Picking the wrong music writing software can mean spending hours writing out something that should be written in minutes, so it pays to do your research. To save you time, we’ve rounded up the best music notation software this year and talked about the pros and cons of each option.
We’re taking a look at the best music notation software from the view of musicians who need to write a lot of notes. That’s most of us, but especially drummers, pianists, or anyone who tends to find themselves changing their minds regularly while composing. We’re also thinking about people who aren’t just writing symphonies – like people writing practice exercises for themselves or their music students.
Without further adieu, here are our picks for the best music notation software packages of 2022.
#1 Pick: Musink Music Notation Software
If you are writing music for drums, percussion, or piano, we think Musink is the best music notation software on the market. We also think it creates the best sheet music for exercises and is solid for other kinds of music and instruments, too. Let’s look at why.
It’s easy and fast to write sheet music
Compared with other music writing software, Musink is lightning fast and much easier to use for drums or other music notation that has a lot of notes.
With Musink, you simply move the mouse pointer to where you’d like a note and click. Musink’s unique note entry tools and AI take care of editing so that your music looks great and you don’t need to think beyond where you want a beat.
This is in stark contrast to almost all other notation software where you need to spend time manually setting note lengths and spend the effort to make the music look nice. Other software also is set up so that if you want to change a note, you often need to rewrite all the notes around it. For drums, and other percussion including piano, that means writing the basics can take hours. With Musink you can often compose sheet music twice as quickly as the next best music notation software on the market.
There’s a free version
Musink has a Professional and a Lite version. Musink Lite is free notation software and comes with a broad range of features you can produce sheet music with. If you’ve got $5 in your pocket, the upgrade to Musink Pro is a no-brainer.
Musink Pro is our top pick as the best music notation software on the market, especially for hobbyists, teachers, and professional musicians. It comes packed with features like recording from your MIDI keyboard or drumkit, better playback, more powerful PDF creation, and is generally faster and easier to compose music with.
Musink is easy to use
Did we mention it’s just point-and-click? Musink takes care of most tasks so that it’s easy to produce great-looking music even if your music notation theory is not great, or if your design skills are lacking.
Musink has a detailed music notation software help site complete with tutorials to help get you up to speed for writing your first few pieces of sheet music. These tutorials are greatly appreciated and make learning its unique interface easy.
If you don’t want to input notes, you can skip the whole music writing process by looking online for MIDI files of the songs you are transcribing and using the import MIDI functionality.
Writing drum exercises?
Most software is only truly designed for orchestral scores. Musink is the only notation software we’ve found that has specific features for writing drum practice exercises or similar music for music lessons. Whether you’re writing just one idea or want to publish an entire exercise book, Musink makes it easy.
Musink is the best music notation software in our view for drummers, pianists, hobbyists, or anyone who needs to edit frequently or enter a lot of notes. Of all music notation apps reviewed, it’s unique in that it really understands what drummers need from their notation software.
- Easy to use interface
- Uniquely fast to write music
- Free version and premium version available
- Drum-friendly functionality
- Fully MIDI compatible for playback, MIDI import, and recording
- Easy PDF creation
- Does not need an internet connection
- There’s a waitlist if you’re on a Mac
Sibelius music writing software
The main software developers behind Sibelius were famously laid off some years ago. Despite this, Sibelius is a music writing program that has continued to stand the test of time. Sibelius is usually used for writing music for orchestras or bands and has deep functionality in most areas.
An easy to use interface
Sibelius’ user interface is almost as standard as it gets, so if you’ve used other programs further down this list you’ll find your way around fairly quickly.
The standard user interface means professional composers will find most niche marks and standard text options they’re used to in other notation programs, as well as support for formats such as MIDI and music XML files.
The downside of the standard user interface is that writing in Sibelius – and most other notation tools further down this list – is noticeably slower than writing in Musink. If you’re someone who tends to edit a lot during the creative process or are writing a lot of notes in your musical scores, you’ll notice your productivity slow down.
Beautiful sheet music?
Sibelius can create beautiful sheet music, but this music notation software can also make your work to get it looking good. Often it’ll be your responsibility to move things so they don’t overlap – sometimes leading to a bit of a messy page.
Sibelius comes with good quality playback for your music scores. Like Musink Pro, it ships with a volume mixer, tool. If you’re a power user, you might find it’s less flexible with MIDI controllers than our #1 pick, but the quality of the default sounds is still a strength.
There are three Sibelius versions, including free software
It has to be said, while Sibelius is popular notation software, it can be expensive. There is a free version of Sibelius called Sibelius First, whose functionality is much more restricted than the paid-for versions of Sibelius. To write more than four instruments, you will need to upgrade to Sibelius or Sibelius ultimate. At the time of writing, the full versions of Sibelius were affordable, but 2 – 4x the price of our favorite pick, Musink.
If you’re composing music for the London symphony orchestra, Sibelius could be the best music writing software for your next concert. If you want to write music for drums, piano, or edit a lot during your creative process, you may find this well-known notation software a little cumbersome to write your music notation tidily in.
- Mature, well-known music notation software
- Many features
- Standard input tools
- Good playback
- Drum music is awkward to write
- Requires effort to create good looking scores
- The free version has limited functionality
#2 Finale sheet music software
The finale is another big contender for the best music notation software. Finale music writing software comes at a premium – currently around $600 – to cement its position as something, particularly for the professional composer.
Finale has all the tools
Finale users commonly cite Finale for having virtually all the features a composer could ever want. Despite this, or maybe as a consequence, users sometimes lament its clunkiness. Specifically, the program’s deep feature set can make it confusing to use for people who are not professional composers. Sibelius is often cited as Finale’s biggest competitor because both aim to be the best music writing programs for orchestral and classic score writing.
