You know we’ve come a long way with our technology when there’s a piece of software out there to make every tedious task that much less tiresome.
Luckily for composers and songwriters, there’s a saturated market for music writing software programs to help with writing music.
This means that you no longer have to manually engrave staff lines on sheet music or, God forbid, write them by hand. Instead, you can write music on your input device then print beautiful sheet music.
Suffice to say, professional music notation software is here to stay until we develop an even better way to compose music or write sheet music.
Without further ado, let’s look at the best music notation software.
|Software||Operating System(s)||MIDI Compatible?||Mobile App?||Special Features|
|PreSonus Notion 6||Windows, Mac, iOS||Yes||Yes||Handwriting recognition|
|Finale PrintMusic||Windows||Yes||No||Human playback|
|MuseScore||Windows, Mac, Mobile||Yes||Yes||Custom shortcuts|
|Noteflight Premium||Internet browser||Yes||No, but works on browser||Audio recording and marketplace|
|Sibelius||Windows, Mac, Mobile||Yes||Yes, extra cost||Collaboration tools|
The 5 Best Music Notation Software in 2021
Now let’s explore the five best music notation software we’ve picked out for you and compare them with their pros and cons.
1. PreSonus Notion 6 – Best Overall
Whenever there’s a discussion about the leading music writing software, it seems like Notion 6 has its way of making it there. But why is it so popular in the industry?
Notion 6 is an adaptable music writing software that every musician can easily use and fit into their workflow.
With Notion 6, you can input notes with a MIDI keyboard through the virtual instruments on Notion 6 or with a mouse by dragging and dropping notes onto the musical staves.
Interestingly, you can write your notes by hand on Notion 6, thanks to a recent software update that includes AI, which reads what you wrote and converts it to digital notes.
Mobility is also a big part of Notion 6 – you can seamlessly switch from your computer to your iPad or iPhone and continue your work through their mobile app.
And with its vast library of samples and elegant user interface, Notion 6 helps you get inspired while providing an intuitive workflow.
Unsurprisingly, however, all these varied features can take up a whopping 10-20 GBs of space, which is enormous in this industry.
- Adaptable and mobile
- Vast library of samples
- Offers handwriting recognition AI
- Can take up a lot of storage space
If you’re ever stuck on what to pick, you can always resort to the Notion 6, the best overall music writing software. Just be ready to make some hefty space for it.
2. Finale PrintMusic – Best for Beginners
Finale is another giant of music notation software, thanks to its arsenal of notation tools and beginner-friendly interface. Finale PrintMusic, in particular, is designed for new users who find other software too advanced.
A vast interface with many features that doesn’t clutter your screen may sound paradoxical, yet Finale PrintMusic gets it down nicely. Their interface contains all the tools you’ll frequently need for entry and editing, all of which are logically arranged for a smooth workflow.
Input is easy on Finale PrintMusic as well – hook up your mouse, computer keyboard, or MIDI keyboard and get writing! But be aware that they have no virtual keyboard, so if you don’t have a MIDI keyboard, you’re out of luck there.
Once you’re done composing music, you can listen to it through their playback feature called human playback, where you can pick out of hundreds of built-in instrument samples, and the software will playback your piece.
All these features come at a relatively affordable price. However, Finale PrintMusic lacks adaptability, as its use is limited on Windows.
- Easy-to-use interface with many features
- Human playback feature with hundreds of built-in instruments
- Relatively affordable
- No virtual keyboard/piano
- Only on Windows; no support for other devices
If you’re a beginner on Windows who’s confused by the more advanced software, try out Finale PrintMusic. It’s affordable, intuitive, and can be used as a stepping stone to other programs.
3. MuseScore – Best Free Notation Software
It’s not usual to see a free program that can compete with paid software, but we have a prime example of that right here.
MuseScore isn’t a “freemium” app either – it’s completely free with no limitations, as the company proudly says on their website.
MuseScore is full of surprises, as it provides many of the features found in paid apps as well. For instance, the MuseScore interface is intuitive and packed with helpful input tools and an inspector on both sides of the screen, all while the main action is happening clutter-free in the center.
Speaking of input tools, you can use your MIDI or computer keyboard directly to add notes or drag-and-drop them using your mouse.
There’s also a virtual piano in MuseScore, and you can combine it with custom shortcuts to create your personalized input method.
Despite being a free app, MuseScore is supported on Mac and mobiles, so we’ll give it a mobility check.
The main drawback with MuseScore is the playback. The built-in instruments don’t sound very realistic, and there isn’t a volume mixer to fine-tune your music. But it’s a free app, after all, so we’ll allow it.
- Completely free
- Available on Mac and mobile
- Custom shortcuts
- Built-in instruments aren’t the best
- No volume mixer
If you’d like to try composing your music but don’t want to pay yet, then MuseScore is the perfect tool to give you first impressions.
4. Noteflight Premium – Best Online Tool
Out of the best music writing software, most of them are precisely that – software. But Noteflight is different as it’s an online tool that serves the same purpose as the rest while saving you the storage space.
We understand that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Many people prefer a piece of dedicated software on their computer that they can take anywhere and use without an internet connection. We get it, and it’s a reasonable demand. So if you’re in this category, you can move on to the following listing.
