Best Free Music Notation Software

 
Introduction

Music notation software, like all other software, needs to be well-written, functional, and practical. 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 does work, but is slightly less practical. A quality 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. Above all else, 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.

 
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Discussion

MuseScoreMuseScore is an excellent notation editor that is compatible with Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and FreeBSD. It is capable of creating the notes, symbols, and lines that you'll need for almost any kind of score, from lead sheets to orchestral scores.

MuseScore's WYSIWYG interface does what you want for the most part, although like most other music programs, it does have a learning curve. Don't worry though, because you can find the answers to most of your questions either in the MuseScore handbook or on the MuseScore forums. After about an hour using the program, you'll likely have mastered note entry, note editing, and adding various articulations.

MuseScore has a strong set of features. It can play back your music, using either its own soundfont file or another that you specify. It can open MIDI, musicXML, and several proprietary save formats. It can also export to a variety of files, including MIDI, musicXML, WAVE audio, and PDF. In addition, the Musescore site hosts a small library of plugins, which automate certain tasks. The one feature it lacks is a rectangle selection tool, which I have seen in other notation programs, but this is a minute complaint. Overall, Musescore is a great choice for any kind of job.

 

Lilypond takes a unique approach to rendering notation by having you type out the music in a kind of programming language, which Lilypond converts into a PDF or MIDI. Though learning it is daunting, the Lilypond language is built to be logical, comprehensive, and beginner-friendly. The Lilypond website provides excellent tutorials and documentation that enablLilypond screenshote you to start notating music with a brief knowledge of the language. The basic parts of the Lilypond syntax are measure divisions, note pitches, and note durations, but you will also find that a wide variety of features such as dynamic marks, staves, instrument-specific notation, and page format, are included. In addition to the language's functionality, the sheet music looks nice and just about every detail is adjustable.

Lilypond by itself will likely be useful solely for converting handwritten sheet music to a printable format. I found that being unable to see the music as I typed it made it difficult to understand what I was typing, which made composing from scratch difficult. If you spend enough time with Lilypond, though, reading the textual music might come to feel natural. There are also other ways to use Lilypond, listed on Lilypond.org's Easier Editing page. Frescobaldi displays the compiled PDF as you edit the Lilypond text. Denemo, another program recommended on the Lilypond website, lets you edit the notation graphically while using Lilypond behind the scenes to create the final PDF. If you love the style of Lilypond's sheet music but cannot work with text, there is likely some program that can turn your music into Lilypond sheet music.

Lilypond is compatible with Mac OSX, Windows, Linux, and FreeBSD. Frescobaldi is compatible with Windows and Linux. On Mac OSX, Frescobaldi requires some hands-on setup. Denemo is compatible with Mac OSX, Windows, and Linux.

 

Finale Notepad provides simple functionality that should suit most of your musical notation needs. Although the features of Finale Notepad are sparser than those of MuseScore and Lilypond, its main appeal is its ease of use. Due to its well-organized interface and excellent set of online tutorials, you can easily start notating immediately upon running the program.

Finale Notepad can import and export Finale Notation Files, MIDI, and Music XML. Imported MIDI data can be quantized.

Finale Notepad enables you to enter notes by typing, by clicking, or by playing them one by one on a MIDI instrument. Notepad provides several sets of standard objects (articulations, dynamic marks, etc.), which are applied to notes and can be repositioned as necessary. Notepad is not as flexible as MuseScore concerning less common articulations and instrumentation. Its biggest limitations are lack of chord notation, guitar chord charts, and advanced lyric-editing tools. But, it does retain the stability and shine of its cousins in the MakeMusic product line, with a competitive feature set for an easy-to-learn, free program.

 

Other freeware to be reviewed:

 
Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

 
Quick Selection Guide

MuseScore
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Notes are entered on a virtual note sheet, 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.
http://www.musescore.org/
1.3
36.9 MB (Windows)
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Open source freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Linux, Windows 8, 7, Vista, or XP, Mac OS X 10.6+

v1.3 released 27 February, 2013

Lilypond
5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Excellent text-based music language, produces beautiful sheet music, has various third-party GUI's
Text-based editing can be awkward
http://lilypond.org/
2.18.2-1
24.8MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Open source freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Mac OS X 10.4+; Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7 and 8; Linux

Stable v2.18.2 released March 23, 2014
Unstable v2.19.5 released April 20, 2014

Finale Notepad
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Easy to learn, Scores look professional, Program interface looks professional
Limited features, Limited file compatibility
http://www.finalemusic.com
2012
97.82MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP/Vista/7/8/8.1; Mac OSX 10.5-10.8

 
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.

