Composing Software Comparison

January 13, 2006 at 05:42 AM · Sibelius VS Finale

The big question!

Do you use any of the above composing software?

What are your preferences and experience with them?

Replies (27)

January 13, 2006 at 06:13 AM · Definitely, the one that gives you the most efficient keyboard shortcuts is the one you want. It's totally time-consuming to enter a long piece using mainly the mouse. I've found most publishers want hand-written, in pencil. It makes it easy for editors to work on it, and then it goes to the setters after that step.

A bad thing about Finale is the file formats of some of its products are incompatible with each other, so don't go too far with a particular product unless you're sure it's the one you want to use. I'm not saying this isn't true of Sibelius too. I don't know.

January 13, 2006 at 08:33 AM · For composing, arranging, etc. I started out with Finale, and figured out how to use it without the aid of a manual (maybe I'm just a nerd). I used it successfully for, er, maybe 3 years or so.

Then I had to switch over to Sibelius (it, with my new computer, was a gift from my family). This is what I've found to be different: I like the general look of its style of the document better than Finale; "comp"-ing parts (with the four hash marks through the staff) is not a pre-set staff-style however in Sibelius, and much more troublesome to input; also, in regard to such hash marks, Finale allowed me to input invisible chords behind the hashes so that those chords could be heard during playback - Sibelius doesn't allow this. I also found that adjusting the spacing around either notes or staves, and inputing notes in different layers, to be slightly more challenging in Sibelius than Finale, but these things get easier with practice. If I recall correctly, I think Finale had better keyboard-command shortcuts, and Sibelius has menus. I definitely need (still) to use the ginormous manual to fine tune some little details...

All that said, I think I do prefer Sibelius overall. It just has a sleek-er, I guess professional, feel about it, and the pages really do look nice. I can also export my files as MIDI if I want and then bring them into a program like Audacity or iTunes and burn them on a CD.

I'm still having a heck of a time fixing up my Finale imports (older files I moved to Sibelius). At least they imported at all! But the slurs came out as straight lines, and the dynamics didn't show up at all. Oh well. Oh, and I don't use a piano-keyboard or a mouse to input the notes; I use the computer keyboard and mouse together, and that, with the wonderful copy/paste command, gets me through a lot of music rather quickly. :)

January 13, 2006 at 02:59 PM · The good thing about Sibelius (I've found) is that you can just sit there and type away, which makes inputting music a lot quicker, and less stressful on your hands (continuous clicking of the mouse is stressful, and can lead to serious disabilities).

I won't comment on any technical differences, as I haven't really used Finale.

I use Melody Assistant to write my music to hear (unfortunately a point and click method, I would like Sibelius if I could afford it), and I use LilyPond to prepare scores and parts. It means I have to input everything twice, but Lilypond creates a pleasureable appearence to me.

January 13, 2006 at 05:02 PM · I've used Finale since '93, across several different versions, and I find it a very powerful tool. I haven't used Sibelius, so I can't compare that way. However, for Finale:

There are several different methods for note entry; if you have a midi instrument, you can just play right into the thing. If you're not terribly good on your midi instrument -- for instance, a keyboard, and I suck on it -- you can play a note on the instrument for pitch and use the other hand on your computer keyboard to input the duration. I find that to be my favorite entry method, and I speed right along at it. Also, if you don't have a midi keyboard, Finale allows you to use your computer keyboard to enter pitches as if it were a virtual piano. You've got to learn, of course, where the notes are, but once you do it's also very quick.

You can set any time signature you like, and I don't remember if you can devise your own key signatures or not.

Layout is very configurable -- fonts and sizes for everything; you can substitute in your own music font if you prefer, for instance. It comes with a classical set and a jazz set. Page margins, staff margins, labels, text set anywhere on the page, etc. Slurs have been much better and more intuitive since about 2000.

They've been including more and more playback features, too. It used to just play back MIDI, but I think version 2006 includes the ability to use recorded audio as well. I know they use soundfonts these days, and have a "natural" playback feature, where it tries to sound more like a human performer.

You'll have to check their website for the latest features, because I tend to skip versions when I'm not using the program as regularly.

