The top performers in our review are Sibelius First, the Gold Award winner; Finale PrintMusic, the Silver Award winner; and MagicScoreMaestro, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 products.
Music notation software is used to compose and transcribe sheet music quickly and efficiently. When using this software you don't need to write down every single note you play on a piece of sheet music – the software transcribes it for you as you play. All of the music composition software on this top 10 list are entry-level programs that include a solid list of features and capabilities.
With notation software, you can create sheet music in a number of different ways. All of the software we reviewed has the ability to create sheet music using a MIDI controller. A MIDI controller is a piece of hardware that looks like a small piano keyboard. You can usually plug one of these into your computer via the USB port to play piano parts. A MIDI controller can cost you anywhere from $50 to $150, depending on the features and the size of keyboard that you want. You can plug your MIDI controller into your computer, and as you play notes, the software will add notes to the sheet music, creating sheet music as you play.
You can also use the software to transcribe sheets of music by clicking on the staff with your mouse and inputting notes manually. This can be rather time consuming, and the use of a MIDI controller to do this is the preferred method.
You can also use music notation software to create different types of sheet music – piano sheet music, guitar tablature and percussion sheet music are among some of the options that this software can generate.
You don't have to create music from scratch all of the time. Using this software you can import and export various music file types. Doing this you can easily share your sheet music with others and help edit imported sheet music.
Music notation software usually ranges in price from $50 to $120. Once you purchase your software, most will download to your computer where you can install it and have it ready to use. For more information, check out our reviews and articles about music notation software.
Music Notation Software: What We Evaluated, What We Found
You want software that will transcribe the notes you play as you play them. All the software we reviewed can do this with a MIDI controller, while some software can do this with instruments other than the piano. We evaluated the notation software to see what features are present within each one and which software can create sheet music from imported files.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
You want software that can create more than just one style of sheet music. Software programs like Sibelius and Finale PrintMusic not only have the ability to create piano music, but each can create guitar tablature, guitar chord names and percussion notation.
Guitar tablature is a popular and helpful form of sheet music for people who are not classically trained to read notes. Guitar tablature is displayed in numbers on various lines where each line pertains to a string on the guitar and the number pertains to the fret on which the note is played. This style of sheet music is easy to learn and helps novice musicians play using sheet music with little knowledge of musical theory. Notation Composer and Music MasterWorks are unable to create different styles of sheet music, which can make it difficult if you play an instrument other than the piano.
All of the software that we reviewed features a built-in metronome. This can help you create measures of music that are on time and accurate.
If you don't have a MIDI controller available, you'll want other options to create sheet music. All of the products we evaluated have the ability to insert notes by clicking them on the staff with your mouse. Creating an entire piece of sheet music this way can be time consuming. The best notation software has the ability to import sheet music via MusicXML file formats or by presenting a virtual keyboard for you to punch the notes into.
Sibelius First, MagicScore Maestro and FORTE 6 Home all give you the option to create music with a virtual keyboard when a MIDI controller is unavailable. MusicMaster Works and NoteWorthy Composer don't have this option.
Sharing your sheet music with others is just as important as creating sheet music. All of the software we reviewed offers the ability to print off your sheet music as well as standard MIDI file export. Music Notation software, such as Finale PrintMusic and QuickScore Elite, allow you to export your sheet music as graphics, which can be useful. The days of carrying around books of sheet music and music standards are over. Today, you can bring an iPad to a musical performance and have all of your sheet music on file. When you can export your sheet music as a graphic, this makes it easily accessible on iPads and tablets for gigs and performances.
Music Notation Software: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Sibelius First, Finale PrintMusic and MagicScore Maestro are the best music notation software programs available. At $59.95, MagicScore Maestro is half the price of the other two, yet offers the majority of the features that we looked for. Sibelius First and MagicScore Maestro both give you the ability to create music using a virtual computer, which can be useful if you don't have a MIDI controller available. Finale PrintMusic is the only product that is available on all operating systems including Windows 7, 8, Vista, XP and Mac.
One other product to keep in mind is MuseScore 2. This notation software offers many of the features that our top products provide, and it is also free. The one downside to this software is that it is only available on Mac operating systems.