7 Best Music Writing Software Programs for DIY Musicians
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7 Best Music Writing Software Programs for DIY Musicians

Author: Caleb J. Murphy

Last updated: Feb 12, 2020

Reads: 24,456


Caleb J. Murphy is a Songwriter/Producer based in Austin, TX. He is the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog to help part-time musicians succeed. He is also a contributor to CD Baby's DIY Musician blog, Sonicbids, and Bandzoogle. His work has been shared by ASCAP, Hypebot, and Music Think Tank.
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Music notation software wins the award for most improved player of the past 20 years. Or at least it should be a contender.

It used to only write music. But now the best programs offer virtual orchestras with a bunch of different preferences, tweaking options, effects, and instruments. Now, with all the features and plug-ins, you can compose music so much faster and turn those compositions into sheet music.

The best music writing software includes:

  • Notion 6
  • MuseScore 2
  • Sibelius First
  • Finale PrintMusic
  • MagicScore Maestro 8
  • QuickScore Elite Level II
  • Noteflight

Before we dive into the best programs for DIY musicians, let’s cover the “what” and “why” of music writing software.

What Is Music Writing Software?

Music writing software, also called a scorewriter, is a program that lets you easily create sheet music. It’s basically like Google Docs for the music you make — and then some.

It turns the frequencies and soundwaves you’ve created with an instrument or your voice into marks on a page that can then be read and played by other musicians.

Instead of writing with a pen on a piece of blank sheet music, you can quickly create, edit, move around, and print your music notations.

Why Do You Need Music Writing Software?

If you can record the music that’s in your head, why would you need to put it into sheet music form? What’s the point of this software?

The most obvious benefit of these programs is to save time. You can type and click a lot faster than writing music by hand. Better yet, you can use a MIDI controller (like a keyboard) to play the parts, then have the software convert it to sheet music.

And if you play music you’ve written (rather than write down music you first played), music writing software can allow you to hear what you’ve written right away. You don’t have to wait for a musician to play the part, or for many musicians to play the multiple parts.

Using music writing software also makes it super easy to share your sheet music. This is especially convenient if you plan to have other musicians play the parts (great for orchestral music). And if you or another party displays your music in a book, magazine, online, or elsewhere, you’re owed royalties.

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The Best Music Writing Software on the Market

For this article, I’m going to cover the best music writing programs under $200, a reasonable price for most indie musicians. Let’s look at the top 7 on the market.

1. Notion 6 (Windows / Mac / iOS)

With Notion 6, you can input MIDI notes from your keyboard or from a virtual piano or guitar.

It’s super easy to set up, from installing the program to making it compatible with your MIDI device. The design is clearly meant to encourage composing right off the bat — it’s easy to navigate and you could probably get up and running without an instruction manual.

The best thing about Notion 6 is its superb library of instrument samples. The creators definitely took their time recording and sampling, including performances by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Wooten brothers, and many others.

One downside, however, is the price. It weighs in at about $150, which is more than the other programs on this list. But it’s probably the best one we’ll talk about.

Pros:

  • Super realistic instrument samples
  • Very easy to set up and start using
  • Available on iOS

Cons:

  • More expensive than other comparable programs
  • Uses a lot of hard drive space

2. MuseScore 2 (Windows / Mac)

MuseScore 2 is an open-source piece of software and, therefore, available as a free download for Mac or Windows. But don’t assume “free” means “low quality.” This bad boy has all the features you’ll need to easily write music.

It’s easy to use and the visuals are simple and clean. You get a clear list of all the options for input tools as well as info on the notes you’ve already entered. And what’s really neat is that MuseScore allows you to import MIDI files and MusicXML files from other music writing software.

Although the samples are not as real sounding as some of the other top programs, it’s still a great tool for composing and writing music.

Pros:

  • Free download
  • Plenty of input/output options
  • Clean and easy design

Cons:

  • Limited support
  • Doesn’t have a volume mixer
  • Doesn’t allow virtual guitar input

3. Sibelius First (Windows / Mac)

If you’re new to music notation software, Sibelius First might be the best one to start with, mainly because it’s one of the easiest to use.

It comes with 40 templates that can help get you started if you’re feeling stuck creatively.

And if you’re into collaborating with others, you can share your compositions through the Sibelius Cloud. This automatically sends a link to the collaborator for them to open it on any browser. Or, if you’re working with someone who is also a Sibelius user, you can edit simultaneously and “push” the composition to the other person for review.

Even though the full version is close to $500, you can get a free version with four instruments or a version with 16 instruments for about $125.

