Notation Software Page

This page will host a discussion on the various notation software packages available, and may devolve into some specific suggestions on usage of the various packages.


Quick Links: Finale | Sibelius | Capella | Muse-Score


NOTE: Finale and Sibelius are the only packages this editor knows for certain can extract/link parts from a score, which is absolutely essential for working with big band charts. Please let us know if you find other software that can do this.

A Board Posting from Feb 18, 2012 (Summarizes Finale and Sibelius)

A group member asked on this date about creating scores from scanned or PDF parts. The posted answer to this is a good orientation to the top notation programs.


Buster asked:
We in our Band, seem to miss out on playing a large number of very good charts as our Director requires that they have scores to go with them. (Makes her sort of redundant otherwise she says) However, from requests put out by Group Members, we seem not to be alone in this. From my observations, it seems that scores are not routinely written as most charts I guess, were, and are written for professional bands and musicians, who are obviously good at reading and interpretation.
Now here come the question, naivétte that I probably am! Does anyone know if and how scores may be assembled using a computer fed with scanned or PDF part files? Is there any software able to do this? OR is it just cut and paste, which makes it very labour intensive to say the least, even for just one chart! I suspect that I am asking for the moon but other than a new Director; how! Don't let her see this last bit or I'm not going to get any more solo's this year!

Best wishes.
Craven Arms Little Big Band.
Shropshire, England
While it’s possible to do this by cut-and-paste, as Buster says, it’s quite labor-intensive. Or, for our mates across the pond, labour-intensive.

There IS a way to do this, but as with anything else, the cheap ways aren’t easy, and the easy ways aren’t cheap.


Here’s a rundown on what you can do with the top commercial products available, Finale and Sibelius. I’m not trying to start a notation software war, just reporting on what I know. As far as I can tell, the two products are very equivalent, with people usually preferring the one they are most familiar with. I’ve had two people who use both regularly tell me they prefer Finale, and one say Sibelius.


With their NOTEPAD product, (free download), you can (their description) “click notes onto up to 8 staves or import MIDI or Music XML files to create great-looking sheet music.” Notepad can open, play and print any Finale family or Music XML file.


With their PRINTMUSIC product ($120), you can (again, their description) “Create sheet music up to 24 staves. No other software with scanning capabilities provides output of such exceptional quality.”


With their flagship FINALE product ($600 retail, $350 educational/theological price), you can do just about anything. This is the product I use most. When I need to create a score from a set of parts, I simply enter the parts onto the score, one note at a time (it goes faster than it sounds, usually 1 to 4 notes per second); Finale then autogenerates the linked parts and I can have them formatted ready for printing within a very short time.


Upgrades generally run $120 per year, and if you already own Sibelius, you can “upgrade” to Finale for $199.


There is a comparison of all the Finale products here.

There is a (Finale-sourced) comparison of Finale to Sibelius here.


Their basic product is SIBELIUS FIRST ($129 retail, $39 upgrade) is “music notation software for home users. Features include automatic collision avoidance, chord symbols, guitar fretboard, easy lyrics, and scan in printed sheet music or PDF files to transpose, edit, and print. It also has linked parts.


Their flagship product is SIBELIUS 7 ($599.99 retail, $295 academic, $199 if you own Finale – the “Crossgrade” price) which claims to be the world’s best-selling music notation software. I have used this product but am not as fluent with it as I am with Finale.


To answer Buster’s question (and the same or similar questions from many members of the group), my suggestion to you is that you spring for either the best Finale or Sibelius has, if you can afford it. About $600. If you absolutely cannot afford that, then get their next best product, at $120 or $130.

I mean, face it? Are you a musician or aren’t you? If you are, and you’re at all involved in creating the printed stuff, then you need the right tools. If you make money at music, then buying this stuff is a tax writeoff, so go for it.


Which one?


My opinion, based on LOTS of experience: It doesn’t matter.


