Free Music Composing and Notation Software

Free Music Composing and Notation Tools Image

When it comes to buying music composing or music notation software there often isn't any such thing as a free lunch.  When looking for free music composing or notation software you can find several different free offerings, but like good Chinese food they all leave you feeling hungry a few hours later.  These free music notation software tools break with that tradition.

 

Free music notation software is not the easiest tech to come by.  While you can find hundreds of games, applications, and other mindless pursuits to install on your computer for free the act of writing and printing high quality music notation for free is much more difficult.  The percieved need for free music composing software just isn't there, and the big name music notation companies are not about to give away their flagship products for free.  But if you are not in the mood to pay three to five hundred dollars for a full blown commercial package do you really have any options?

Free Music Notation Often Means "Cheap" Music Notation

There are several companies out there that offer free music writing software packages.  We have all heard of the big name, Finale , but there are other cubs in the pack that may or may not be able to fit into your needs.  The problem is that in most cases the free or shareware versions of such music notation software is crippled or stripped down in some way.  Take  the aptly named Free Music Composer software.  The free version of the program allows you to create only eight (yes...  EIGHT!) bars of music on a single staff.  The upgraded shareware version can handle a whopping 255 bars.  Another example is the Anvil Studio.  More of a sequencing package than a dedicated music notation program Anvil is much more robust than the Free Music Composer, but still leaves much to be desired.  Anvil Studio allows you to record audio directly into the program (from a guitar for example) but the free version limits you to one minute of imported audio.

Free, High Quality Music Notation Available Now...  If You Can Figure Out How To Use It...

There are other options in the free music notation software market though.  Come of the most promising and anticipated products rely on the free Lilypond music notation program, but you won't see robust graphical interfaces for this program any time soon.  In fact, unless you are a linux/mac user you probably won't be able to find anything that works with Lilypond at all.  What is the big deal about the Lilypond music notation software?  Unlike most other free competitors files made in Lilypond come out with beautiful engraved quality prints.  The layout and accuracy of the rendered music in Lilypond is amazing, and even beats that of some of the commercial music notation software packages.  You can see examples of the great quality of Lilpond by looking at scores available through the Mutopia Project .  The problem?  The Lilypond format is a text based format.  That means that entering notes into the system is done by typing a text file, not by clicking and dragging notes around a screen.  At some point in the future you can expect a Lilypond GUI to come out for the major operating systems, but until then this option is only for the truly geeky among us.

Your Choices For Good Free Music Composing Software Are Rather Limited...

The only REAL option for music notation at this time is Finale Notepad.  While not perfect, and extremely stripped down from it's very blue blooded older sibling, Finale 2008 , Notepad offers the best free music composing software out there right now.  It can be downloaded directly from MakeMusic.com's web site, or it can also be installed from the DVD's included with several different beginner band method books such as Essential Elements 2000.  Notepad can render multiple staves and seems to have no limit on length.  The tools are very standard, and the interface rather stark, but Notepad gets the job done and with printouts that are at least acceptable in quality.

 

Please note that MakeMusic discontinued the free version of Finale Notepad beginning in 2009 (EDIT:  Finale Notepad 2012 is once again free) .  To help users find other potential music composing software solutions we also offer two comparison charts of commercially available music composing software.  There are charts available for both professional level music writing software and also for more consumer oriented music writing software programs.  We realize these are not free products, but with the loss of the free Finale Notepad product these are some of the more useful options.


 

About The Author
Chad Criswell

Chad Criswell is a career music educator working in the Iowa public schools.  His articles have appeared in dozens of publications both online and in print.  He currently serves as the national music technology writer for NAfME's Teaching Music Magazine and has presented sessions at numerous music education conferences including the 2012 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.


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  • Guest - rajeshwar

    Iwants a software which can compose and play with chord and rythmic beats

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  • Guest - cre-cre

    as stated above, finale '08 notepad is a good tool but the lack of an ability to change key or timr sigs. is cripling to me!!!

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  • Guest - letlotlo Motshegwe

    i want to write some pieces of music

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  • There are many free choices for music notation software. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scorewriters#List_of_free_scorewriter_software<br /><br />Also a GUI for LilyPond has been around for years. Look up Denemo

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  • I've been using LilyPond for a year or so now. I love that it uses text files, because they're easy to put under version control, so you can easily see what you changed since the last time you saved.<br /><br />If you're truly geeky (I'm just a wannabe), you can actually write short scripts to get the output exactly the way you want it.<br /><br />I use emacs with lilypond-mode to get everything to format nicely.

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  • Guest - Mauricio Juarez

    I am interested in buying a music program to write music for a brass quintet. I would like to try your program. Thankyou

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  • Guest - Hannah

    do you have to be america to be able to get the software from the link on makemusic.com

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  • Guest - glenn argenal

    Hi I am interesting in a program that I can record in many pistas (track) where I can record different instruments such as pianos, violins, etc, all of them including in the software, and the possibility of record externals as voice, guitars, etc.

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  • Guest - Andy

    I am looking for a music composing software that cal allow me to input chinese lyric along with the music notes. Is there any out there?<br />It does not has to be free, my budget is about $50. Any suggestion?

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  • This is a response to the article at the top of this page entitled:<br /><br />"Free, High Quality Music Notation Available Now... If You Can Figure Out How To Use It..."<br /><br />The article ends with this comment:<br />"At some point in the future you can expect a Lilypond GUI to come out for the major operating systems, but until then this option is only for the truly geeky among us."<br /><br />Well yes there is such a Lilypond GUI,<br />free and open-source:<br />DENEMO<br />(There's a WINDOWS version too)

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