Oh, yeah -- haven't had much trouble bringing old Finale files into newer versions. Sometimes the formatting is a little weird, depending on what got upgraded -- for instance, when they upgraded slurring, a bunch of slurs were messed up, but not all of them. I've got files dating back many versions by now, and I just don't tend to worry about it. :)

January 13, 2006 at 09:12 PM · Patty, good point about alternate methods of entry. If either had a method of scanning in handwritten pages ocr style, that would be ideal. Hand writing notation is much faster than typing it in. Maybe Sib. allows this, not sure.

P.S. the incompatibility I was talking about was between concurrent products. I did something with notpad, discovered it limitations, then tried to import it into regular Finale, but there was no provision for it, which really turned me off. That's basic. It's gotta mean they have an inexperienced or disinterested programming manager.

January 13, 2006 at 09:26 PM · I use PrintMusic, has a Finale engine I guess is what you would call it. I too learned without the aid of a manual, but I check on-line every now and again, to see if there is some easier way to do something. Finale has lots of goodies built right in. I read that someone was talking about saving files, finale lets you save in the finale .mus format, .mid format, .wav format, and even .mp3 format. The version I'm using has a lot to do with these fantastic updates. PrintMusic 2006. I can also scan in staff music and re-arrange and edit it. It is really handy. However, I can not contribute too much to this discussion, due to my lack of experience with Sibalius. I don't really know a good way to sell you Finale, but you can download finale notepad for free. Go to the showcase and see what people have done. Sadly the finale showcase sucks, the Sibalius is superior, or so I've been told. I believe they both offer free trial programs. Granted they aren't as spectacular as the pay for expensive versions, but you do get what you pay for.

January 13, 2006 at 10:51 PM · Could someoe enlighten me as to what you guys are talking about? I have no idea what either Finale or Sibelus are.

January 13, 2006 at 10:56 PM · They are composing / editing programs for the computer. I like the both, but personally use Finale more.

January 13, 2006 at 11:36 PM · Yes Luke, they're both composition and midi sequencing (and more) software.

I started my daughter with Finale. I use Sibelius for the most part. Of course there are many programs to do notation and other specific functions, Finale and Sibelius are definitely not the only good ones out there. I use others for specific purposes occasionally too (exs., Capella, Counterpointer, various forms of Cakewalk, Lilypond for Linux, Cubase, etc.). Then there's the whole realm of scan and optical music recognition software and utility converters whose usefulness is, when done right, fantastic (i.e., various XML's, NIFF, and plugins for just about anything). A decent (but there are soooo many) site with good availability of info is: I use SharpEye almost exclusively for scanning functions as I've tried just about everything and nothing else I've tried even comes close.

For example I've scanned music from various paper and/or converted midi digital formats, corrected errors in a couple of minutes (sometimes there aren't any -- this has to do with setup) in Sibelius, arranged/composed/transposed extra material -- depending on what I'm doing this can also take only a couple of minutes -- and used Sibelius's 'parting' function to print out parts instantly. So if I've got, say, a score of a piano and violin piece for instance... I scan it with Sharpeye, convert it to an XML or NIFF format, import it into Sibelius, change the piano part to an orchestra part (and here you can get quite adventurous if you have a good sample library -- especially sampled strings exs., Vienna, Hammersound, Garritan, Cubase add-ons), and go from sheet music accompaned 'out there' paper to accompanied with and/or without (like music-minus-one) piano/orchestra/??? quite quickly.

When you throw in software like 'Reason' or 'Acid' and/or other specialty function software (ex., wave-to-midi or midi-to-wave, drum machines, effects processors, bizarre stuff, etc.) it really ups the useful as well as commercial value in a hurry.

January 14, 2006 at 12:54 AM · Could someone enlighten me as to a cheaper version of something like sibelius or finale? I look ed on the sibelius site and for the student version you have to pay 100 dollars. I need something around a third of that.

January 14, 2006 at 01:01 AM · Kimberley, it depends on your needs. If your needs are basic then why not go for the many 'freeware' packages out there?

January 14, 2006 at 01:13 AM · I have used Finale but not Sibelius. I like Finale and it has gotten a lot easier to learn in the last couple years. It will do almost anything you can imagine concerned with composing and music publishing and as a result is complicated.

Their support is not toll free, you pay for the call to the Twin Cities area, but is excellent!

A companion product (free) is Finale Notepad that has quite a bit of the Finale functions.

I have some of my students get the free NotePad and then we can exchange files in Finale format.

