designed for music professionals and it is rare that they will sell to anyone who is not. I had to prove that I was. Unless the tax structure has changed since I last checked; Sibelius can be a tax write off since it is a business expense.

You can get a feel for it by going to and download the trial version of Sib.5. It however is not fully functional so do not expect as much from it as the full version.

I do not even want to talk about Finale. If it had been left up to them; I would have never written a note of music in my life because it takes or use to take a computer geek to do anything with the program with all the hoops it makes one jump through.

Cakewalk--that I can live with. I do not know what it is like now but I have a simple version of it for piano only. I seldom use it until I get into a difficult spot and can not figure out complicated rhythm problems. I then simply power it up play the part that is giving me problems,print it out and transfer it to Sibelius ---which can do rests that most humans can not perform---these rests are useful for people who write music for computer games ---like 512th,1024th rests and notes.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 27, 2007):
[To Ludwig] If you are retired I have found you don't get a financial break with the notation companies, even though a lot of businesses these days are happy to sell you a product with a 10% discount or more if you fall into that category.

Finale, as Bill says, is difficult. I had to do a lot of reading in the help guides, but once I got past that part, and about seven support contacts in over three years (not too bad, really), I can do pretty much what I want with the program. Finale gave a 20% discount if you already owned Print Music, which was the best deal I could get at the time. Julliard, I am told, favors Finale over all other programs. But if a percan find something easier that produces what they need and at a lesser cost, I imagine that would be a good thing.

Another program that has not been mentioned so far is a scanning program called Sharp Eye. It is available from Great Britain, and will scan good scores into notation. After that you have to make some adjustments, and of course you only really want to scan complete public domain material. Once you have converted the notation to a midi file you can import it into a notation program for final corrections.

The form you get is an imploded form with four staves if you have been working with two. You then might need to reduce that to two staves if you have a four part piano accompaniment or four part choral work.

You do need to have some geek capabilities to make that one work well in my experience.

Finale will also break a four part score into instrumental parts, and very quickly.

When I started with Personal Composer, Norman James, the CEO of PC gave me a whole lot of information via email and via phone at times. Without Norman's help I would not know what I do today, and he still gives his customers the same kind of individual attention. We are still friends even though he knows I use Finale now, and still visit online from time to time. The world is a small place, and as it turned out one of his good friends was a member of our church even though we live in different states.

There are actually quite a few people who use Personal Composer to score orchestral works, but I proceeded to the other programs because my computer had something no one could figure out that blocked connection to some of the free soft synths that were loaded into my library files, and I needed more instruments. I still have to do some work arounds with the various programs, and in the process have become something of a geek even though I never intended to go down that path. Later I found out that Garritan Studio will work with Personal Composer as an intermediary, but this is not usually the case to have such a need, as the soft synths normally connect. However, you can use NI fonts with PC if you use Garritan Studio for a connection.

This is getting long. I'm glad Ludwig was able to get Sebelius, because I know that my theory professor in California years ago thought it was the best. At that time though no one in our class could afford it.

Hendrik Oesterlin wrote (August 27, 2007):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< I would be happy to have a discussion of the notation programs and process, and in so far as I am able to contribute some discussion of notation programs using various sound fonts. I think the musicology list might be a good location, and certainly communicating individually with various questions is a good idea. I am always happy to learn more about such topics. >
Capella is not too tricky to use:

Russell Telfer wrote (August 27, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] You wrote ' This is getting long.' It's certainly true of the quality and quantity of information uncovered.

Speaking for myself (and probably others) I can't fire off a quick reaction to everything I've read on this post. So a non-response is definitely not through lack of interest.

I've made a note in one place of what everyone has said, for my benefit and possibly later for yours. I would like to prepare an abstract of all the programs available and all the ifs and buts. But I know it will be time consuming and I can't make any promises. The comparison website which Alain commented on actually makes a good start but excludes arguably three of the best programs!