Tags

notate, write, compose, music, notation, symbol

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Comments

by natsing2006 on 2. October 2012 - 5:16  (100092)

I think Merbine meant playing the notes on a keyboard in real time, instead of selecting a note length, then pitch, then rinsing and repeating. Unfortunately, I have tried this, and I can't find anywhere in MuseScore that has this feature, unfortunately. :(

by Capriccio (not verified) on 12. November 2011 - 20:54  (83161)

Good day!

I think Freeware score editor Capriccio (avaible under http://www.cdefgabc.com) is also worth mentioning. And it's available both online and as a desktop application.

by Yosl (not verified) on 20. October 2011 - 18:52  (81794)

In the old days I used Deluxe Music Construction Set and I'm looking for a program that works as well as that one did.

I've been using Finale's Songwriter for the past several years and find it very slow to work with.

I tried MuseScore a few days ago and found a fair number of features that I like. It takes some getting used to, but my impression is that it is easier to use than Songwriter. Unfortunately, when I entered chord names, it doesn't play the chords. I'm not sure what else I'll find that I like or dislike about MuseScore, and I hope that if it is a "work in progress" that the chord playing will get added soon.

I don't mind paying for a good program but I'd rather keep the budget within reason. I don't want to pay hundreds of dollars and find that it doesn't do what I need it to do.

And I still miss Deluxe Music Construction Set even after all these years.

by Cornwell Webb (not verified) on 30. May 2011 - 6:14  (72922)

Does anyone know if there is a free notation program for iPad?

by Anonymoussssssss (not verified) on 14. July 2011 - 23:16  (75505)

There is "Scorio" on the iPad. It's an okay software, but It is free.

by GreenEyes (not verified) on 28. April 2011 - 19:04  (71072)

I have used MuseScore in the past. I do have issues with it. For instance, it will not produce seperate eigth notes. It will instead blend them into sixteenth notes. Very annoying. Also, if you take a random note and double click on it, it will crash the whole program. I am looking for something a litte more stable. Any ideas?

by montanamama (not verified) on 20. August 2011 - 20:09  (78053)

the updated version is much more stable - not nearly as many crashes.

by johnny che ole (not verified) on 17. January 2011 - 20:22  (64737)

hello to all,

i am looking for a fast notation software that i can play keyboard into in 'real-time' as much as possible. this will be primarily for writing horn charts for a live performance style band (ie: soul, r n b type band). any help would be appreciated. thanks,
johnny

ps: i am really a guitarist. i was thinking about getting a midi pickup and going straight from guitar into notation software. i cannot be the first person to address this problem.

by kabrush on 3. April 2011 - 21:06  (69406)

I'm in a similar situation. I am playing guitar - two female singers. I want to be able to write out harmonies for them.

I'd like to be able to play right into the computer and have the music automatically transcribe - write itself. Is that possible? Which program do I need? Thanks fine musicians!
Keith

by garth on 3. April 2011 - 22:33  (69408)

MuseScore has this capability for any MIDI input but for guitar you will require the appropriate hardware. One option is the Roland GK-3 MIDI guitar pickup.

by GrayMorning (not verified) on 16. January 2011 - 17:53  (64663)

My major problem with Musescore is that you're always replacing a rest with a note, or visa versa. That means you can't put in a dotted half note and two quarter notes in a measure in 3/4 time, even if that's what you want. Also, if you have a sharp or flat (not in the key signature), and you have two of that note in the measure, it puts in either a natural sign or another flat instead of having the option to leave it blank.

by drummer1091 on 29. July 2011 - 17:07  (76466)

Do you know the problem with putting a dotted half note and two quarter notes in a measure of 3/4 time? The issue with that is not in the program it is that you are trying to put five beats where there is only three. In 3/4 there is only three beats where the quarter note gets the beat. The dotted half note takes up three quarter notes which would take up the entire measure so you would have to go into a second measure for the other two quarter notes you wish to put in. So your issue with putting a dotted half note and two quarter notes in a measure of 3/4 time is a problem with you trying to break rules of music that cannot be broken.

by montanamama (not verified) on 20. August 2011 - 20:08  (78052)

you could change the time for that measure only (3/4 to 5/4) and then you can add the notes. bit of a pain but it works.

by Flinty (not verified) on 21. June 2011 - 12:49  (74078)

Enter the accidentals in the reverse order i.e. from right to left. This is explained in an article on making lead sheets

by Century22 on 28. December 2010 - 18:25  (63414)

