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The Trombone ForumTeaching & LearningComposition, Arranging and Theory(Moderator: zemry) Relative strengths and weaknesses of different music notation software programs
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Andrew Meronek

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« on: Apr 19, 2017, 09:44AM »

The title says it all, but I recently got myself forced into trying out something non-Sibelius after frying my motherboard. So, I'm hacking at Musescore. My observations so far:

For free software, there's more there than I expected. The various standard notational tools are fairly easy to get to, once I have started figuring out the interface. There are notable differences in the interface, so it took me a couple of days to figure out many of the quirks.

It is inferior software to Sibelius, but not to such a degree that it's "bad". It's decent.

I like the Sibelius note entry more, although to be fair, Sibelius' note entry is one of the best in the industry.

I really miss the great auto-collision avoidance in Sibelius, and the auto-part generation from scores.

One thing that I think is actually superior in Musescore compared to Sibelius is pitch-bending, which is handled a lot cleaner in Musescore, at least from an easy-to-use standpoint. Not a feature that most people would care about, though.
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« Reply #1 on: Apr 19, 2017, 10:18AM »

What is "auto-collision avoidance"?

And how is Sibelius' part generation different from Musescore's?
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« Reply #2 on: Apr 19, 2017, 10:28AM »

Having gone through several over the years, I have found that each has a steep learning curve and you lose facility unless you use it a lot.  My usual complaint about most of them (including Encore and Finale) is that they have awful note spacing -- placing the notes in the fraction of the measure they occupy (so a half note takes half the measure and 4 eighth notes take up the other half -- making them very hard to read).  Setting up untimed measures like cadenzas is cumbersome.  Most don't have a multi-bar rest.

But as you learn to become facile, you learn to deal with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the program.  Sibelius and Finale are well accepted by the "professional" community while Lilypond and Musescore are good ways to "get your feet wet".  Lilypond isn't even WYSIWYG.
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« Reply #3 on: Apr 19, 2017, 10:31AM »

Now there is Dorico two. I use Sibelius from version 1.5, haven't tested Dorico yet.
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« Reply #4 on: Apr 19, 2017, 10:46AM »

I stay relatively up to date with Finale.

It is known to be cumbersome for some conceptually basic stuff, but I see a lot of it finally being addressed over the last few versions. Like putting in rehearsal numbers no longer involves bizarre measure number region definitions and enclosure shapes and positional tweaking: they are now under expressions like dynamics.

I mostly enter with keyboard and mouse (actually trackball), not MIDI. So left hand on the number pad, right on the mouse bing bang boom. Copy and paste and modify to speed things up.

The parameters for page formatting remain a bit odd but once you get the hang of it you can make professional looking stuff quickly.

Basically: it's not quite as frustrating as it used to be!

 ;-)
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« Reply #5 on: Apr 19, 2017, 10:54AM »

Searching music notation programs turned up a dozen or so products, only some of which I had heard of.

One caught my eye: Magicscore Maestro 7. Compared to Finale and Sibelius, relatively inexpensive.


Another program that has been rated very highly is Presonus Notion. Also not too expensive when compared to the big two.

I have not used either of these, but have struggled with Finale Printmusic and Musescore. I found the Finale PM enormously frustrating. Based on the comments below, it looks like not much has changed.

I don't see using such programs enough to justify buying the full Finale/Sibelius programs.

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« Reply #6 on: Apr 19, 2017, 10:59AM »

My usual complaint about most of them (including Encore and Finale) is that they have awful note spacing -- placing the notes in the fraction of the measure they occupy (so a half note takes half the measure and 4 eighth notes take up the other half -- making them very hard to read). 

I prefer having things generally spaced for the beats, but Finale has a few spacing options that can be assigned to specific measures: beat spacing, note spacing, ...

Also you can individually nudge all score items, flip stems, manually widen measures, which is not fun but sometimes necessary if trying to squeeze some measures in to fit a part on a page.

I'm picky about my parts. Sloppy notation leads to wasted rehearsal time and performance gaffes. If something doesn't look right I dig in and find the notation tweak to fix it.

 Way cool
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« Reply #7 on: Apr 19, 2017, 11:04AM »

You are actually making my point for me.  There are tweaks and nuances in all of these programs.  I remember spending a few hours adjusting spacing of all the measures in an Encore chart and suddenly I tried to add a sharp (accidental) to one note and all the tweaks disappeared.  Grr.... >:(
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« Reply #8 on: Apr 19, 2017, 11:11AM »

I use Songwriter when I must rewrite a badly messed-up band chart so I can read it easier. It's fine for that and easy enough for me to get generally satisfactory results for my own use. But for rewriting a very complex chart; it's difficult and sometimes impossible for me to exactly duplicate the original notation. No complaints though. I'm getting my money's worth.

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« Reply #9 on: Apr 19, 2017, 12:38PM »

I've played with Finale full version, also the Notepad and Songwriter versions.

