How to choose music notation software

I first started using music notation software in the late 80s. In those days, MIDI was in its infancy and the idea of being able to write music scores in the same way that you could use a wordprocessor to format text documents was quite a revelation, even though on my Amstrad PCW computer it was somewhat clunky.

Since then I have used a variety of packages (all PC based) to create scores and to manage playback.

So how do you decide which package to use. I’m not going to recommend particular packages (you can see what I’ve used below), rather here are some criteria you ought to consider.

  1. Is the notation just a convenience or a prime requirement. For example, I use the notation window in Cakewalk because I find it easier to use than the piano roll or events view when creating music for playback.
    Assuming that the notation is important, is it just for personal use, or to be shared with a small or medium group (for example a choir), or to be included in publications for a large number of people (for example, a service sheet or book).
  2. Is the notation primarily to be printed directly, or is it to be copied and pasted into some other document?
  3. Do you need to maintain a score and parts, or a single score (for example, a string quartet would have the 4-part view and individal parts whereas a choir score is usually kept as 4 parts)?
  4. Is the purpose to produce a credible performance (for example as a backing track) or is playback just to check your notation entry?
  5. How important is is that the notation looks professional? Is the notation going to be passed to a copyist?
  6. How much time do you have to learn it?
  7. What level of computing skill do you have? How big is your budget?
  8. How do you plan on entering the notes? Mouse, computer keyboard, MIDI (keyboard or something clever!) or scanning an existing score.

For the record, I use Sibelius and have used Noteworthy Composer and Finale Notepad in the past (as well as the notation window in Cakewalk) and played with cubasis notation.

I have also played with Lilypond which is free but needs programming skills (and there is no graphical user interface to it). There is another product I’ve used that attempts to sing scores – and given its price, rather well. (Virtual singer)

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