For those who are always connected to the internet and are ready to frequent their browser, let’s tell you more about Noteflight Premium – their affordable premium music notation app.
The interface is basic, with a toolbar that, by default, includes all of the note entry or editing features you’ll need. However, you can customize the toolbar to your liking, so you can remove it if you feel a feature is cluttering your display.
Noteflight also has an audio recording feature, enabling you to record your audio over your score, so that’s neat.
Finally, there’s the Noteflight marketplace, where you can buy or sell compositions with other users.
- Minimalist interface
- Audio recording feature
- Noteflight marketplace where you can buy or sell compositions
- Only available on browser
- Could slow down with complex compositions (depending on your RAM)
If you’re a fan of web apps, then Noteflight Premium is your go-to. Just know that you’ll need a lot of RAM, or it might bog down when you’re dealing with complex compositions.
5. Sibelius – Best for Professionals
Last but definitely not least, we’ll explore one of the most popular notation software – Sibelius.
Sibelius is designed and marketed specifically for professional composers, so perhaps you expect it to have an overwhelming interface with confusing features all over the place.
However, that’s not the case. Instead, Sibelius has an excellently intuitive interface that makes note entry easy through a MIDI keyboard, computer keyboard, virtual guitar, virtual piano, or mouse.
And as you’re inputting, Sibelius automatically corrects rests and appearances, so you don’t have to stop frequently for minor edits and tweaks.
As you might expect from professional music notation software, there are many collaboration tools here, which work through a Sibelius cloud server. You can share your score to the cloud, even if it’s unfinished, then grab its URL and send it to whoever you want to open.
And suppose you’re collaborating with another Sibelius user. In that case, you can both edit the score then push the changes without re-uploading it as it’ll automatically update itself on the cloud.
Furthermore, Sibelius has a mobile app, but you’ll have to pay extra for it. We’re not sure if it’s worth it as it’s just a scribble app that lets you add notes onto your staves by hand.
- Surprisingly intuitive interface
- Various input methods
- Automatic correction for rests and appearances
- Collaboration tools
- Prints great sheet music
- Mobile app costs extra and doesn’t provide that much
While Sibelius is more designed for professional composing, other musicians can still do good work if they take the time to learn it. So we’d recommend Sibelius, especially if you plan on collaborating with someone else.
How to Pick a Music Notation Software
If you’re new to music notation software, it might be difficult to tell which features will make a significant difference and which won’t. But in this section, we’ll let you know all about the features to consider before buying music notation software.
The best programs are primed for any genre. So whether you’re remixing a feature from the London symphony orchestra or adding your touch to Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, your music writing software should be able to accommodate different styles of sheet music.
It’s the same thing for instruments. For example, if you want to write a good guitar sample to play, your music writing program should enable you to do it without relying on other programs.
Ease of Input
Your music writing software should allow you to enter notes easily and quickly. And to achieve this, the program interface shouldn’t be confusing or cluttered.
Ideally, music writing programs should also set durations while you enter notes successively because that’s a massive time-saver.
Moreover, the program shouldn’t restrict input to only a few devices.
Many composers, especially beginners or amateurs, don’t have a MIDI controller, and the best way to input notes for them is often using the mouse. For that, the software should have responsive input tools with proper audio and aural feedback, or else it’ll slow you down.
On the other hand, other composers and most professional musicians find a MIDI device the fastest way to add notes. Those should have their needed note entry tools at their disposal as well, such as quick real-time editing, playback options, a volume mixer, etc.
Speaking of editing, it should be a seamless process that can be done at any point during operation. Sometimes you’ll want to edit notes on the fly without having to abort your session for a minor tweak, and your notation software should help you with this. For instance, think of apps like Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
Some of the editing options that should be in your notation software are copying, cutting, pasting, changing duration, and modifying notes.
One of the key features of music notation apps is their ability to create elegant sheet music consistently. For that, you need your software to format your notes and lyrics well, and ideally, it should do so with a sophisticated formatting algorithm.
Musical spacing should be automatically adjusted for each note, and tight notes should never overlap. Similarly, lyrics or other text should have good spacing that shows them off clearly without interfering with the musical notes.
Notation programs should also support a musical font instead of a graphic file. And, while we’re at it, vector graphic files are recommended for things like staff lines, barlines, and stems.
Ultimately, while it’s helpful having the formatting automated, you should have full editing power over everything.
For digital output, your software should be able to export your music scores in all the popular sound file formats, such as MP3 or WAV format, so you can compile them onto CDs or play them on your player.
Music writing programs should also support exporting scores as music files, such as MIDI and MusicXML files, which contain essential data for playback.
As for printed output, your software should support virtually any printer connected to your computer’s operating system. It should also be able to print in the highest resolution possible by your printer.
That’s it for our roundup of the best music notation software.
To recap, the all-around best software is the PreSonus Notion 6: it’s adaptable on Windows, Mac, and iOS phones, has a vast library of samples that you can use, and offers excellent handwriting recognition AI in case you’d like to scribble your notes on a smart tablet.
If you’re a beginner and looking to try writing music without investing in it yet, you can try MuseScore, which has many of the features found in paid apps.
Lastly, if you’re either a professional composer or looking to collaborate with others, you can try Sibelius, the most professional music notation software of our picks, and it has excellent collaboration tools.