I think a major consideration here is that people will almost always recommend software with which they are familiar. I have nothing bad at all to say about any other software; I simply am not familiar with it.

January 14, 2006 at 08:35 AM · Printmusic, is amazing only like fifty bucks at the most, does everything I need and more. Also they have free ware. So no worries.

January 16, 2006 at 03:46 PM · “If either had a method of scanning in handwritten pages ocr style, that would be ideal.”

I’m looking for something that would recognize scanned in music too- printed, not handwritten. Does it exist?

January 16, 2006 at 03:48 PM · I think the company which sells Sibelius sells also a program which is designed to scan sheet music and convert it to a sibelius-file. However, it propably isn't cheap. Maybe you can find some information about it on their website?

Hope this helps.

January 16, 2006 at 04:04 PM · Christina, I have PrintMusic and you can scan in printed music. It all comes with the package. Actually, I've only ever scanned music printed off Finale NotePad so I don't even know how reliable it is with other printed music.

In addition, its kind of bothersome because you have to do each page separately, save each one, and then put them together on the program.

If you have many pages, it is easy to mess up and put page 3 before page 2 or something. Its almost faster to put it in by hand.

But, you can do it.

January 16, 2006 at 07:21 PM · I'd actually forgotten about scanning in music for OCR input. I know I've done it once or twice, I think with Finale (I don't know what else I would've used). I want to say they brought it in as a feature around 2000 or so, but you'd have to check the program specs to be sure it's there.

I got started on Finale because I was writing my senior thesis at the time and it's what we used in the music lab. The student version was $150 or so, which was cheap compared to any of the other higher-end notation packages at the time. The upgrades have continued to be cheaper than investing in a different package, and I haven't really found anything to complain about in Finale as compared to others in its class.

If you have friends that you want to share files with, or someplace where you'll be printing your music, make sure the program you choose is compatible with whatever they have.

August 19, 2008 at 04:12 AM · Found LilyPond on the internet a few days ago. It has a lot to recommend it: it's free, and with some care it produces beautiful output.

It's a batch program that operates on a text file containing the music in a kind of programming language that is not too difficult to learn. .pdf and .ps files are produced.

The website is .

August 19, 2008 at 12:43 AM · Finale is a LITTLE more intuitive in use than Sibelius, but both have pretty steep learning curves at first. Finale needs more by-eye adjustments to have notes evenly spaced, pick-ups where they need to be, etc. Sibelius prints like commercial sheet music w/o needing to tweak. The scan-in features aren't very efficient at this point; so many corrections are needed it really doesn't save much time. The full versions of each are relatively expensive. The inexpensive versions have clear limitations, but would suit many users. Haven't tried the free ones. Sue

August 19, 2008 at 03:23 AM · I have both, but my versions only will do notation - they don't compose! I haven't updated Finale since 2004. I still use it some when collaborating with people who haven't switched over yet! Sibelius is for me much faster and easier. I love the note values and all being directly associated with the number pad (on Windoze anyway) and layers are simple with single key shortcuts... many quick and easy shortcuts for everything... almost..

With piano keyboard input, I can really zoom along.

Photoscore Professional is very good for scanning in scores. It will scan lyrics, expression markings, dynamics, etc very well with few errors. There are some words it always gets wrong (I don't know why), but only a couple that I've come across. The Lite version (free with Sibelius purchase)doesn't do nearly as much and makes more errors. I can input the notes quicker than I can touch up scores scanned into Photoscore Lite.

Whenever I run across a (piano) score where a note in the the right hand is a quarter inch or so (or more) to the left or right of the same beat in the left hand, it always makes me think of Finale. Sibelius lines the notes up unless and you must move them around yourself. Sibelius also won't allow (unless asked) one to give the oboe more counts in a bar than the flute gets.

August 19, 2008 at 08:04 PM · I'm a Finale user who hasn't tried Sibelius.

I can tell you that Finale offers terrific phone support. I can always get through and speak with a knowledgeable tech.

One great feature of Finale is "Linked Parts." When you make changes in the score, the parts are updated simultaneously. This is huge, especially when revising a large work.

August 19, 2008 at 09:02 PM · Sibelius does the same, I'm not sure who did it first but I agree it is a very useful feature.