Noteworthy Composer was superior to the smaller Finale versions, having more capabilities and more intuitive interface. 

I tried Musescore and failed on the learning curve.  It will do everything the others do, but in such a different manner I couldn't get past it.  The reason for trying it was it will work on a Linux machine and NWC will not.

NWC used to be freeware though I paid for the upgrade.  Now I think it costs but is quite reasonable.  There is a demo version but it is significantly limited.   
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« Reply #10 on: Apr 19, 2017, 03:23PM »

What is "auto-collision avoidance"?

Automatically positioning objects in the score to not overlap with other existing objects. Text and chord symbols, for example. Saves a *lot* of time making scores look readable.

Quote
And how is Sibelius' part generation different from Musescore's?

Sibelius constantly generates parts as you write in the score, without having to do the extra step of telling it to "extract" a part or something similar. Effectively, they're instantly available once you create the score, and updates with every update of the score.

I was using version 6; I know both of these features were not available in many of the earlier versions.
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« Reply #11 on: Apr 19, 2017, 03:29PM »

Having gone through several over the years, I have found that each has a steep learning curve and you lose facility unless you use it a lot.  My usual complaint about most of them (including Encore and Finale) is that they have awful note spacing -- placing the notes in the fraction of the measure they occupy (so a half note takes half the measure and 4 eighth notes take up the other half -- making them very hard to read).  Setting up untimed measures like cadenzas is cumbersome.  Most don't have a multi-bar rest.

But as you learn to become facile, you learn to deal with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the program.  Sibelius and Finale are well accepted by the "professional" community while Lilypond and Musescore are good ways to "get your feet wet".  Lilypond isn't even WYSIWYG.

I may be going out on a limb here, but from what little I've seen of Lilypond, I suspect that it is potentially the best-looking of all of them, including via note-spacing. The interface is a pretty big hurdle, though, especially for people who don't have a software programming background. While I suspect that someone who does a deep dive into Lilypond can get pretty efficient with it, I also suspect that it has the largest learning curve before getting to that point, probably by a lot.
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« Reply #12 on: Apr 19, 2017, 03:39PM »

I have used MuseScore for about 4 years now, and it has done pretty well for me. Obviously there are things I dislike about it, but for a free software, it is very easy to use and has a surprising number of options for notation for expressions and extended techniques and stuff.

That being said, I'll probably be upgrading to Finale soon.
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« Reply #13 on: Apr 19, 2017, 07:38PM »

I may be going out on a limb here, but from what little I've seen of Lilypond, I suspect that it is potentially the best-looking of all of them, including via note-spacing. The interface is a pretty big hurdle, though, especially for people who don't have a software programming background. While I suspect that someone who does a deep dive into Lilypond can get pretty efficient with it, I also suspect that it has the largest learning curve before getting to that point, probably by a lot.

Having used word processors back when control characters had to be buried right in the text, and there was no WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get) and little print preview, I found Lilypond refreshing  Evil

I had searched pretty hard for a reasonable way to make parts books of Christmas carols.  The most reasonable way I found was to create scores in Finale Print Music, extract parts, export as musicXML, then import the results into Lilypond via scripts.  The Finale part was tedius and time consuming.  The Lilypond part, after getting the first one working, was a one-stop operation. 

I'm just getting started with Musescore.  I can understand Tim's frustration with it. I know Tim is NOT a quitter, so it says a lot that he dropped Musescore.  That being said, I have yet to find anything easier to do in Finale Print Music. Each tool is, as Bruce noted, significantly different.

I can't use ANY of these without constant searches on Google.

And ANY of them beat the first notation tools I used in original IBM PC days. By a LOT.
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« Reply #14 on: Apr 19, 2017, 08:28PM »

Dave, did you ever play with Songwright?  I started on that one only because it offered Alto Clef (nobody offered Tenor Clef back in those days!).  Also, it was one of the few programs that could output to a 9 pin printer (I'm REALLY dating myself now).  It came rushing back to me when I tried using Lilypond.
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« Reply #15 on: Apr 19, 2017, 10:50PM »

During the last 25 years I have used almost all notation software out there. The first was on the old atari st computer. I miss that one. The trend has been that most software especially finale and Sibelius has put in aspects that save time.

Still, no matter what we use, the most important thing to save time is to learn whatever software we choose to use.

We still have to write down music and I have seen some do it faster with a pencil!

The good things with software is we can save it and take it up later for easy do further editing. The bad things is software is so complex that we loose our main focus to be creative and write good music.

Oohh I miss my old atari, in fact it was not that bad. I think the music software just was called notator. It did the job.