The flagship products are equally capable, equally powerful. There are some differences, but as each one grows, these differences shrink. 


It used to be that only Sibelius had linked parts (change a note in the score and it automatically changes in the part), but Finale added it in a new release. It used to be that only Finale had scroll view (one long manuscript from right to left with no staff breaks – VERY useful!), but Sibelius added this in version 6.


Both these products will allow you to scan in music or import PDFs and create notation from it; however, I don’t have experience doing this with either, so I can’t tell you how difficult or accurate it is. Both these products will also allow you to play your instrument or sing into a microphone and create notation from that. Both will allow you to play a MIDI keyboard into it and create notation from that.


With all these capabilities, I find I still prefer entering music from the keyboard. That way I get just what I want every time, without having to go back through the software’s transcription to find and fix the errors they inevitably make.


With either product, if you can think of something you want to do, there IS a way to do it. You just have to find it. Each product is easier in some areas and more difficult in others.


Find someone you can relate to and ask what they use, and get that, because you’ll very likely be asking them for help as you learn it.

Because each of these is incredibly powerful, it is also necessarily incredibly complex, so it will take you some time to learn it. However, once you learn it, you’ll get to be pretty quick with it.


A few years ago, I wrote an entire concert band arrangement, starting with just a hand-written melody line on manuscript paper, and ending up with 26 instrumental parts ready to print, in less than 2 hours.  


Music notation software is nothing but a tool, and like all tools, the better tools do the better work, and the more you learn how to use that tool, the more effective it will be for you.


Finally, whichever one of these you select, you’ll find someone here in the group who can help you when you get stuck.


Hope this helps.


Take care,


    David in Mississippi


This posting prompted a very helpful follow-on posting later that same day:


David -
That was an incredibly insightful and thorough answer to an often asked question, but please allow me to add just a few things.
(A) Cutting and pasting the parts to make a score is not always possible, as parts often have multi-measure rests.
(B) If you are going to use notation software (either Finale, Sibelius, or any other product) then you'd have to first decide how many staves you will need on the score. Does the conductor really require individual staves? No, not in my opinion, as long as the result is clear.
(C)  Without needing to do any transpositions, you could use a minimum of 8 staves (such as the free version of Finale Notepad offers) by creating a "condensed" score. To do this, you'd combine instruments on the staves you have available as shown here:
   1 - ASx 1 and 2
   2 - TSx 1 and 2
   3 - BSx
   4 - Tpts 1-2-3-4
   5 - Tbns 1-2-3-4
   6 - Pno RH (also Guitar)
   7 - Pno LH (also Bass)
   8 - Drums
(D) There will always be exceptions, such as when the saxes double clarinets or flutes, or if you need a VOCAL line on the score.
The perfect answer is, of course, a full-blown notation package, which you have noted can cost about $600 US.
- Arnie


This software comes in several versions, all for Windows only. Their flagship product, Capella 7.1 (as of Feb 2012) ($250), claims to be one of the "world's most popular music notation programs. (Need a review of this software.) You can download a demo version for free. It has no time limit but you are not allowed to save files.


You can purchase a bundle including Capella 7.1, Capella-Scan ($250 individually) (enables scanning music then editing it with Capella) and Play-Along ($150 individually) (create sing-along and play-along CDs from any Capella score) for a bundle price of $550.


The "little sister" product is Capella 1200, with a reduced feature set ($140). (Need a review of this software) This software is actually their 2007 version of Capella, formerly version 6.


Capella Reader seems to be free, and allows you to display, play back, and print Capella files.


There are more than 7,500 Capella scores posted on the site.



This is totally free, open-source music notation software, available for Windows, Mac, and LINUX. (Need a full review of this software.) It seems to have a moderately good feature set. It DOES allow part extraction, but not linked parts. The software is available in 36 languages.


More to come as we receive well researched and well-written submissions.


Please click on any of the links at the top of the page for more information on any of the listed topics.