One of the most well-known score writing programs, Finale has a long history – the first version of the program was released in 1988. It is widely used by professional publishers and composers and is industry standard in its software segment – even
blockbuster hits, such as Spider-Man 2, are scored with Finale. One can interact with a program in a number of ways: using computer keyboard and mouse or, which is more convenient, MIDI keyboard. Finale supports import and export of MIDI files and allows exporting of .wav, .mp3, and .aif audio files. Finale comes in a variety of differently priced versions with basic and advanced functionality.
Another major score writing program used both by professional and amateur composers. Sibelius has intuitive interface – you can do almost anything without going deep in the menu, and menu itself is well-structured. As
functionality of the program allows arranging scores of any complexity, it is a big plus. Sibelius supports playing back the files as well as recording. Sounds are not limited to the factory selection – you are free to use any sample libraries you have on your computer. Of course, it also supports MIDI in full. Another handy feature of Sibelius allows publishing scores online, so that others can access them easily. Less expensive versions of Sibelius are available as well.
Free and, according to many, best alternative to aforementioned programs, MuseScore has a wide array of features, such as printing, import/export of scores, and support of MIDI keyboard. It even supports percussion notation, which is
rather uncommon and unique, especially for a free scorewriter. Interface is organized in comprehensive way and helps with editing tasks. One can work with up to four voices on as many staves as possible – their number is not limited. Files can be exported in .wav, .ogg, and .flac formats or played back using integrated synthesizer. MuseScore is translated in 35 languages and can be installed on computers running Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.
Another powerful and still easy-to-use notation software, from GVOX. Encore allows musicians of all levels to transcribe, edit and create nicely laid-out printouts of scores as large as 64 staves with up to 8 voices per staff. Supports a full set of MIDI features including extended performance capabilities like playing back dynamics, repeats, pedal marks and endings. Encore is known for its customizable toolbar that makes composing, transcribing, editing, transposing, designing and printing out the scores easy even for school pupils. Covering a tangible scale of options, this software is suitable both for creating simple lead sheets as well as composing whole symphonies. Equally available for Mac and Windows; moreover, the files are transferable.
Adobe is known as a leader in the region of publishing and graphic design software. With their budget Adobe can acquire smaller companies and/or their products – which happened with Cool Edit Pro, now developed into multifunctional digital audio workstation called Audition. Audition has a tool based interface and allows editing multiple tracks. Audition supports VST plug-ins (instruments and effects) and ReWire technology. It is available for both Windows and Mac OS X.
Cubase is a digital audio workstation by Steinberg, a company which introduced software protocols of ASIO and VST, now used ubiquitously for audio purposes. Latest version of a program features advanced sequencer, drum machine, and opportunity to time-stretch audio in real time as well as adjust its tempo. Cubase has a so-called ‘control room’ which makes mixing easier. It fully supports Windows 7 – both 32-bit and 64-bit systems. Version for Mac OS X is also available.
Multitrack audio recorder with rich functionality, Audacity is one of the best free programs out there. Audacity allows recording, mixing, and editing audio files within 16 separate channels. It works with WAV, MP3, AIFF, and OGG formats. Advanced features allow removing noise and adjusting the audio’s tempo or pitch. Cassettes and old records can be converted into digital form, and Audacity even saves your time splitting source material into tracks. A lot of effects can be applied to audio, and It is available in over than twenty languages for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X platforms.
Sonar is a digital audio workstation (DAW) developed by Cakewalk/Roland and coming last in the company’s long product range. It is designed for recording, mixing, editing and outputting audio. The program supports files in .avi, .mpeg, .mov, .wmv and various audio export options including 64-bit MASTERS. At the basis of this soft lies Active Controller Technology (ACT) that increases user’s ability to control effects & virtual instruments, and manipulate unlimited multitrack audio. However, Mac fans will probably be upset as Sonar works only with Windows.
Native Instruments Kore
Native Instruments is one of the leading developers of musical software. Their Kore 2 is the ultimate tool for music production with library consisting of more than 500 sounds. Parameters of each sound can be edited, and also it is possible to combine them and apply effects thus creating something absolutely unique.
Kore Player is a free version of a program but also very powerful – it has a library of 150 sounds which can be used for music of any genre, be it ambient, classical, or techno. Among instruments are pianos, organs, drums – in fact, everything arranger may need. With this variety Kore Player should be a starting point to the world of virtual instruments, and it is small wonder that a package of certain models of MIDI keyboards includes CD with a program.
