So often, we need to write scores for our students, or as students we need to write music to convey an idea to our teachers or fellow students. For those of us who aren’t composers or orchestrators, it may not be feasible to spend hundreds of dollars on high end music notation software such as the full versions of Finale or Sibelius. For many years, free software for music notation was severely lacking in features and often simply unusable. Thankfully, there now are viable options for free music notation software for those of us who don’t need it often enough to justify the expense of one of the more high end options, or for those who wish to spend some time learning how to do music notation on a computer before making the investment. In this post, we’ll explore some of the best free software for music notation.
MuseScore is one of the most popular free software options for music notation. As soon as you reach their landing page, it’s obvious that the MuseScore creators truly take it seriously. First of all, the website is beautifully designed. With a welcome video front and center, the folks at MuseScore show off the new features in their latest version. More importantly, the landing page makes it clear that MuseScore is not just free notation software for music composition. It’s also a community for folks looking for sheet music online and even for video tutorials for everything from playing to music production. I could see how someone could easily get lost in their website, and I mean that in a good way!
As a piece of free software for music notation, MuseScore simply looks beautiful. The examples I’ve seen hold up to anything I’ve seen created in Finale or Sibelius, so much so that one easily forgets that MuseScore is free music notation software. Whether you’re into concert music composition or making lead sheets, MuseScore is a solid option for writing scores, and even competes with the most popular music composition software, but when you factor in that MuseScore is free, it’s hard to see why anyone wouldn’t at least give it a try.
Sibelius First is essentially the free version of the popular notation software Sibelius, by Avid. Sibelius First is available for anyone to download and use for free. However, it offers somewhat limited features. For example, you can only create scores with up to four staves with Sibelius First (the full version is practically unlimited). It also only allows up to 32nd notes, and the number of bar numbers is limited. There are a few other limitations as well, some of which may not matter for a piano teacher who needs software for musical notation in order to convey concepts to their students. However, for anyone who needs to write scores for a professional performance situation, they would be better served diving right into the full version of Sibelius.
That said, Sibelius First can be an excellent way to dip your toe into the water of the world of Sibelius, especially for someone looking to try out different options for writing music on their computer. I use Sibelius myself and as I mentioned in a previous article, I find it to be incredibly user friendly and capable of creating notated music that is beautiful to look at and easy to read.
The new player in town is Steinberg’s Dorico music notation software, and Dorico SE is the free version of it. It contains many of the features found in the paid version and is an excellent way to get familiar with the platform in order to ascertain whether it’s a good fit for your needs.
Dorico SE is somewhat limited in features, but for those intending to use it as their primary notation software, it’s important to go in with both eyes open. The main limitations affect how customizable the final product is. For a piano teacher who needs to create arrangements for their students, or for someone who needs something to help them communicate ideas with colleagues, it can be a great option. For example, I’ve often used Sibelius to demonstrate to the copyist how I’ve mapped synth programming in a production so that they’ll know how to adjust the score to reflect it. For such a purpose, Dorico SE is great. But I’d hesitate to recommend it for professional copyist use. And like Sibelius First, it’s a great way to learn if the format speaks to you so you can better decide whether to purchase the full version.
Full Versions of Standard Music Notation Software
And for those who are ready to jump head first into the world of music notation, here are links to the full versions of the big players in the world of music notation software:
These options for free music notation software are some of the best choices available at the moment. Especially for someone considering a possible upgrade to the full software version at a later date, it’s a great idea to start with the free or lite version of a widely used music notation software program to ascertain which option works best for you.
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