Finale and other scorewriters

November 12, 2006 at 06:14 AM · I'm so fed up with Finale Notepad! Here are my gripes:

1. You can't change the key signature or tempo in the middle of a piece. You have to start a new document each time you change the key or the tempo.

2. You can't control the number of measures per line of manuscript. Many pieces are written in a format like aabb, and I'd like to be able to start the b part on a fresh line. Also, if you want to slur the last note of one measure with the first note of the next measure, and the line breaks in the middle of your slur, you're out of luck.

3. You can't do grace notes.

4. You can't write a double stop with the same note twice (unison), such as E on the A string with open E.

5. You can't revise the title. I've written out bowing exercises in G major, for example, and I'm up the creek with regard to the title when I transpose them to D major.

6. Sometimes I can get the triplets to work, and sometimes I can't.

7. The mechanism for writing first and second endings is awkward at best. You have to draw a horizontal line; draw a vertical line; and then write in a number. The number often ends up some place where you really don't want it, i.e., on the staff, where it's illegible.

8. If you make certain revisions on the staff, your marks which go above or below the staff (slurs, for example) shift out of place.

9. You can't erase markings such as slurs.

I don't need audio playback. In fact, I always disable it because it sounds like a computer, not like music.

Finale Notepad is free. I have done a free trial of other Finale products, and they have the same problems.

I'm poverty stricken. I need something free or dirt cheap. Sibelius seems to be the gold standard, and it's outrageously, prohibitively expensive. I've checked prices on, ebay, and There is an academic version of Sibelius, but it's about $400, which I can't afford. There is a student grade Sibelius, which sells for about $90. I don't want to gamble with that much money. Has anyone tried it?

There are cheap scorewriters, such as Melody Assistant, which costs about $30. Does anyone have experience with this or other similar software packages?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Replies (23)

November 12, 2006 at 12:19 PM · Notepad is free, so it will have limitations (after all, they really want you to buy Finale). Noteworthy Composer is pretty user friendly, but unsure of cost.

November 12, 2006 at 03:11 PM · All of your complaints with Finale Notepad go away with the full version of Finale. There is also a mid-level version, I think.

If you are involved with a school (student, teacher, etc) Finale has an academic discount.

Overall, in programs, you pay more for more. All those features you want cost money to program and support.

And yes, they don't make much on the free version. I was impressed they provided any. Find a free Quicken.

Having used Finale for years, I got a copy of Sibelius to see what I was missing. Couldn't stand it! But I have friends who love it.

Good luck.

November 12, 2006 at 04:09 PM · yep, give Noteworthy (~39$) a shot (download), slim application, but when you dominate its short cuts, it's fun. The chicane of the shareware-version is, you just can save one piece ten times, I think. :/ But there are some workarounds.ยด

Before you spend money, check some of the products

here (2nd section) or here (2 sites there).

Maybe it's also a good idea to look at eBay, good place to buy cheap software in elder versions - Finale or Sibelius-versions of 2004 (almost baroque in IT) are worth nothing, just contact some of the power-sellers of that link and ask for elder versions. Same with E-shops for instance:

CODA FINALE 2006 = 577,00 EUR

CODA FINALE 2005 = 168,00 EUR

Your requirements for the software seem to be low, any elder version should meet your demands.

November 12, 2006 at 05:46 PM · If you're studying at some college or conservatory then you can probably get some student discount on real Finale or Sibelius. Having used both I can say that I much prefer Sibelius, but I know people who still swear by Finale. It's just a matter of preference.

November 12, 2006 at 05:58 PM · My colleagues and I went to presentations on both Finale and Sibelius. There were many things about Sibelius that seemed more intuitive, though we have been told it takes a while to really learn Sibelius. Those of us who make regular use of Finale don't have trouble using it, because we don't forget the details of how to find and do things. We want to use SmartMusic, which attaches to Finale, so there has been debate over trying for funding for both, or just keeping Finale. The responder who commented on the limitations of free versions is quite correct; this is a for-profit company putting out a limited sample to encourage people to buy. With the free version, you can punch up a single page of something fairly simple. I can do all the things you are frustrated by quickly and easily on the full version of Finale. Maybe you can find a public school or college where you can use somebody's set-up??? Otherwise, Finale as much of your exercises, etc., as you can, and then fix'em with a really smooth fine-line pen. Not being facetious. Also keep in mind that there are personal rewards and a good teaching point to developing a fine hand manuscript. I have two, actually; a nice, round blocky hand manuscript for kids & novices, and an artsy-looking one. Sue

November 12, 2006 at 06:07 PM · Dana, I tried the version of Finale that is one step up from Notepad in price. You can download and use it for free for a short time) It had all the same problems as Finale Notepad. I actually uninstalled it because it was no better than FN.

