When it comes to choosing the right music notation tool, the options can be as complicated as choosing a dessert at the Cheesecake Factory. Many of us remember the days of pen and ink, pencils and erasers, a straight edge or two, a drafting table, and the almost infinite patience it took to translate musical ideas to the written page. The earliest versions of notation software required almost limitless patience to master.
Those early versions of notation software also seemed incapable of understanding the mechanics and thought process of a composer (and perhaps most amazing, knew exactly when to crash to inflict the maximum amount of damage to your score). But, clever and devilish as they were, those early versions blazed the trail to today’s more stable, flexible and intuitive programs that have revolutionized not only notation, but production as well.
The anecdotal evidence on each is that Sibelius is easier to use, but Finale is more powerful and flexible. There is some truth to that. Many find the initial learning curve for Finale too steep and some are frustrated at Sibelius’ (alleged) inability to create complex, non-traditional scores. In either case, the programs are capable of far more sophisticated tasks than any of us are likely to need. Most of us use only a fraction of the capabilities of Word or Excel in our daily activities and that’s true with notation software as well.
For most of us, quick and stable note entry, easy page layouts, and flexible editing will trump the ability to create a modern masterpiece comprised of atonal hieroglyphics for Crumhorn, Sackbut, and Ophicleide (as much fun as that would be).
What tools do you use for music notation? We’d love to hear your favorite!