Finding a decent virtual piano has always been not easy, but with release of first version of Pianoteq situation got better. A lightweight alternative to sample libraries, Pianoteq is physically modeled and based on real time sound generation. It features not only realistic piano, but also harpsichords, vibraphones, and other instruments – you can even create your own. It is expressive, dynamic and can be individually adjusted. Many well-known composers, pianists, arrangers, and songwriters use Pianoteq – whether you’re a music professional or need an authentic virtual piano this program is right for you. It is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
SONiVOX Symphonic Ensemble Strings
For a sound of a symphonic ensemble you either need an ensemble itself or its imitation; however, many virtual instruments sound flat and synthetic rather than symphonic. Sonivox’s one stands out, and to satisfy yourself you can listen to a demo on their website. String section consists of basses, cellos, violas, and first & second violins, carefully recorded.in their correct orchestral positions. Symphonic Ensemble Strings is available both as a plug-in and stand-alone application and works under Windows and Mac OS.
Garritan makes its digital music products with the use of remarkably democratic technologies: Personal Orchestra, Concert and Marching Band, World Instruments, Jazz & Big Band, Steinway Piano. Garritan creators position their software as authentic and affordable in pricing and place emphasis on educational purposes.
Garritan’s “Authorized Steinway Virtual Concert Grand” deserves special attention of those interested in getting a virtual piano. The product was developed in cooperation and under supervision of Steinway & Sons, maker of finest pianos in the world. Legendary Steinway Model D was picked as software basis & recording, and two versions were developed – basic and professional. The latter offers five various listening perspectives (player, stage, under-the-lid, etc.). Powered by ARIA Instrument Engine, Authorized Steinway runs on all major platforms.
Poppa Madison 05 Mar, 05:43
Frankly, I am amazed that "Notation Composer" is not mentioned on this site. Is it that you are not aware of it, or do you have some kind of bias towards those programmes you have chosen to list? If you are wanting to be seen as informative.....you need to not only be aware of all software is available for Composers, you need to expose it.
I could not afford to buy Finale or Sibelius and was delighted when I found Notation Composer. Sure I had looked at both of those programmes running, and as a self taught musician, admittedly lacking the musical knowledge and skills of those well taught in such things, found both of them kind of daunting and not very intuitive.....at least to my way of thinking.
Notation Composer on the other hand costs very little in comparison to either of the others mentioned here. It has an interface that makes for easy interaction and understanding as to the functions available.
I heartily recommend it for anyone who has the ability to create music and knows basic music theory.
Marco Lorenzi 30 Oct, 09:58
Very useful information for those who are beginning to apply music software. There is a big choice of music programmes for different purposes. And there is no universal programme, which would be appropriate for all occasions. As for me, I prefer Finale to other notation software. I use Finale 2010 for 3 years, and in general, I am satisfied with it. I would advice the beginners, whatever music programme you chose, you should explore carefully all options which the programme offers. That would make your life easier and save a lot of time in future.
Gary A. Edwards 23 Jul, 12:38
I use Finale 2011 for publishing my music and to compose on. Then, I export to a MIDI file and import into ProTools to get the sampled sounds I want for my movie soundtracks. I use FinalCut Pro 7 to edit and synchronize the music to the video soundtracks. I use a program called Transcribe for my music transcribing business. It only works on the MAC. I loved Audition for music editing but haven't upgraded to the MAC version since switching to MAC in 2009.I used to work as a freelance writer so I got free music software then wrote articles comparing one with the other. That was fun. When I recorded my latest CD I added live music to many of my tracks. You can listen to the results at my website at www.EdwardsMusicSite.com You can see my Finale scores at http://garyedwards.musicaneo.com
Neil Munro 23 Jul, 12:37
Cody - regarding instrument sound quality in MuseScore - I installed it on my Mac just over a year ago, out of curiosity. It came with only piano sound on it - whatever instrument was indicated just came out sounding like a piano! In order to get a more full range of sounds from it, it was necessary to download and instal a MIDI sound set - the manual suggested three, so I duly downloaded the one which had the smallest file sizes, in order not to take up too much disc space....so maybe if you installed a different sound set you could get better results? It may be worth a try.
Cody Sorrell 23 Jul, 12:13
i use musescore myself but would love to try finale i just need to sell some pieces to get it first its a little pricy. I have been very pleased with musescore, the main problems i run into with it is instrument sound quality. Also, some of the percussion instrument , temple block in specific, dont have the optioin to right all four notes they only give you 2 when it should be 4.