Most of you probably have some compositions or exercises floating around on manuscript paper. Personally, I like to compose and get rough ideas with a good old fashioned pencil and paper (affiliate link). It’s much less cumbersome that dealing with notation software.
At some point, you have to put those compositions in a nice, typeset format. It’s easier to read, and let’s you distribute the score in PDF format if you desire. To that end, here are some free programs to get your music into digital formats.
Lilypond is the heavy hitter in this category. For those of you unfamiliar with Lilypond, it’s not anything like Finale or Sibelius. You create music score by entering code into a text editor (I’ve used smultron to do this before). After the score is coded, Lilypond generates a PDF of the music. It sounds like a lot of work, but Lilypond does produce very nice scores. If you work on a Linux machine, Fescobaldi provides a visual what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editor that works on top of Lilypond.
MuseScore is a powerful, cross-platform WYSIWYG music engraver. To be honest, I believe this program will eventually kill Finale and Sibelius. It has many of the same features, and the scores look very good. It’s still very early in it’s development, and I find it a bit clunky, but it’s a very good alternative to the aforementioned, very expensive music editors.
Music Editing in Your Browser
Noteflight is a WYSIWYG music editing web application. In other words, you can create scores from your browser and print them. You can also share share your scores on Noteflight by allowing it to viewed (or edited) by anyone. Noteflight is a commercial endeavor, working on a freemium model. The basic service does require an account, but there’s also a $50/year premium service.
Scorio is similar to Noteflight, but lacks a lot of the features. It does require registration to print or share scores. Scorio is not point and click music entering, it requires you hit the notes on a virtual keyboard. Not exactly guitar friendly.
Neither of these options is going to be as full featured as a the software options listed above (yet).
Blank Sheet Music
Blank Sheet Music.net let’s you create just about any type of manuscript paper you desire. This is what I usually use to get some blank staff/tab paper.
Staff Notes is awesome. It puts some lines for note taking next to blank music or tab staffs. I wish I would have had this for undergrad music theory courses: it would have made taking notes on those musical examples so much easier. Instead I cut up manuscript paper and taped it into my note books (no joke).
What I Use
All the scores on the free stuff page and musical examples you see in posts and ebooks are created with Finale 2010 (affiliate link). Why? Because I knew how to use it before, and I didn’t want to waste time learning another program as completely as I know finale. If you like screaming at your computer and dealing with ridiculous glitches, I suggest giving Finale a try. Other complains about finale include…
- It’s not at all guitar friendly, and requires you to create certain elements.
- The default document standard to finale sucks, but if you create your own it makes your life much easier.
- There are some very strange defaults. For instance, if you notate a second, with each note in two different voices, it comes out like this:
- Generally speaking, it takes a lot of tweaking to get music spaced correctly. There tends to be a lot of overlapping that just happens. Especially with guitar music and and using multiple voices in each staff.
- The cheaper versions of finale, many of which I demoed before buying the full version, lack crucial features, and make it extremely difficult to really create good scores.
My point with this ranting, it to convince you to explore free options first. Don’t feel like you have to have finale to create scores.