MuseScore 0.9.6.3 is released Sat, 09/25/2010 - 16:12

Windows: The latest stable release for Windows is version 0.9.6.3.
27.7MB ( 28.3MB on my computer )
Requirements for Windows
* Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7
* 125MB hard disk space required for software download and installation
* 1024 by 768 pixels or higher screen resolution

Mac OS X: The latest stable release for Mac OS X 10.4 or later is version 0.9.6.3.
Ubuntu official: There are ready-to-install packages for Ubuntu in the "universe" repository. The packages provided are often older versions than the current stable version.

http://musescore.org/en/download

Also see:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-music-software.htm
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-audio-editing-software.htm

by jes ort (not verified) on 7. December 2010 - 16:04  (62161)

I wil try this software

by Sebastian L. (not verified) on 11. July 2010 - 10:17  (54080)

And dont forget Forte
http://www.forte-notation.eu/en/index.htm
I think its great for everyday musicians.

by Anonymous on 4. December 2009 - 17:38  (37838)

finale notepad, but the latest free version is 2008. you don't have to install it so it can be run on a flash drive

by Anonymous on 24. November 2009 - 14:52  (37222)

I am finding a software which can assist me to music notes for teaching how to use music notation.

Baika Kahuta

by Anonymous on 19. September 2009 - 6:34  (32947)

Canorus is worth keeping an eye on. Whilst still in beta, their vision is quite exciting.

http://canorus.berlios.de/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

by Anonymous on 11. September 2009 - 4:39  (32522)

MuseScore is a simple, but very functional, program. After testing the ones that are suggested here, I definitely choose this one. Denemo has a terrible interface, so I don't recomment it.

by Anonymous on 18. May 2009 - 19:18  (21802)

I would suggest Tuxguitar which is totally free. It is one of my all time favorite programs. It can play a large variety of files including "Guitar Pro 3, 4, and 5" files. It can also play power tab and tuxguitar files.

Tuxguitar allows the user to create their own songs and than listen to them. It also lets user listen to songs and learn to play them by looking at the music notation.

Tuxguitar has a large variety of instruments from pianos to guitar to etc.

I personally prefer Tuxguitar over Powertab because it supports a larger variety of file type and has all the features of Powertab plus more!

by Kina (not verified) on 24. January 2012 - 1:57  (87669)

The only thing bad about Tux Guitar is that you can only enter sharps and no flats... I like the program except for that!

by Anonymous on 20. July 2009 - 15:41  (25438)

Hi there!
Any ideas where i can obtain free RSEs for guitar pro 5? The MIDI is ok but i need to hear more realistic sounds to judge a lot of songs i try to play. If not, does Tuxguitar contain a Realistic Sound Engine?

by Anonymous on 15. May 2009 - 4:08  (21608)

I was looking for a scoring program that plays MIDI instruments or a rack mount unit.

Any good choices?

by choicefresh on 4. May 2009 - 22:56  (21061)

Thanks for copying and pasting that for me; you saved me some work :D

by Jazzy on 24. April 2009 - 8:34  (20416)

PowerTab is good, a few bugs when using accidentals in certain keys, but well worth the price ;)

Cool, A thread for musicians! Lets get this off the ground...Here's a couple I like;

Kristal Audio Engine A free virtual studio.

Best Practice Time stretching transcribing tool (Slow down and loop audio without changing pitch)

and of course the ever faithful Audacity

by ianjrichards (not verified) on 21. April 2009 - 4:12  (20215)

I'm looking for a good free music notation/composition software. Some I've heard of are:

* MuseScore
* Finale NotePad
* Anvil Studio
* Bucket o' Tab
* Denemo
* Easy Music Composer Free
* GNU LilyPond
* iabc
* Musette

Does anyone have any opinions on these?
Choicefresh

by Anonymous on 19. September 2009 - 1:07  (32941)

Finale is by far the best of all of these choices, however it costs money and is not freeware.

Musescore is your best bet with drag and drop notes

by Anonymous on 14. May 2009 - 21:31  (21596)

"Linux MultiMedia Studio or LMMS, is a free software digital audio workstation. It is available for the Linux, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows operating systems. Music can be produced by synthesizing sounds, arranging samples, and playing on a MIDI keyboard." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux_MultiMedia_Studio)

"The free Notation Player displays music (.mid, .kar, or .not ) files as sheet music that you can view on the screen while the notes play, and also print." (http://www.notation.com/DownloadNotationPlayer.htm)

lloonn

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