Pros:

  • Easy to enter notes
  • Easy to share compositions
  • Limited versions are free or reasonably priced

Cons:

  • Unable to save score as a graphic image
  • Uses quite a bit of hard drive space
  • The full version is very expensive

4. Finale PrintMusic (Windows)

Finale PrintMusic is another program that’s super easy to navigate, even with the plethora of note entry tools and editing options. Like most programs, you can enter notes with a MIDI keyboard, your mouse, or your keyboard. Sadly, there’s no virtual piano, but you can get by without it.

It comes with hundreds of built-in instruments, so playback has a very real feel (they even call it the “Human Playback”), including access to strings, horns, and percussion instruments.

It’s also super easy to share your composition — PDF, graphic files, or MP3.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Affordable price (about $100)

Cons:

  • No virtual keyboard available
  • Only available for Windows

5. MagicScore Maestro 8 (Windows)

MagicScore Maestro 8 has everything you need to start composing and writing music, even though its interface could do for a facelift and even though it’s available only for Windows.

But when it comes to its virtual piano, it’s one of the best you’ll find. You can add notes and choose their duration with just one click, and it’s super easy to go between entering notes and adding symbols.

You can add notes with a MIDI keyboard or you can start with one of their many templates. Then you can edit the duration and velocity to make each instrument sound more realistic.

For about $70, it’s a pretty great deal.

Pros:

  • Easy to use the note entry options
  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • Interface design is clunky and can be confusing
  • Only available for Windows

6. QuickScore Elite Level II (Windows / Mac)

QuickScore Elite Level II not only notates your music, but it can record audio samples as well. You can then edit the audio, similar to the way you would in your typical audio-editing software.

It has an Erase icon, which makes it really easy to get rid of unwanted notes. And when you select a single note or a bunch of notes, the Edit menu automatically appears, giving you access to 50+ editing options.

You can also export your compositions as MusicXML or MIDI files, making it easy to share with any collaborators or musicians.

However, all of these features come at a somewhat big price tag of $180 for new users.

Pros:

  • Easily record and edit audio files
  • Tons of editing options

Cons:

  • It’s expensive
  • The dashboard is not as easy to navigate as it could be

7. Noteflight (online only)

If you’re someone who loves the internet, you may like Noteflight. It’s a completely online music writing software with both a free plan and a couple monthly subscription options.

Because it’s online, it’s super easy to share projects with other people, like a co-songwriter or fellow university student. It’s compatible with Google Classroom and many other learning management systems. In fact, the Noteflight community itself is active and helpful to its members.

It’s great for those just starting out as Composers, which is the case for a lot of indie Singer-Songwriters.

Pros:

  • Free
  • Completely online
  • Easy to share scores with others

Cons:

  • The free version is limited to 10 scores
  • The free version has fewer instruments than the paid accounts

Using Software to Improve Your Compositions

As I mentioned earlier, composing with a piece of software is how it’s done nowadays. The age of pen and paper to write out musical compositions is long gone.

And if you want to become a professional Composer, someone who makes music for TV and film, or a Singer-Songwriter with beautiful string arrangements, you’ll need one of these programs in your tool belt.

This is how the pros do it. So if you want to be taken seriously and optimize your time, a music writing program is what you need.

Make further inroads into the world of composing with our articles on how to get into film music scoring, how to compose music, and more scoring programs for Composers and musicians.

Rate this article. What did you think?

FAQ

Community Question

What is the best free music writing software?

MuseScore is completely free and easy to get started with. The design is clear, uncluttered, and the software itself is more than capable. As a bonus, you can import MIDI and MusicXML files from other music writing programs.

ScoreCloud is another great free option, and the free but limited versions of Sibelius and Noteflight are also worth a look.

Community Question

Is Sibelius better than Finale?

Like many software programs, what’s “better” will mostly depend on your strengths and your needs as an artist. For example, Finale is often the top choice for Classical Music Composers while Sibelius is often preferred by Screen Composers and Film Scorers.

That said, Finale has a reputation for having an insane amount of features, and thus being more “powerful,” whereas Sibelius is known for its speed and ease of use. Overall, Sibelius does seem to be the more popular among users, and there’s a reason for that.

Community Question

What software do Composers use?

This depends on the specific Composer, but most use a score writing program like Sibelius or Finale (or the others mentioned in this article) and a DAW such as Ableton or ProTools. As you’re starting out in your composing career, mix and match and see what works best for you.

Community Question

First, this was a fantastic article, that really was well written and insightful. I haven't played piano, or saxophone, in a very, very long time. I know music basics, and I am a prolific writer (poetry, etc.) who would like to start putting some of the words to music. I plan on guitar and piano lessons again, but until I am able, is there a piece of software that is best suited to someone singing and taking those notes and turning them into a score? Thank you again for a great write up. 5 stars.

Thanks for the lovely feedback! You’ll be happy to learn that several notation software programs, including Sibelius, are suitable for vocalists. ScoreCloud is also a good, FREE option.

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