Mischa, I know about getting older versions of software more cheaply. For instance, I have Adobe Photoshop Elements 2, and the current version is 4. I looked for older, cheaper versions of Finale and Sibelius on, ebay, and, but there weren't any. If you know of another source I could check, please tell me about it.

I was interested in the student version of Finale. By analogy, I use Adobe Photoshop Elements instead of Adobe Photoshop, and I've saved a lot of money that way. Has anyone tried the student Sibelius?

I'm not affiliated with a school, so I have to get my own software.

November 12, 2006 at 06:18 PM · Finale is good in its full version as far as what it does, but the worst thing about it is that you constantly must upgrade it (yearly), and there are problems reading anything that has been done on a prior version, or one of the middle-of the- line versions. Sibelius is expensive but excellent: I have just been relearning how to use it (after a brief stint with Notepad and Finale)and find it ultimately much more intuitive and fluid. Don't know what the student version is like

November 12, 2006 at 07:57 PM · Any of your friends have the real version, a regestration number and a CD data burner?? He he. That is so illegal, but....


November 12, 2006 at 09:36 PM · Don't overlook good ol' handwriting. It's definitely the fastest thing going, and most publishers still want pencil on staff paper, so they can edit it more easily.

I used Notepad for one thing and I was able to do anything really, change key, meter signature, and so on, by combining the Notepad graphics functions with a graphics editor. If you want to change meter in the middle of a page for example, find the thing that allows you to insert graphics, choose the right font and size so it looks the same as the meter sig. it gives you and put it there. The spacing is wrong then, so you put it in a graphics editor and move things around, copy and paste in a little section of bank staff, etc. Yes, it's time consuming but I was only doing it once. I used the Windows Paint program for a graphics editor. I think I got it in there with alt (or is it ctrl?) Prt Scr, then opened paint and used paste to get it in. Then I had a free program to convert graphics to a pdf file, then printed the pdf file...yes it was a mess but it looked good. Not a good way to spend your week though.

Regarding pirated programs, I wouldn't recommend it today. But here's an interesting historical perspective. Back in the 80s before there was much of a movement to prevent it, at the time when most of the computer users were computer professionals in training, and everyone was an improverished student, pirated versions were really the foundation of everything. If you couldn't copy a program and take it home to do your homework on, that program didn't get used. Those programs that were easy to copy and use at home were the programs that survived and eventually became the cornerstones of the industry, and are still around. This applies to the precursors of the spreadsheets, development tools, and even the operating systems still in use. It also played a large part in which hardware platforms became standard. Technically it was stolen, but those companies and the industry as a whole were paid back a billion times over:) The industry knows this. The people now in high positions (or retiring now) are the people I'm talking about. This is the reason behind academic discounts - they're looking for a happy medium. Academic pricing is almost giving it away, or was the last I checked, but puts some control on it.

November 12, 2006 at 09:25 PM · Not so easy to learn, great to use. :)


November 12, 2006 at 10:19 PM · I also second lilypond. It's cheap and powerful. The real price to pay is the time you need to put in to learn it.

November 12, 2006 at 10:38 PM · I second that, Lilypond is _just_wonderful_ ! But has kind of steep learning curve, you know. Just like the whole LaTeX publishing system. But it's free and produces great output.

If you prefer something easy to use, give a chance to Sibelius - but it's pricey.

November 12, 2006 at 11:52 PM · 1. Finale has pretty tight (and irritating) copy-protection. I haven't tried to break it.

2. I don't update every year. I'm on 2004, and may update to 2007. If you don't want the new features or bug fixes, you don't have to update.

3. I have 5-yr old files I've pulled into Finale with no problem, except search and replace fonts.

4. My impression is that Sibelius is indeed intuitive. Are you? Some people are logical, some are intuitive. Try both if you can.

November 13, 2006 at 04:37 AM · Jim, I've done something very similar to what you have done with Finale Notepad. I write what I can with it, take a screen capture, save it as a pdf file, import it into Adobe, and modify it as a graphic file. This procedure has a couple of problems. First, it's a pain in the butt. Second, you can't import your modified manuscript back into Finale and revise it any more. Third, Finale has that damn function of ensuring that you put the "correct" number of beats into a measure. If you try to go from 4/4 to 3/4, Finale won't let you do it. However, I'm glad that someone else came up with the same crazy workaround that I did.

