Music Software Recommendations

January 13, 2020, 9:34 AM · As music librarians for a long established Youth Orchestra program (over 60 years of accumulated music) we find that we have a lot of music that is missing parts. A lot of these works are out of print and those that are still in print will not sell a single instrument part - only complete orchestral sets.

We're looking for recommendations for a music software program that is easy to use with a computer, mouse and QWERTY keyboard (not midi entry). We also want the software to support bowing markers, finger numbers, and the string specific symbols.

Any ideas? We know that the day is coming when one of the conductors will want to perform one of those works where we have to re-create a part that is missing. Help!

Replies (31)

January 13, 2020, 10:01 AM · Musescore does all that.

Creates finished sheet music for print. Can save the output as PDFs for ease of distribution.

And it is free.

There is an option for midi input, but it is typically used with mouse and keyboard.

January 13, 2020, 11:04 AM · I find Musescore to be workable for minor bits of personal annotation but it's not something I'd want to use to enter an entire score's worth of parts.

Orchestras I've played in have used Sibelius or Finale for this purpose.

Edited: January 13, 2020, 12:05 PM · I've created entire scores using Musescore and I see no real problem with it. Finale or Sibelius may give you more flexibility, but the learning curve is steeper too, and of course they are expensive.* Sibelius (and possibly Finale too) does have an "educator's" edition which is discounted, but I don't know how you qualify for that. Musescore is free -- and they continually improve it.

*Remember that software is never just a one-time expense. Oops ... your old version doesn't run on the new version of Windows. Or oops, the person on whose computer you installed the paid, licensed version left your organization. These kinds of problems are less severe than they were in the past, but they're still there to at least some degree.

January 13, 2020, 1:25 PM · After years of using the free version of Finale, I bought the full version at educator pricing and it's been completely worth it. I think I filled out a form attesting to be a private teacher. What I first needed it for was automatic linking of score and parts. The impression I got when browsing for reviews and comments was that there are a number of things in Finale that are "not intuitive" because features may have been gradually tweaked and modified over the versions and years instead of major overhauls such as significantly moving options and menus around to "make more sense"...and now I'm just used to it.

One minor quibble is how some symbols overlap in their default placement. For example, down bow and accent and fermata (on the same note with stem going down) jumble into a mess and you have to manually move them away from each other. The same happens with a rehearsal letter/number box and tempo marking in the same measure. Things in the articulation menu are meant to attach to notes or rests, and if you want to place an "articulation" somewhere else, you have to attach it to a note and drag it over.

About finger numbers, 0 is not automatically in the articulation menu (the more circular harmonic symbol is) but can be set up easily. For students, sometimes I want something like "-1" to show shifting and have to use the text tool for that. There are other "minor quibbles" that I basically just live with and many, many features I don't use.

I'll also point out my student's parent's recommendation of MuseScore (not for me though, being too accustomed to Finale).

Edited: January 13, 2020, 2:58 PM · Like Paul I have typeset orchestral scores and generated parts using Musescore (
Friedrich_Theodor) or if you are interested). I have version 2 of Musescore; it has its flaws (slow when the file is large) but it can do everything you need.

Meanwhile they are on version 3 for which my computer is unfortunately too old, so I am stuck for now. From what I hear it works well.

Lydia, when did you try Musescore and which version? It has come a long way in a few years. To recreate a missing part or several it will be perfectly fine. And free.

January 13, 2020, 2:39 PM · There is a free version of Sibelius available. It is limited in the number of parts in a score and in other features as well, but for what you describe it should be sufficient.
January 13, 2020, 6:34 PM · Lydia, maybe you were using an old version of Musescore?

The current version can handle an entire orchestral score, and has the option to print parts for separate instruments.

January 13, 2020, 7:00 PM · If you are only looking into type-setting out the missing parts occasionally, just go for Musescore.

Programmes like Finale, Sibelius and Dorico are mostly for composers of all sorts.

January 13, 2020, 7:03 PM · The free version of Sibelius is very limited, both in the number of parts in a score and also in the extra markings available.

I agree with the people who have recommended MuseScore -- It's now in version 3, and with each new major version number huge improvements have happened.

