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Music Notation Software Hits a High Note

Titles and services from Sibelius and Finale, to Maestro and Noteflight

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Music Notation Software Hits a High Note

As the Cadillac of the music composition software bunch, Sibelius has been heralded for years for its powerful capabilities for composers.

Courtesy of Sibelius

Whether you’re a professional composer or a future Rodgers, Sondheim or Guettel still studying the craft, there’s nothing like the right music notation software to help you compose, arrange, and instantly hear your work.

However, there are a lot of options out there when it comes to choosing the right music notation software, so to help you through the process, I've taken a look at some options which encompass a wide range of technical skills, budgets, and goals. Whether you want to find the right computer software in order to write a song for an upcoming musical, a sonata, or a symphony, one of these choices is sure to get you where you need to go.

Here, I’ve reviewed four major options for composers, accommodating a multitude of different budget and creative levels, and for each title include such quick-reference information as publisher, price (including student/educator pricing), platform and technical requirements, and websites.

Sleek, Powerful Sibelius 7

As the Cadillac of the music composition software bunch, Sibelius has been heralded for years for its powerful capabilities for composers who require sophisticated options for writing and arranging complex compositions, as well as for its equally powerful abilities when it comes to printing, playback, input, output, and more.

When faced with Sibelius on first glance, it’s easy to be slightly overwhelmed by the sheer number of options presented by the software no matter what the task. However, Sibelius’s user interface is surprisingly clean, clear and easy to understand. Thanks in part to some great videos, tours and tutorials that help users jump in speedily or adapt to learning Sibelius after using other music notation programs, the software is quick and easy to use, despite its size and scope, and its assets as a hugely powerful technical playground for composers would take me several thousand more words to describe.

Installation is relatively simple, but set aside at least a few hours to complete the process, as the program is a huge one, taking up several DVDs -- especially if you’re also including Sibelius Sounds. It’s a lengthy process, but worth it. I encountered administrative permission glitches when installing Sounds, but the support I got from Sibelius was excellent, and I was able to solve the problem and finish installation (I ended up simply having to manually change administrative permissions on the Sounds library folders).

And make no mistake, ‘Sounds’ is worth the hassle, as the incredible library of sounds and instruments creates a playback and export experience that I found unmatched on any other music notation software or service I tried. The realism and clarity you’re able to achieve in playback on your compositions is beautiful and frankly staggering.

Meanwhile, if you’ve already used past versions, Sibelius 7 includes some nifty enhancements to previous versions, including a new and exclusive professional-quality sound library, a completely redesigned task-oriented user interface that has been optimized for single-display systems, a redesigned mixer for more playback options, and Full MusicXML interchange with complete MusicXML import and export, so that sharing music composition files is easy and painless.

Music notation software can require a lot of processing power, and Sibelius 7 has also been optimized for 64-bit performance, the first music notation software to do so. The software also offers some pretty seamless and beautiful typography and graphics options, and the export options are expecially impressive for those who want everything they output to look as professional and polished as possible.

Sibelius 7 also syncs with (or imports notation from) Pro Tools®, and can also export scores as Scorch® files, then share or publish them on the web (or via Avid Scorch for iPad®). Ultimately, Sibelius is expensive, but worth the price -- it’s software at a truly professional level, and heady stuff for a composer, as it puts all of the tools into your hands to enable you to write that brilliant song, score or magnum opus of yours. With Sibelius at his fingertips, Mozart would probably have never left his computer.

Info at a Glance

Sibelius 7
Publisher: Avid Technology
Price: $599
Individual educator/student pricing (including 4 years of complimentary upgrades): $295
Upgrade: $149
Multi-seat upgrade pricing: From $60 per seat
Platform: Mac, PC
Requirements (PC) : (Sibelius software only): (Windows) Windows Vista (SP2 with Platform Update Pack or later), Windows 7 SP1 or later, 1 GB+ RAM, 750 MB hard disk space, DVD-ROM drive.
Requirements (Mac) : Mac OS X 10.6.7 or later, Mac OS X 10.7, 1 GB+ RAM, 750 MB hard disk space, DVD-ROM drive
Sibelius Sounds Requirements (Mac/PC): Intel Core 2 Duo (or equivalent or better); 4 GB+ total physical RAM, 40 GB hard disk space (7200 rpm or faster drive recommended)
Website: http://www.sibelius.com
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