New Tools in Writing Music – NOTATION SOFTWARE

This is the first post in a series I’m making about how to produce music in your basement. This post is on Notation Software. Other posts will follow on Digital Audio Workstations, Music Sample Libraries, Recording, etc.

Read on to learn about how to use music notation software, what it costs, pros and cons of competing softwares, free software, and more!

Download Finale keyboard shortcuts for Mac here!

Download Finale keyboard shortcuts for Windows here!

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Notation Software is a program that allows you to write music, create sheet music, insert notes, rests, measures, multiple parts etc. Once you have put notes down on the page, you can press play, and it will play the music back to you.

Buy Finale 2014.5 here.

Get Finale Notepad Free.

Buy Sibelius here.

Get Musescore Free.

Let me first let you know what I have and what I do. I have been using notation software since 2001. I started out on Finale 2001. I upgraded to Finale 2007 when I went to Utah State University. Since then I have upgraded to Finale 2012 and Finale 2014.5 which is the latest version of that notation software. If you want to be relevant, or if you want your software to run smoothly on your computer, you will need to be committed to upgrading your software.

Initial Cost and Upgrades

The latest version of Finale runs at about $600. Once you’ve purchased it, upgrades only cost you about $150. Every 2-3 years an upgrade is released. Upgrades include new features, bug corrections – sometimes they are monumental upgrades, other times  the upgrades are less-noticeable. Some upgrades are free e.g., when Apple released it’s OS El Capitan, Finale 2014 wasn’t going to be compatible with it. So Finale sent out an email telling its customers not to download the operating system El Capitan until Finale released an update that would make finale compatible with it. Then about a month after El Capitan came out, Finale released Finale 2014.5 which was a free upgrade for anyone who already owned Finale 2014, which I did. They took the time to address other bugs with the software, and now Finale is running smoother than ever.

What is Finale Like?

Finale lets you set up a score the way you want. You may choose the instruments and their order. You can also let Finale put them in “score order” for you. You can import and export files into MUSICXML files which allow you to transfer files between competing softwares i.e., Finale and Sibelius.

Finale Start Up

This is how you set up your score. You select them on the left and add them into the box on the right. You can let the instruments default into score order, or use the arrows on the right to manually adjust the order. The instrumentation can be edited later on in the score editor, but doing so can corrupt your file. If you confuse the program, sometimes you need to copy and paste the contents of the measures into a new clean document. This is one feature that I’d like to see fixed later on.

Score Set up

You type in the info that you’d like to make appear on the score. This info can be edited easily later on.


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You select your time signature, key signature, tempo, and number of measures. All of these things can be easily changed later on. You’ll easily be able to transpose, change keys, change time signatures, adjust tempos and so on. You can also select a variety of other asymmetrical time signatures.

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Your work station will then look like this, and you’ll have a toolbar across the top of your screen which will help you access a number of different options from transposing, to inserting cautionary accidentals.

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One of the most useful tools I have is my 88-key midi controller. I bought this in October of 2014. Since then, it has been part of every technological music project I’ve ever done.


Buy a midi controller here.

I use this midi controller to speed up my data entry into finale. It can literally save you days of work. You can use the hyperscribe option Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.47.59 PM in finale to insert music in real time. You need to adjust the parameters so it knows how picky to be with the rhythms you play into it e.g., you can tell it not to record anything faster than an 8th note – then if you accidentally play something too quickly, it will interpret it as an 8th note.

You can also use the speedy entry tool  Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.47.51 PM  to use the midi controller to control pitch (not in real time.) Both the hyperscribe, and the speedy entry tools are very useful.

Some other features that I love are the abilities to export the file as midi data (then it can be read by any program that reads midi files such as pro-tools, logic pro, garage band, etc.,) and the feature that allows me to export my music into PDF files.

The great thing about PDFs is that you can print on any size of paper and make it as big or small as you’d like, and you don’t lose ANY resolution. Everything stays crisp.

I’ve used Finale to write my Master’s Thesis, prepare music for commercial publication, and  various other projects. Here are some of the final products:

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These are screen shots, so the resolution isn’t great. But the actual files look flawless.

Finale’s Competitor: Sibelius

Finale’s main competitor is Sibelius. I’ve heard from many trusted sources that Sibelius is better than Finale. If you are new to notation software, you should start with Sibelius. I hear it is more intuitive and less bulky.

If you are very competent with Finale and you truly know it like your phone number, then you shouldn’t be reading this part of this post, and you should stick to Finale. I’m in that boat, I have years beyond years of experience with Finale for various projects which have required much more than a casual knowledge of it. At this point it would slow me down a lot to switch to Sibelius.

Your notation software will only get you so far. It will not help you produce music from your home, it will help you create sheet music for others to perform and publish your music.


Finale Notepad is a free version of Finale. It is extremely limited, but it may be useful for simple projects, and as a trial software.

Get Musescore Free.


Digital Audio Workstations