I will probably update my Finale soon and see what it's like. Dolet is a very handy software to have for working between Sibelius and Finale and also for working with people who use very early versions of Finale but I'd rather have the real deal.

August 20, 2008 at 06:44 PM · I use Finale and really like it. Never tried the other software. I "sketch" in a program called Noteworthy Composer (very inexpensive) and then redo anything worth keeping in Finale. So for the formal composition I like Finale, but for just messing around or jotting something down quickly I use Noteworthy or a sheet of paper as Finale takes me too long and I forget what I was doing. If I am working on something In Finale you can easily save as an MP3 file and listen on an MP3 player so I use that a lot.

Another software that I use that is very easy and inexpensive is Noteworthy Composer. It is not for professionals, but it is very manual and intuitive. I find it easy to just build whatever I want very quickly right out of my head. Unfortunately, it is difficult to print out a score that looks tidy from Noteworthy but for "sketching" out what I want it is really quick. Bad at trills and things like double sharps but good for the basics. Finale does print out a lovely sheet in the end and interfaces easily with MIDI devices with the right cables. One thing I don't like about Finale is how you set up the measures on a line. It is a bit cryptic and I spend quite a bit of time fooling around with that aspect of the software before I print the sheet. Sometimes I want to force a page break and I find this difficult to do. So my page breaks are not always ideal for playing off the sheet. Finale is very accurate when you play MIDI on the way in and that was a bit surprising. I confess I gave up but should probably try it again now that I have more experience. I could not set a tolerance or minimum of say a 1/16 note for MIDI out. This post has motivated me to call support on this issue, but it is not clear how to do it. Finale will try to resolve 1/64th notes for example etc. which is more trouble than it is worth and difficult to edit later. I thought I could just sketch off a keyboard but it is set up for precision at every level. If you lag even a little bit on your timing it will try to resolve it all with obscure time signatures. Unless your input is perfect it is very difficult to go MIDI in unless you know exactly what you want. MIDI out is very fun however. Finale provides some excellent tutorials to get you started and the help is pretty good.

I think Finale Songwriter is a less expensive version of the full Finale. I am not sure but it seems like a stripped down version. Maybe try that first before buying the expensive version.

I will watch this post closely because I too have considered Sibelius. I heard they have counterpoint software as well.

August 20, 2008 at 06:59 PM · I usually will need to do a little bit of layout adjustments in Sibelius as well. To make a line, you select (lasso or whatever) the bars you want included and press Sh+Alt+M. To create a page you press Ctrl+Sh+Alt+M. To add an instrument, you press 'I' and from the window you select your instrument and press add. To move staves up or down you select the instrument and press either up or down. To delete instruments you select instrument and press delete.

To add an instrument in Finale (quoted from another forum):

Click the staff tool, use the staff menu (comes up in the same row as File, Edit, etc) and click "add new staves" or "add new staves with setup wizard".

From there you'll have your staff set up so you need to go to Window -> instrument list in order to assign the right sound to it. To do this, you use the pulldown menu where it says "instrument" and change it from the default to the very top of the menu which should say "Add new instrument" then you name it and assign it to a MIDI channel other than the ones being used (unless you want it on the same channel as the rest of the strings, for example. Then you're all set to go.

Unless you're using sample libraries for playback, in which case you still need to tell the instrument to play through the correct library patch via the mixer controls...but that's a different story since I don't think you're using samples.

August 20, 2008 at 07:12 PM · I use Finale and Garritan sounds...they are amazing. For full orchestral works, Garritan is a miracle. Sounds of different instruments ( strings, woodwinds, brass and percussions) are quite realistic.


August 20, 2008 at 07:02 PM · What you are trying to do with the MIDI input into Finale would be best done with a sequencer; Finale and Sibelius are optimized as notation programs whereas MIDI input and playback is best done with an audio/MIDI sequencer (I use Digital Performer 5). With the MIDI data recorded one easily saves it as a standard midi file then imports into your notation program. DP is very flexible in quantizing MIDI input. There is also step entry where the recorder just waits for the next event.

August 20, 2008 at 08:16 PM · Both notation softwares offer incredible sound libraries - especially if you pay extra!

I agree with Nigel - if you want to program MIDI for performance playback then dedicated sequencing software is definitely the way to go. There is a pretty good choice of high end samplers that one can use as well.

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