I read about the history of Sibelius, and it's just as you (Jim) described. "Sibelius was originally developed by British twins Ben and Jonathan Finn for the Acorn Archimedes computer (and was one of the best-known products for that computer). It was started in 1987 (just after the Finns left school), and launched in 1993, beginning a competition for market dominance with the program Finale that continues today." (from Wikipedia)

I don't write scores by hand for a couple of reasons. First, my calligraphy is terrible. I can't improve my skill much because of some visual problems I have. Second, I like to store scores in my computer and print them out for students or friends on demand.

Dana, I don't know whether I'm more logical or more intuitive, but Finale certainly wasn't intuitive for me. I found that it has a steep learning curve. I still have trouble getting triplets to work.

Someone else told me about La Tex. He said that it's very powerful, and it will do whatever you tell it to once you've set it up. However, setting it up takes quite a bit of work and skill.

November 13, 2006 at 05:03 AM · Yes, the graphics program has to be the last step:) It takes some planning.

When I was doing the thing I mentioned I did a survey of the programs available, especially without spending a lot and came up with the results you're getting here. It's tempting to write a program that gives the flexibility to do basic things manually, without all the automation that gets in the way like with Finale, at a low cost. Very simple keypad shortcuts, like up arrow means up an octave, down arrow down an octave, neither means same octave; beam it yourself by just drawing beams; move notes around freely for spacing. Maybe that'll be my next calling. Do you think there are 5000 people who'd buy it for $20?

November 13, 2006 at 05:58 AM · Jim, I'd gladly pay $20 for something like that. What I'd really like is something with a touch sensitive screen and staff lines in the background. Could you devise something like that?

November 13, 2006 at 06:24 AM · It would be so much like what you could do with a mouse pointer instead that I wouldn't do it. But maybe if it had to work outdoors where the mouse would get vandalized every three hours:)

November 13, 2006 at 08:47 AM · This free utility lets you do basic music annotation with simple pen strokes on a tablet pc (and can play the score back):

It can be downloaded from the "power toys for tablet pc" site at Microsoft. It is really just a "show case" program for the Tablet PC platform and is very limited, but is usefull enough. I believe the code is open sourse, so perhaps some tech type could improve the functionality.

I also inderstand that, while not specifically a Tablet PC program, that Finale works very well with the pen as the input device.

November 13, 2006 at 02:04 PM · Mischa- nice links! Lucky I can read German, though. Others- If you use hand-script and have access to a scanner, you can scan your pages as photos, save, print or send as attachments. Sue

November 13, 2006 at 06:48 PM · I was a long-time Finale user before I switched to Sibelius. I find the programs fairly equivalent in terms of features, but I enjoy using Sibelius more (and I routinely orchestrate works for band, orchestra, and chamber ensembles).

In education, I have more success teaching my students with Sibelius. At least at the simple level, the learning curve is much less steep, and students are able to output reasonable looking scores much faster than my previous classes using Finale. However, not every school I teach at has the resources to purchase the software (or have a lab available for my classes).

I strongly recommend the LilyPond project ( As a music engraving tool it is not as complicated to learn as one might think, and doesn't require anyone to set up a linux machine and install LaTeX. There is a single windows installer that will put a fully functional program on your machine, and the notation for the source files is quite efficient. My high school music technology classes participate in a project to engrave new versions of original scores (mostly handwritten) in local libraries that are a) out of copyright and b) decaying quickly.

LilyPond serves as a wonderful tool, and also gives me a chance to teach them about Free Open Source Software, and giving back to their community!

November 13, 2006 at 07:17 PM · I have no problem with people using other products. It partly depends on what you want to be able to do and how much you want to spend in time and money.

Triplets are a good example. For an eight-note triplet, I press ctl-3 then 4,4,4. Ctl-n gives me an n-tuplet. I may never need 9-tuplets, but you never know.

I think Finale is logical, NOT intuitive. There's nothing especially intuitive about Ctl-3. But once you learn it, Ctl-n is logical.

But the more product choices, the better.

December 7, 2006 at 10:13 AM · some other notation free/shareware-tools. is a real horn of plenty for musical tools, plugins, audio restaurations, tuitions, gimmicks, games etc..

December 8, 2006 at 08:22 PM · Finale Allegro can handle your list of requirements.

The trick is to figure out which "tool" will give you the options your looking for.

For example, select the "repeat" tool, then from the new menu that appears for that tool you'll see the options for creating first and second endings.

Using the "simple" tool (the tools that selected if you select a quarter note) a "simple" menu item appears. From there you can find "add interval" and select unison, if you've already selected the note you want to alter.

It supports time signatures/key signature changes in the same document, forcing x number of measures per line, etc.

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