Remember: if you’re writing for drums, piano, or editing ideas as you write them, your main goal is to input notes. A lot of notes. In these cases, having a huge feature set may not be your biggest priority, and aiming for a more intuitive workflow might be more important.
Finale is as close to industry standard as you can get, but its heavy feature set comes at a matching price and can make it slow to write in.
- Professional music notation software
- Deep range of features
- Music writing software that most professional musicians have heard of
- Slower to write music in
- Lots of personal responsibility when trying to create good looking sheet music
MuseScore music writing software
Musescore is completely free music writing software. Unlike Musink Lite, which aims to try something new and caters directly to drummers, Musescore seems to be modeled on the layout of Sibelius and Finale. That is, it carries similar benefits and drawbacks to our previous two contenders for the best music writing software.
Free program, community support
Musescore is open-source software, meaning there is no company directly responsible for fixing bugs or helping you when you get stuck. Instead, it’s a community effort, though that community is now of quite a reasonable size.
When you need help, you’ll be relying on the community to answer questions in forums, and relying on the goodwill of others to fix bugs that appear. If you’re into truly free-like-freedom software, this is your match. If you’re expecting dedicated support or need help quickly, Musink and others might have a better reputation for helping you out.
Musescore comes with a semi-fixed set of sounds for playback. This means it’s simple to hit play, but trying to get your scores to sound great can take some IT expertise.
By comparison, Sibelius is made by a company that specializes in virtual instruments, and Musink will easily hook up to any MIDI-enabled program on your computer to give you ultimate power over how your sheet music sounds when you use playback.
Musescore is the little brother of Sibelius and Finale. Rather than a ground-breaking intuitive user interface like Musink or a very deep feature set like Finale, its big drawcard is that it’s free. If you’re not willing to pay a few dollars for a subscription to use premium professional music notation software and would like to pass on the free versions of Musink or Sibelius, Musescore is an option worth considering.
- Free software and a free download
- Reasonable range of features
- Large online community of users
- Supports MusicXML files
- All the same downsides of Sibelius and Finale
- Not optimized for drummers or percussionists
- More limited playback quality
- No dedicated customer support
- Can be buggier than paid professional music writing software
#3 Online music notation software
If you’re looking for the best music notation software, you’ll probably notice a small range of alternative websites that let you edit music online in a web browser.
Online music notation software programs usually have a fairly standard notation system but are limited to a web-page format, rather than a full-blown installed application. Think Google Docs for music writing software.
Pros of online music notation software
Online music writing programs are becoming more common and let you write music straight in your web browser. Initially, this seems quite convenient – log in and start writing, like you might write an email. There’s nothing to install, and you can work the moment your credit card payment goes through.
Online music writing software usually saves your music to the cloud (i.e. online) so they should always be there, waiting for you, when you log in.
Cons of online music writing software
While it’s nice to log into a website to do a task, there are big drawbacks to relying on a website for your compositions.
One major difference is that installed programs like Musink or Sibelius can be installed and kept forever. Subscription-based online services usually cut you off when you stop paying.
Because your music is in the cloud, if you stop paying or lose your password, you might lose access to your music compositions. If not, you might still be unable to edit them unless you pay to access the software again.
With installed software, you can integrate with other software you have, like MIDI keyboards, printers, virtual instruments, and so on. With a browser, this can be much more difficult, be laggy, or sometimes is just impossible to get right.
Remember too that, unless you regularly use 5 different laptops for composition, it’s actually easier to click on an icon on your desktop than it is to open a browser and log into a website.
Finally, remember that sometimes we aren’t on the internet! With real installed software, we can compose music while commuting, flying on a plane, or in that studio, you’ve set up at the far end of your house where the WIFI gets patchy.
Online music writing software is a nice thought if you don’t want to install anything, but there are a lot of drawbacks. If you’re going to invest your time writing beats or otherwise composing music, do what the pros do and hunt down notation software you can install properly and keep for the long term.
There are plenty of options when it comes to finding the best music notation software for you.
Our pick is Musink Pro notation software if you’re writing for fun, as a drummer, or as someone who composes in front of the computer and so requires a lot of editing.
We chose Musink’s two music writing software programs because they offer a unique experience that aims to get you finished and back to your instruments, rather than slaving away on the computer keyboard for endless hours. For a drummer, in particular, this can be a real blessing.
It’s not just the note entry, of course. Musink also does not bury you in menus nor make you spend time manually adjusting the page to make your music readable. To some degree, its designers have kept it light and slick. By contrast, if you’re looking for something with every possible function, and are willing to wade through menus, our other picks like Sibelius or Finale are worthy of consideration.
Musink’s flexibility with playback also impressed me because unlike other programs it does not rely on built-in instruments to create sound. Instead, both Pro and Lite music writing programs properly integrate with your setup to let you use whatever you like. For some, this might sound like a luxury, rather than a requirement, but there is such a variety of great-sounding free midi devices out there nowadays there’s no reason to limit yourself to what your music writing software comes with built-in. Sibelius is your next best option when it comes to impressive playback options.
Finally, paid-for professional software is always going to deliver you the best experience, but if you’re not willing to pay, and are looking for the best free notation software, Musink Lite music writing software is our pick for the best free download, with Musescore and Sibelius First as the next-best alternatives.
Lee Reid is a New Zealander, medical scientist, and drummer with 28 years of experience. He has expertise in software development, artificial intelligence, music, and neuroscience – such as how brains change when learning an instrument. Lee has written educational and academic content for and on behalf of a wide variety of groups including government, big tech, and the healthcare industry. He is currently acting as an entrepreneur, software developer, and digital nomad in the Pacific and Europe, trying to make music writing more easier and generally more accessible for the masses.