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Music Editing Software

September 9, 2013 at 05:15 AM · Hi everybody,

I was wondering if anyone could recommend me some music editing software for Windows.

I've been working on the first Bach Cello Suite. I've looked at 3 or 4 different editions but I haven't found one that I liked all of the fingerings and the slurs. IMSLP has an edition with no slurs that I am using as a base. From the four editions I have, I am cherry picking the fingerings and slurs that feel the most comfortable for me.

If possible, I would like to import a pdf and modify that but if I have to recreate the wheel I'll do it.

Any suggestions? Would prefer free but if I have to pay I have to pay.

Replies (16)

September 9, 2013 at 06:09 AM · If you want to add fingerings to the pdf, you can do it with a layout or grafics program like Illustrator or InDesign. These are high end and expensive. (there may be others).

You cannot edit music scores from a pdf file, because these have lost the code a notation program needs.

If you want to notate music, clearly the most interesting program is musescore. It's way better than the market leader finale (finale still has more features, but this not important in most cases), similar to sibelius, but free.

There are many usable music files on the web that some notation program can import (for example on the mutopia site), maybe this is for you. There may be final files, lilypond files and others.

September 9, 2013 at 08:58 AM · PDF scores are in fact images, or series of images.

We can open them in e.g. XnView (freeware) or The Gimp and convert them into bmp, png etc. Do not use jpg format, as it is compressed-decompressed at each manipulation and becomes very fuzzy.

However, drawing in decent slurs (and fingerings) will not be easy - maybe use Inscape or Open Office Draw (both free) to convert to a vectorial format.

MuseScore improves constantly. It is now better than the old Encore that I used on Windows 3.1, 95 and 98! It accepts, and produces, MusicXml files, which facilitates exchanges with Finale and Sibelius.

These two big and very expensive programmes produce more elegant and complexe scores more easily. I have use both extensively, and for a similar result, Sibelius is much, much easier, faster, and more geared to the musician's mind-set. No, I don't have shares in Avid!!

There are progammes which can scan a PDF score and produce a MusicXml file (e.g. SmartScore and PhotoScore) but I find that I usually spend more time correcting the result than if I had made a new Sibelius score from scratch..

September 9, 2013 at 11:56 AM · If you want to spend (waste) money you can go for Finale or Sibelius. I was always satisfied enough with open source software, the choice is either Musescore ( or Lilypond ( Musescore has graphical gui but I found it rather awkward and limiting when working on more complex scores, I have done 99% of the musical scores in Lilypond. Once you get used to typing the note names and keep aware of the octaves you will have the scores finished in a couple of runs. What might help even more that you can find the version of your score on the net and then only edit and change, no need to do it from the scratch. Try, look for .ly file for Bach Cello Suite.

September 9, 2013 at 07:17 PM · I'd recommend MuseScore most enthusiastically for most purposes. It is constantly improving, and the majority of users that want the ability to input and print music don't necessarily need the esoteric features that the full-featured programs offer.

If you have any background with scripting language of any sort, LilyPond is fairly easy to understand and very effective although it can take some work to get the output consistent.

I was a long-time Finale user but switched to Sibelius for arranging/orchestration work for Orchestra and String Quartet. I've downgraded to Sibelius 6 since I found version 7 (after the AVID acquisition) frustrating to use. Waiting to see what the former Sibelius developers (who were all axed by AVID) come up with now that they are with Steinberg!

September 9, 2013 at 07:42 PM · Pavel, I have seen the excellent scores produced with Lilypond. In fact many improvements over the years seem echoed in successive versions of Sibelius. What intrigues me is that Sibelius' scripting language (for creating plugind) is of the same "Lisp" family as the "Scheme" of Lilypond..

However, my own musical mind is very attached to the graphic side of "normal" notation: I don't "think" note names when I am playing or notating music, even if they are always in the back of my mind.

So I like a programme which behaves nearest to using pencil and paper on staves. Sibelius is, in this respect, much more intuitive than Finale.

If I were to try my hand at programming, I would start with a vectorial graphics program such as Inkscape, (rather than a text-based one like Latex) and link it with background scripting, midi, etc.

Many of my violin students use MuseScore, and I should love to be capable of helping its development. It would be an investment, since Sibelius development is effectively over, and Finale has never addressed its very numerous shortcomings.

September 9, 2013 at 07:51 PM · I still wait to see a lilypond score that's excellent or at least ok.

All I see are scores with a way too wide spacing and ugly proportions. The whole mutopia site is a mess.

I am open for any example that can prove me wrong.

Re Finale: brr...

September 10, 2013 at 03:32 AM · Thanks for all of the suggestions!

