Over the last 6 months I’ve had to delve into the world of notation software for my classes at Berklee College of Music. I’ve now had exposure to four different products on two different platforms. The first is Noteflight Crescendo which is web based, and the other two are Persons Notion 5, Make Music Finale Notepad 2012 and Make Music Finale 2014.
Note flight is available as a service at www.noteflight.com. The basic edition is free and allows you to create up to 10 scores with 15 basic instruments. you can share your scores, print your scores, convert your scores to and from Music XML and MIDI as well as access them from mobile devices. The pay for service at $49.00 per year ups the ante by allowing unlimited scores, increases the available instruments to 85, allows for discrete sharing, ability to print parts, ability to organize scores, enable direct MIDI entry from a MIDI enabled device, use multiple fonts and advanced annotation, adds an audio mixer and access to preconfigured templates.
The interface is easy and intuitive to use provided you at least know the basics of music theory. The fact that you can access, create and manipulate your scores both from a web browser on your computer as well as a mobile device (in my case an iPad) makes it a very useful piece of software. Downside, is you have to have internet access to get to your scores.
Next up is MakeMusic Finale Notepad 2012 which is free to download. One thing you need to know is that it is not intuitive to use. There is no logic to how this program is laid out. It also hides critical tools at a whim when you need them. It has a very antiquated feel to it as if it were put together by programers who did not know anything about writing music by hand. It also comes with a very limited library of sounds. But it will get you buy for putting together scores for music theory classes and four or five pice bands; even for keys.
Also from MakeMusic is Finale 2014. Now, I got my copy as a competitive crossgrade from Notion5 to get the extra bells and whistles and to be able to compare the two products in an apples to apples kind of way. Which I will get to later. Finale is a full featured product that uses Garritan Orchestral Instruments as well as some select world instruments. Other instruments can be purchased for a reasonable cost and you can also use sounds form existing sound libraries and instruments that you already have provided they are VST or Audio Unit compatible.
From a scoring point of view it has all the bells and whistles. I haven’t had a chance to stress test this package yet, but so far it has lived up to my expectations. It does however show the same tendency to be poorly laid out tool wise as Notepad is, and it is far from intuitive to use. It does have a cool PDF import feature and a scan document feature to input scores. It also allows for tableture if you are a guitarist or bassist with specific incidentals that are native to the way we notate how we play our instruments.
Finally it features a human playback mode which is supposed to add in the inflections and articulations you would find humans introducing as interpretations into the playing of a piece. And it also supports scoring to video or motion picture.
Presonus Notion 5 is an update to the Notion Music’s Notion 4 notation software which Presonus acquired about a year or more ago. The acquisition has done a lot in moving this product into a contender status with Sebelius and Finale. If anything would think it should be a good consideration as a viable alternative. Here is why I say this.
Notion 5 in it’s out of the box form is already a capable product. And it is intuitive. In discussions with other composers and musicians who are professionals, they all have the same things to say about Finale and Sibelius. The learning curve is steep and the programs are not intuitive to use. And my experience thus far with the MakeMusic Finale and Notepad products attest to that.
As I said Notion 5 is intuitive to use. It is laid out very similar to the Noteflight product. So if you are transitioning from Noteflight this will be an easy thing for you to do. Notion 5 also allows or input through a MIDI input device as well as an on screen drum machine, keyboard, guitar or bass. All the palette tools are available in the one screen and it is easy to select single not entry or chord entry.
It comes with a generous library of sounds. However this is where things can get expensive. Notion has an easy low cost entry level price of $149.95 at this time. The additional sound libraries if purchased at one time is an additional $299.99. Comparatively Finale is priced at $449.00 And Sibelius 7.5 is priced at $599.95 at Guitar Center. This places Notion at a similar price point to Finale with total price of $449.94. And actually it is cheaper when you consider the price of Finale does not include the additional sound packs.
Now for the kicker. There is an iPad version of Notion which works together with the Mac and PC version. which makes being able to score music while out and about a breeze. You don’t even need an internet connection. and you can sync it all up when you do have a connection or at home. Granted there is a cost for the iPad version.
So here is the final analysis
Noteflight Crescendo 7/10 The pay to play version is easy to use and intuitive. It has a robust set of sounds and features making it a great go to product provided you have an internet connection
MakeMusic Finale Notepad 2012 5/10 (it’s free and you can’t beat that) not intuitive to use and has limited capability and features.
MakeMusic Finale 2014 6/10 Capable and an industry standard for scoring. The thing about industry standard is that doesn’t make it the best option. it’s just an option. The upside is the capability to import scores from scans and PDF. This is a great feature and one that I will be using so I will be deciding my scoring between Finale and Notion.
Presonus Notion 5/Notion iPad 8/10 This is my go to platform because of the capability to work without an internet connection and where ever I may be. The fact that my learning curve was short and I was up and running quickly helped a lot in my confidently using this product. I didn’t have to consult the help file at all to do any of the notation I had to do from notating whammy bar guitar parts to pizzicato string parts or glissandos. Notion 5 was just plain easy to use.
A word of warning regarding Presonus Progression for iPad. If you are notating parts for your country, pop, rock, whatever band for publication do not under any circumstance get Progression for iPad. It does not support drums. And that’s too bad because if it did it would help a lot of bedroom songwriters write their songs. Progression for Mac and Windows would be a great product for those wishing to notate for situations such as this.
So that’s my review of several of the notation software programs I have had the time to use. I have not gotten Sibelius at this point and Logic Pro X has a great integral notation capability for MIDI instruments though I do not rely on that capability. I also know that Sonar has that capability as well and with the inclusion of Ceremony Melodyne it now has the capability to take audio and convert it to MIDI thereby giving you notated music.