Thoughts on Music Notation Software and iPad Pro

Friday, December 1, 2017 by Angie Stevens | ipad

When I was a teenager my parents got me some music notation software for our Windows 98 computer, and it was really fun to play with for a little while. I didn’t have any composition or improvisation skills at the time, but I did have an interest in writing my own music. I think they paid $50 for it.

A few years later when I was in college, the music lab had Finale workstations hooked up to midi keyboards. It was confusing and a lot of hardware to deal with - mostly just the composition majors used these workstations. They probably cost around $500 each setup, not including the Mac computers.

Finale used to throw in a free copy of their “lite” software in the back of music theory textbooks when I was in college, so that’s what I used most of the time for assignments. It was slow because I had to click each note in, one at a time.

My college boyfriend, a professional musician and music arranger, used Sibelius. At the time, it was around $400, but I was able to get him a student discount so it was around $250. He used it a lot, and 10 years ago, it was the best software available. I’m sure it’s still the best, if you’re going to be using it every day and writing complicated music, or music for many instruments, like orchestral scores. Their new version is a pay-per-month model ($20/month), and I think they have cloud services so you can edit on your phone/ipad, as well as your computer.

The major downside to computer software for music notation is that you have to sit at a computer and click on every note one by one to add them to the page, unless you also buy a midi keyboard that you hook up to your computer. Editing is confusing and super time consuming. It’s just less fun than you think it should be... for me, at least.

My favorite notation solution BY FAR is Symphony Pro on my iPad Pro. The newest version includes support for drawing your notes directly in the score with Apple Pencil, too, but I haven’t tried that option yet, since I just don’t need to write music every day. The software is about $12, plus $10 more if you want the Apple Pencil support. It would be insufficient if I wanted to write a whole symphony, but for my 1-3 page arrangements, it’s perfect. It has a virtual keyboard on the screen, so I just tap the notes on the keyboard to put them on the sheet music.

I can’t say enough good things about my iPad. Besides my piano, it’s the best musical tool  I can think of. I use it for reading music, setting up GarageBand files to improvise with, recording, writing music, and organizing audio files. Apple also makes free software called Music Memos - you just turn it on when you’re improvising, and it records riffs that you can use for composition later, suggests chords that go well with it (or analyzes the chords structure), and can add a virtual drummer and bassist.