Best Free Music Notation Software

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Introduction

Music notation software, like all other software, needs to be functional, practical, and also pleasing-to-use. The specialized function and complexity of music notation often contributes to the cost of notation programs. If you are like me, though, you like free stuff, especially if it works.

Music notation software is designed to create printable sheet music for you. The alternative to using notation software is writing music by hand, which is demanded in certain situations, but is slightly less practical. A good notation program should allow you to create any kind of music notation you need. A notation program is exceptionally well-made if it automates tasks such as spacing out notes or inserting repeats, without preventing you from modifying anything that doesn't fit your need. You should have the freedom to design your sheet music however you like it.

There are many free music notation programs on the web, with some better than others. In addition, getting accustomed to the user interface of an individual program usually takes at least 30 minutes. Hopefully, these reviews will help you make informed decisions in your search for a notation program that's a good match for you.

 

Rated Products

MuseScore  

An excellent notation editor that is across platforms to create any kind of score from lead sheets to orchestral scores.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free (Open source)
User-friendly in-program tutorial; easy and fast note entry with mouse, keyboard or MIDI; unlimited number of staves, integrated sequencer and FluidSynth software synthesizer, save as PDF or MIDI file, and more.
Note selection is difficult to use.
Read full review...

LilyPond  

A music engraving program to produce high quality and beautiful sheet music.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free (Open source)
Excellent text-based music language, produces beautiful sheet music, has various third-party GUI's.
Text-based editing can be awkward.
Read full review...

Finale NotePad  

An easy-to-use application with simple functionality to suit most of your musical notation needs.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Limited features)
Easy to learn, Scores look professional, Program interface looks professional.
Limited features, Limited file compatibility.
Read full review...

Software to Watch

Musink Lite is my pick for software to watch in the future. Its unique feature is its "tuplet" system of notation, by which the program organizes notes in each measure. Basically, when you hover the mouse over a measure, the program momentarily shows the outlines of the notes that will fit time-wise into that measure. You insert notes by clicking on the positions where you need them, and Musink inserts rests to fill in the rest of the measure. While the concept is similar to what other notation programs do, Musink tells you explicitly where you are allowed to place notes and reduces the number of clicks or keypresses required to obtain the right note duration and location. Musink Lite’s other features are still limited, but the developer is actively working on the program.

Other freeware to be reviewed:

 

Related Products and Links

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Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Stafford Otter. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here.

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Comments

I'd like to endorse all the good things you say about MuseScore, and add that it opens the .bww files of Bagpipe Music Writer (BMW) too. I'm thinking of changing the writing of my band's music from BMW to Lilypond, so that I can have more flexibility for some of our more intricate requirements. MuseScore appears to offer an intermediate step between BMW's .bww files and the .ly files of Lilypond.

I'm having problems, though, exporting the .bww files to .ly ones with "Save As..." — MuseScore crashes without saving a properly completed version. It's a pity, because the the export to .ly is much easier than Lilypond's bwwtolily procedure which just won't run on my PC. There must be a work-around, and I'll report back when I find it.

Hi Stafford, Thanks for replying. I would like to sing into the software microphone and have the song converted to printable sheet music. I would really appreciate your guidance. Many thanks, Edna

Hi EdnaG. Unfortunately, that kind of technology is highly advanced and still proprietary. I have not yet found a free program that is able to reliably convert recordings into sheet music.

The commercial program Melodyne Assistant is able to convert single-voice recordings to MIDI format files, which you can import to any of the programs listed above to print sheet music, but it costs $250 and is somewhat technically advanced.

I recommend learning to use either Finale Notepad or MuseScore. Both of these programs give feedback by playing individual notes when you click on them, and they are also able to play back what you've written at the tempo you specify. These features may help you get acquainted with the practice of reading and writing sheet music. Wishing your group future success!

I do not read or write music but I sing with a group and I am looking for a program to convert singing to sheet music. I need something very simple so that I can really understand the program and start producing my own written music.

Many thanks in anticipation
EdnaG

Hi EdnaG,

Do you mean that you would like to convert voice recordings to sheet music?

Hey, all. I recently became editor of this page, and I'm planning to test all that software listed above. This page is going to be sparse for a little while, but if you have any unanswered comments, feel free to speak up and I'll answer them as soon as I have the answers.

Hey all!

Ive read through these comments and yes there are a few more I can try but straight off what I need is software that I can load MP3/4s into and it will score it out for me- chords, lyrics and melody. I have some 30 plus songs with lyrics all originals and my notation skills are rather slow.

Can anyone help, does this even exist??? Thanks :)

LittleLadyK,

I do know that audacity has the capability to take MP3's and convert them to notes/timings. You will need the VAMP Plugins that go with it as it is what changes the songs. The Vamp Plugins (search Google) are the Queen Mary Version. There is instructions on how to copy the files into the correct directory structure so that audacity automatically loads them

thx

Kip

Littleladyk, not a lot of software for converting MP3's to notation (or even MIDI or chords) has been developed. At one point, I tried several programs that do that. If you are still looking for such programs, you can let me know, and I'll specifically address the topic on this page. In the meantime, I recommend searching for the sheet music online.