Write a Score – 6 Programs To Help Composers & Musicians
Writing lyrics, crafting a melody, hooking an audience and making sure everything is as great as it can be: creating music is difficult enough as it is, no matter what genre or style you’re interested in. From the production to mixing and engineering, there is so much to think about. But have you ever really given any thought to how you write down the music you’re working on? I mean actually writing it and keeping track of the notes and chords. Recording your thoughts and snippets of sounds is wonderful, but being able to express music in written form is an extremely old art form that still has plenty of value.
How to write music (also called notation) is great to know for a multitude of reasons, one of which being many music schools require the skill. Imagine trying to get into an engineering college without being able to read a diagram of a machine, or wanting to become an architect without knowing what to make of a blueprint. Sure, there are digital offerings now which have made it easier to forget these techniques or circumvent them entirely. However, if you’re about to start almost any music program at a university, if you’re thinking of applying to a performance or composition program, or even if you’ve just been daydreaming about one day composing songs and full concerts, you need to start where everyone else has: learning to write music.
In addition to being implicitly worth understanding, notating can have some real-world practical uses as a musician. Copyists, Arrangers, Orchestrators, and Composers use notation in their work every day. And if you wind up working in classical, jazz, or any number of genres — whether you’re a full or part-time Jazz Musician, Section Member, or Principal Player — you’ll need to know how to read and write music. Once you do get at least the basics and you are on your way to becoming a full-time, working musician, you can actually sell copies of the sheet music displaying everything you compose, and while it might not be a massive revenue source these days, it never hurts to put it out there and see if anybody wants to buy!
Where does one start when it comes to writing tunes and creating your own sheet music? I’ve compiled a few well-reviewed websites and apps, all of which can get you going or take you to the next level.
If you’re just getting started in the world of composing music, or if you’re considering a career in music that would require you to notate music and reproduce it in sheet form, you should know it’s a tough game to get into, and there isn’t often a lot of money. This is the case with the music industry in general, but with genres typically associated with sheet music no longer topping the charts (they haven’t for a long time), a career in this field might be rough.
I’ll start my list of the best programs that can help you write sheet music with some free options, because it’s important to save even just a few dollars everywhere you can, especially if you’re a student.
In doing my research to write this article, one name kept coming up which seemed to be recommended by everyone: MuseScore.
A quick look at the site makes it difficult to believe the program is actually worth investing any time in, as it looks like nothing has been updated for a decade, and to be honest, this could be the case — with the exception of a few blogs with dates listed. (They are updating the page, it turns out). The website might be terribly outdated, but not a ton has changed when it comes to sheet music and notation for several hundred years, so don’t let appearances steer you wrong.
It may be simple-looking, but there is actually a lot going on at MuseScore, and if you’re determined to learn about sheet music and you want to do it for free, this is a surprisingly great option. The site offers everything you could need, from downloads of the latest edition of the program to videos that will walk you through what to do every step of the way, and even a handbook that will turn you into an expert at MuseScore. Of course, this will come later, after you’ve spent some real time playing around with it.
How to write music (also called notation) is great to know for a multitude of reasons, one of which being many music schools require the skill. Imagine trying to get into an engineering college without being able to read a diagram of a machine, or wanting to become an architect without knowing what to make of a blueprint.
Again, it might not look like much upon first glance, but LilyPond has some exciting things to offer…if you have the time to learn it. The program relies on a certain form of coding language to assist users in writing their music, and it’s somewhat daunting. Basically, if you want to master the ability to write a proper composition using LilyPond, you need to learn to speak (or type) their language, which will really only help you here. This seems like a lot of effort to go through for this one use, but many people seem to like it regardless. Some have said it’s difficult, while others seem to know it was constructed from the outset to be user-friendly and help those who have a limited knowledge of this entire world, so why not spend a few moments seeing if you think it’s worth it?
3. Finale NotePad
Another free notation website with less-than-fantastic design: can you believe it? This seems to be an issue plaguing the sheet music world’s digital landscape, so while I’d normally be a bit harsher when it comes to the look, it appears we’re just going to have to move past ugly fonts and basic setup and consider these programs for their actual value.
Finale NotePad has been noted (get it?) for its ease of use, which makes it perfect for somebody studying music as opposed to writing it for a living. You may one day find a job where you are fortunate enough to create great music and get paid for it, but for now, let’s focus on the learning part.
Finale might not be full of great features and it may have a limited amount of storage, but it could be the best option when truly just beginning. If you are simply learning notation because it’s required by your college, or if you want to understand the basics, try this. Don’t expect to stick with it too long if you find out this is your thing and you enjoy it much more than you thought you would, though, as there are other choices with more to offer in the long run.
4. Blank Sheet Music
Okay, so there isn’t anything technologically exciting about this option, but you’re going to need to learn it at some point. If you want to compose music, if you’re already composing music, or even if you just want to one day be a full-time musician, it’s vital you understand how to read sheet music, and being able to write it is also right up there in terms of importance.
Once you’ve started learning all about sheet music, notes, and everything else that comes with the more old school (and I’m talking really old school) ways of writing songs and symphonies, try penning some of your own with absolutely no help at all. Sure, digitized programs are great, and apps certainly do make our lives easier in almost every way, but even in today’s high-tech world, it’s wonderful to know you can still write music with nothing more than a pen and some paper.
Try printing out some actual sheets and just starting, as the greatest musicians in history have done before you. It’ll take some getting used to, but if you’ve been practicing on your phone, tablet or computer, you should be able to pick it up rather quickly. If you’re looking for some sheets, try this site, which should have what you need to print and begin.
You should be aware while the free programs I listed might not have seemed ideal for one reason or another, they were at least free…and not a lot when it comes to making music is given away at no cost. The apps and programs that come most highly recommended are not for beginners, as they often have hefty price tags attached, but if you have the money, or if you already know you’re going to be in the composing game long enough to make it worth your while, feel free to give these choices a try.
If you’re about to start almost any music program at a university, if you’re thinking of applying to a performance or composition program, or even if you’ve just been daydreaming about one day composing songs and full concerts, you need to start where everyone else has: learning to write music.
5. Sibelius First
Self-described as “the fastest, smartest, easiest way for everyone to start to write and share music,” many who have downloaded and used the software would agree. When it comes to paid applications, Sibelius First is the industry leader. It is supposed to be the best option when talking about design, layout, and the set of features available. It doesn’t have everything you could ever want, but this can be a good thing, as too many features to play with can ruin a great composition.
Sibelius First is priced at $125, so it’s not ideal for those who have no idea what they are doing, though once you’ve made it past step one in learning how to read and write sheet music and you want to increase the amount of art you’re actually creating and setting in stone (or, paper), this is a fantastic option. It’s not too expensive once you know it’s worth it, and it will take you far.
6. Finale PrintMusic
If you liked Finale NotePad, the free option listed above, you’re sure to enjoy this paid tier. Finale PrintMusic comes with many more features you need to pay for, and while it will take you some time to learn how to utilize everything available in this program (as well as to understand all of the terminology, but this is why we go to school, isn’t it?), it’s worth it…and the $90 cost. Again, this is a fairly-priced program for those who are already committed to a composition class or who are attending a music school, and it also comes highly recommended according to a number of reviewers. There might not be an on-screen piano, which can be incredibly helpful when notating, but everything else about this seems wonderful, and at the end of the day, you’ll be able to print out your final composition, something highlighted in the very name itself.
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