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« Reply #16 on: Apr 19, 2017, 11:04PM »

I've become fairly proficient with Musescore.  It is capable and free.  For me the learning curve for it was not steeper than anything else, even those you have to shell out for.  It is much better than what was available 10 years ago, and will be probably better 10 years from now, but it's not perfect.  Neither is anything else, so price won my heart.
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« Reply #17 on: Apr 20, 2017, 02:24AM »

Unless something has changed with the free offerings recently, they aren't quite there yet when making professionally engraved scores and parts.  Finale and Sibelius both make it easy (in the case of Sibelius post version 5, very easy) to alter parts in place; so you can alter a score and each part within the score without creating different files. While that sounds trivial, it really saves a lot of work when you don't have to extract a full 20 parts when you write a big band score every time you want to print. 

Having briefly used Finale, it still seems that Sibelius is a touch more user friendly at the expense of being a touch less powerful than Sibelius; however, if most people are fine with the free offerings then certainly most people don't need those additional features from the Finale either.

If another program used Sibelius's style of note entry, I'd certainly give it a try. Sibelius licencing is totally over the top. Although every time I've called them it was resolved fairly quickly. But every time you defragment your hard drive it gets horribly confused and thinks you're trying to pirate the software...
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« Reply #18 on: Apr 20, 2017, 07:18AM »

Bruce,

Yeah... 9 pin printers!  I don't recall Songwright personally, but have vague memories of seeing things in Byte magazine :)

Leif,

Speaking of Byte, AND ease of use, I remember one of those geek magazines having a machine code program I could "peek" and "poke" in to my Timex Sinclair, then store on cassette tape.  IIRC, I could get one part at a time with that, on a 9 pin printer.  It was ugly.  How ugly was it? The printout was SO ugly that it was the only paper in the house the cat would NOT use if the litter box wasn't clean enough for her.

Comparatively, ALL the current tools are all strength and no weakness.

Matt,

I think you really hit the nail on the head: know what your final requirements and find out which tool gets there with the least grief. I suspect I COULD get better LOOKING output from Lilypond (I have full LaTEX-like control inside the program) but the time it would take would be prohibitive.  I could PROBABLY do things a little easier in Finale, but be a bit slow in note entry and part modification.  I could use the Libreoffice add-in to write method book-like stuff with Musescore, but have trouble doing big scores and parts.  It goes on.

Matt, your note about parts is what reminded me of the Libreoffice<->Musescore link.  It's nice to be able to write explanatory text with good formatting, then insert a supporting excerpt without straight cut-and-paste.  The difference here is as it is with score and parts: if I change the excerpt, or if I proof and find I NEED to change the excerpt, I can double click the spot in the Libreoffice document and get the excerpt up in Musescore.

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« Reply #19 on: Apr 20, 2017, 07:24AM »

My experience is probably not as varied as many posters here, but my Finale experience is pretty deep.

I've been using Finale for about 20 years now. There are many negatives: there is still no magnetic layout similar to Sib's (the anti-collision thing), the learning curve can be steep if you don't have time to devote to it (and don't watch the tutorials and read the quick start stuff) and it seems like every time I've gotten used to doing something a certain way, a new version will make that particular action harder to do. Certain actions I don't do very often I have to look up because the answers to many questions are not intuitive in the slightest, and certain actions that should be in the same tool will be scattered across multiple windows or tools. I could keep going.

So why Finale? Well, it's what I started with. It's become the industry standard and the majority of clients I write for prefer or require Finale. I have lost a small amount of work because I don't use Sibelius, one project in particular that I really wanted to be a part of, but not near as much work as I would've lost if I didn't know Finale. Finale has been paying a good chunk of my bills over the last 10 or 15 years. Finale "looks" right, has a ton of options and is designed to be "all things to all people" - although why it can't just be easier to use...

With the internet, looking up the answer to a finale problem is easier than ever provided you know what Finale calls a particular action. For example: the "Hide Staves" function. This is used to hide staves that aren't being used in a score, like 100 bars of brass in most orchestral works, or the bottom staff of a piano part when it's not in use. Finale used to call this "Optimizing Staff Systems" and it's function was located in the Page Layout Tool. I've never in all my years of writing heard it called "optimizing" except by other finale users. Later the idiots at Finale decided to change this function's name to "Hide Staff Systems" and put it in the Staff Tool - which makes more sense, but it took me 2 days (and multiple emails to MakeMusic/Coda staff who were utterly clueless) to figure this out and by that point the deadline had passed and I had to trim the empty staves by hand with a pair of scissors and use a xerox machine to make the parts look right. Stuff like this is why I absolutely hate Finale and would never hold someone's preference for another program against them.

If you don't have or don't want Finale, Sibelius is the next most often used by professional publishers. I'm pretty sure all of the ejazzlines in house published stuff is Sibelius (looks like it anyway) and I notice it used in plenty of books.

I got through a ton of music and books in a year and if I were hazarding a guess, 99% of what I've seen over the last several years is Finale or Sibelius.

Most of my students start with Musescore because it is free, but most of them end up switching to Finale within a year.

I've been hearing good things about Dorico.

Pretty much everything else I've tried I thought either had too steep a learning curve or not enough features and isn't worth mentioning.
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