If there is money in the budget, as a long-time user of both Finale (since version 3.5 back in the 1980s) and Sibelius (since version 2.11) I used Finale for a long long time before becoming comfortable with Sibelius, but once I made a concerted effort to really learn Sibelius I find that for the past 10 years or so Sibelius has been my go-to notation software.

I use it a lot to modernize old marching band editions for my community band to play. I also use it for string orchestra scores and individual parts.

But Sibelius is very expensive while MuseScore is free -- and MuseScore can do all that you need.

Edited: January 16, 2020, 1:49 AM · A colleague of mine produces dozens of jazz arrangements for live shows in major venues in Los Angeles and Las Vegas using only MuseScore.

I currently arrange and orchestrate full orchestra scores for my youth symphony ensembles using MuseScore 3, including producing missing parts and generating transpositions for various wind/brass instruments. The product has reached a level of sophistication and maturity that will suit the needs of most users, save for some composers using notation that does not exist in the system.

I used Finale back in the late 80's, switched to Sibelius around in the late 90's...but then AVID dumped the dev team and wrecked the product, so I gave Dorico a go (and it is stellar) except that Steinberg has an awful Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme that makes using the software downright unpleasant. MuseScore suits my needs very well, and I can run it on any of the Windows and macOS systems available to me and have the same exact experience across multiple platforms.

January 14, 2020, 4:38 AM · Thanks everyone. I downloaded the Musescore3 but, for whatever reason I cannot find the symbols for string markings (up/down bow, accents,... nor how to place a number above the note to indicate fingering)

What am I missing? Other than the string markings, it does look simple to use and I even created a short piece just for practice.

Some direction as to where to find those additional markings will be appreciated.

Edited: January 14, 2020, 5:18 AM · George, if you look in the articulations palette (the workspace to the left of the screen) you will find the up/down bow symbols. Just highlight the note you want to add them to and double click the appropriate symbol in the articulations pallette.

Similarly, there's a fingering palette.

If you cannot see the palettes workspace, either press F9 or go to the View menu and ensure that Palettes is checked.

January 14, 2020, 5:58 AM · I believe Musescore also has some tutorials on YouTube and such.
January 14, 2020, 6:16 AM · I downloaded - looks neat but anyone know how to import a PDF that is already on your computer (if that is possible)? Seems that PDF import takes you to a web-page....
January 14, 2020, 10:39 AM · It was a couple years back. I eventually switched to using Noteflight for doing quick things.
January 14, 2020, 10:54 AM · Paul, Musescore has also forums on which you can ask any question like the one George has asked above and answers will be forthcoming quickly, often from the developers themselves.
January 14, 2020, 10:57 AM · Elise, Importing music from a PDF requires a special software program. I think this is true for all the software notation programs.

Do an internet search for PDF to Music XML conversion. Music XML files can be imported directly into Musescore, as can midi files.

I tried out a lot of conversion programs and could not find one that was reliable enough to make it worth the money. There were always significant errors in the conversion and the work to manually correct the problems frequently approached the time needed to enter the entire score manually.

But maybe there has been better progress in this area since I researched it. If you find something that seems to work well, please let us know.

January 14, 2020, 11:02 AM · Musescore also has a commercial website called People have converted, to music XML format, well-known music of many genres and uploaded the files to that site. It does not cost anything to join, search and download.

If I want to do something with a composition in the public domain, especially a popular piece from the classical music world, I start with a search of that website and frequently find someone has already created a musescore-compatible version of the work.

January 14, 2020, 1:19 PM · Thanks Carmen - its just that I already have a very extensive PDF collection so it would be nice to be able to import that. Will check out your ideas.
January 14, 2020, 1:36 PM · I think turning PDF files into notation files like XML is a big challenge and requires a musical OCR, and OCR is never super reliable...
Edited: January 14, 2020, 1:40 PM · What Lydia said bears further discussion. There are lots of programs you can get that will convert existing PDF scores to a form that can be imported into Musescore. But you have to remember that those programs are not magic -- they're a form of OCR with pattern recognition algorithms and they make a lot of mistakes. We haven't really reached the point where those programs are ready for you to feed all your PDFs into it and expect them all to emerge in a useful form without a fair amount of editing, correcting, etc. The amount of your labor that will still be required means that you will be choosing those PDFs that are of highest importance for conversion. The "hive" will eventually do it for you...