It occurred to me that someone might have written have a good comprehensive article in a computer mag but I have never yet found anything really worthwhile.

About Sharp Eye 2 which I see retails at $169. I could see it was good. But there is another program, OMeR produced by the Myriad group whom I mentioned before. This is only $20 but I think you would probably need to buy Melody for $20 or Harmony at $70 to make better use of it. This is not a recommendation to buy, but it's useful to know it's there and make up your own mind.

A minority of fellow posters may not be familiar with music recognition programs. What follows is for them. Others please skip.

First of all you download the score recognition program and then scan a sheet of music, save to file. As Jean mentioned, it must be good score - handwriting is out.Thus you convert a *photograph* of the score into meaningful, editable, saveable notation using MIDI as your bedrock.You will probably work in the proprietary file format (eg Cubase's are .arr and .all) but all programs AFAIK convert down to the generic .mid and all programs convert up to their own format. Music recognition is one more way of controlling your own music environment.

I'm looking forward to exploring some of the new ideas you've supplied me with. Thanks.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 27, 2007):
[To Hendrik Oesterlin] Capella offers a free reader that I have on my main computer. This is a useful tool if someone has published a public domain score to the web and you want to download a copy for your files, and need the reader to open it. I believe the Capella format has a very nice look. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

Alain Bruguières wrote (August 27, 2007):
[To Russell Telfer] Assuredly if you could produce a comparative text about those software it would be most useful. I have installed the trial version of Harmony Assistant, and it looks and sounds great! Lots of things to learn but there are many tutorials and they seem very clear. Even better, the possibilities can be extended by purchasing additional modules and/or programming one's own scripts. Thanks again for pointing out to me the this excellent toulousain software.

Some time ago we mentioned the possibility of scanning the NBA scores, which belong to the public domain, and allowing free access to them on the web in pdf form. That was a great idea, I hope someone will do it sometime. We also considered scanning the original scores, which would be a gorgeous thing to do!

Now there's a third task ahead : scanning the NBA scores and putting them in a format such as .mus, midi or some other format for score description. A repository of all these data would be a huge resource!

It would be very useful if you could

Santu de Silva wrote (August 27, 2007):
Has anyone mentioned Finale Notepad?

This is a baby version of Finale and it's family of software, and is completely free. Certain minor annoyances are built-in--for instance, you can't change the instrumentation once you begin a piece; you have to start over. But the following can be done:

A large number of voices, up to 4 voices per staff (in layers).
MIDI playback of all or part of the piece.
A certain degree of automatic transposition.
Add lyrics to music easily.

Some things either cannot be done, or I don't know how to do it, e.g. manage how many bars per line of music. (Certain parts get very crowded, and Notepad's decisions to "re-fill" the piece are rather arbitrary.) I also don't know how to break a tie that I do not want. (The method of creating a tie is rather unintuitive for me.)

I, too, wish there were a basic free program that does everything that Notepad does, but as neatly as (the early versions of) Capella does!

Nessie Russell wrote (August 27, 2007):
Finale Notepad [was: Notation Programs]

Santu de Silva wrote:
< Has anyone mentioned Finale Notepad? >
I started with this. You can only do two pages. I upgraded to Notepad Plus for very little money. Then someone gave me PrintMusic. It has many more features.

< Some things either cannot be done, or I don't know how to do it, e.g. manage how many bars per line of music. (Certain parts get very crowded, and Notepad's decisions to "re-fill" the piece are rather arbitrary.) >
I don't find this a problem with PrintMusic.

< I also don't know how to break a tie that I do not want. >
Use the eraser.

< (The method of creating a tie is rather unintuitive for me.) >
Click on the note value you want and the tie sign. Enter the note. Unclick ttie sign. Enter the next note. They should be tied together. As I said before all this clicking and positioning is time consuming.


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Last update: ýSeptember 4, 2007 ý23:03:35