I am going to try Lilypond. I do a lot of work with scripting programming languages so it sounds perfect for me!

If anyone's interested, I was thinking about making a blog about my journey doing this and eventually sharing whatever I create. No point in spending all of this time working on this without sharing, right?

September 10, 2013 at 06:37 AM · I think the issues that we see with Lilypond are a result of the users not all being expert-level (yet).

See, like any other programming/scripting tool, it takes time to become proficient with it. The whole "app" paradigm has made it so that previously-designed content (papers, resumes, web sites, photo mashups, pamphlets, etc.) looks good when users just plug in content.

However, music engraving isn't about just plugging in content (the rhythms, notes, dynamics, tempo, articulation, etc.) but also about DESIGN. And many people (myself included) absolutely suck at it. This is why Sibelius tends to produce more usable scores for me as an end-user...I simply have not committed enough time and effort to be able to engrave beautiful looking scores given the tools that are available.

September 10, 2013 at 07:57 PM · As a programmer I feel quite at home with Lilypond; its use follows the same edit/compile/debug cycle that I'm accustomed to in my work.

As for the complaints about spacing, the output is customizable to a great extent; you can do things like squeezing the staves a bit closer together, for instance, to prevent a single line from overflowing onto a new page. Again speaking as a programmer, I advise users to RTFM (Read The... uh... Fine Manual).

For those who aren't programmers, Denemo provides a graphical front-end for Lilypond which my wife - who is definitely not a programmer - finds quite usable.

Oh, and by the way, Lilypond is available for Linux (including FreeBSD) and Mac OS X, as well as Windows.

September 12, 2013 at 04:34 AM · I use ABC Notation freeware music editors regularly. There are tons of them available, free for both Windows and iOS. Simple Google will quickly get you there.

September 12, 2013 at 07:12 PM · "No point in spending all of this time working on this without sharing, right?"

Actually I'm not so sure, Darren. I went down this track a few years ago, and as a programmer I chose Lilypond. I thought it would be great to add my stuff to the Mutopia or other repository. I duly hacked out some Bach Inventions, Busoni edition, with all his markup, and I was quite proud of the result. I transposed them to a different key for a singer with a flick of a char. However, I realized that no one else would ever use a couple of random pieces of unknown accuracy. I would have to do the whole set (a big job), and then over time they would be rated and perhaps used. But used for what? I realized that for people who wanted to play the pieces, it would be much better if I just uploaded scanned images to imslp!

The only point to a *.ly file (same for Finale or anything), which contains the logic and structure, compared to a pdf, is if someone else wants to edit it -- unlike for an image, which is "what you see is all you've got". Fact is, very few Lilypond hackers would download my files, to get a jump start, and modify them. In a few years time, sadly, Lilypond will fade away, and end the glorious dream of a people's repository with lots of people merrily hacking the scores.

So I would say just to get the job done quickly, use MuseScore. It wasn't an option a few years ago, so I haven't used it personally, but it looks good. Use Lilypond if enjoying hacking is an end in itself. The Bach cello suites are relatively simple, but with anything non-trivial you will run into twizzlers that you have to ask about on the forums, whatever tool you use.

September 12, 2013 at 08:13 PM · The one situation I found LilyPond extremely useful for was putting together review material for the AP Music Theory exam, as you can include .ly files in-line with text in LaTeX (a document preparation system commonly used for scientific texts). It was certainly a lot easier than writing examples in Sibelius, exporting to .tif, then importing/scaling it in a word processor. It also made it much faster to modify examples where necessary.

September 12, 2013 at 08:39 PM · I'm a big fan of Open Source software. I was more intending to release the pdf of whatever I come up with but I don't really see any harm in releasing the .ly files themselves. You're right, there's a very good chance that nobody is going to use them but it doesn't hurt to upload them online and give people the opportunity to modify them if they wish.

It also doesn't hurt to have another mirror. :P.

September 13, 2013 at 11:05 AM · LaTex, Gene? Good old Donald Knuth! Unfortunately, I don't think he's one of us violinists, as I can't find any evidence that he plays anything more than saxophone, tuba, piano and organ (and by reasonable assumption, keyboards generally). (He is, however, a serious Lutheran)

September 14, 2013 at 12:06 PM · Are there unserious Lutherans?

(sorry, couldn't resist)

September 14, 2013 at 01:41 PM · It has been said recently that Germans will laugh at ANY joke!

But yes, I would say that many people would say they were Lutherans whose lives are not affected by it and would not claim to believe that the Bible is true.

I believe Schumann may have been a Lutheran, but even in extremis no serious Lutheran would have set the Requiem Mass without incorporating critical comment.

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