Albrecht, yes, I'm aware that they have a forum, but my own experience with the forum is that if you ask questions where the answer is easily found in the manual, they don't enjoy answering. The manual is very good, but you do need to know the terms for what you are looking up. (Who knew those were called "beams"?)

January 14, 2020, 2:28 PM · What about the audio equivalent of OCR, software that notates pitch and rhythm? That's been around for quite a while but maybe accuracy, including accuracy of guessing intention and not overly complicating the notation*, has improved since I last checked (not any time recently). *For example, you meant to play eighth-quarter-eighth instead of some combination of various dotted values or ties or 32nd notes that takes up the appropriate duration but isn't anything anyone would actually read.

Manual input of pitch and rhythm is actually not that tedious for me compared to doing all the other markings. On the other hand, if there were a program where you could "write in" (with a stylus? mouse? touchscreen?) articulations and dynamics and such and it recognizes the symbol and converts it to typeset and playback...

Hypothetically, I wonder if the result from a high accuracy transcriber combined with handwriting recognition of other inputs would require significantly more or less editing and correcting than the result from a PDF conversion by OCR.

January 15, 2020, 10:03 PM · In most cases, I found that manually transcribing a piece form print to Musescore took less time and was less bothersome than using a program to convert a PDF and then correcting the mistakes.

Basically, after the PDF conversion, I found it necessary to check the conversion against the entire piece to figure out what it got right and wrong. It wasn't really a time saver. ;(

January 15, 2020, 11:34 PM · I'm a composer by trade, and I guess this will sound like a curmudgeonly reply, but... I'd say--Get Finale on a Mac, and hook up a USB keyboard (I use the AKAI LPK-25--it's $50 if you're a good shopper), deal with the learning curve (just dive in--my first project back with Finale 1.0--really!--was writing out transcriptions for a musicologist's article), and then you've got something that will give you professional results. And you can scale it up for whatever notation needs you can imagine. In the end, I suspect you will wish you had gone this way.
Edited: January 16, 2020, 11:18 AM · Steinberg has released a free version of Dorico. I got an email about it from Steinberg, but when I went to their website I didn't find it there, but I didn't look all that hard.


January 16, 2020, 12:01 PM · For transcribing pdf, I bought Neuratron Photoscore. There's still a lot of work involved. If anyone knows a better way, I'd be glad to hear it.
As for updating the computer, I recently replaced the motherboard and processor, then used Acronis Trueimage to restore the lot. Operating system, programmes with all the registrations etc. Highly recommended. So now everything's on Windows 10 with a Ryzen 5.
January 16, 2020, 12:04 PM · And, in answer to George, as a string player I don't WANT someone else's fingerings in the part.
Fingerings are very individual.
January 16, 2020, 12:07 PM · Ditto Malcolm -- I tried Photoscore for transcription. It is, shall we say, substantially less magical than one might like.
Edited: January 16, 2020, 2:03 PM · The "CAPTCHA" quizzes that you see at the bottom of web forms are (were?) actually (sometimes) snippets of text from actual manuscripts cut into tiny pieces so that the hive mind can do OCR on them, as the human brain is still the world's best computer for some tasks.

Perhaps Musescore should allow you to pay down a portion of your membership dues by transcribing public-domain scores into Musescore files.

January 16, 2020, 5:11 PM · I revisited the "Import PDF..." feature of Musescore. (You can find it under the the "File" menu option.)

It opens a web page where you can upload the pdf file. The website then converts it for you and you can download the Musescore file.

I did a simple test. I created a Musescore file in the key of A major and created a series of simple ascending and descending scales. I added slurs to some of the notes, some text, and a few finger markings.

I then exported it as a PDF file.

The PDF file was converted back to Musescore using the Import PDF feature.

None of the text was recognized and several of the slurred quarter notes were converted to triplets that contained rests. Very odd.

If it miserably failed such a simple test, I would not put much faith in it doing even a decent job on an extensive and highly annotated composition.

I then downloaded a demo version of SmartScoreX which has a built in PDF to musicXML conversion feature. It was confusing to use, but it did a better job of converting the A major scales score. The text appeared but with frequent misspellings. But most of the notes, fingerings and slurs were OK.

The conversion technology still seems immature.

January 16, 2020, 5:46 PM · I can do that with Reaper

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