Thursday, June 15, 2006

Composition and Notation Software

I've been taking some notation software for a test drive lately, downloading demos of three varieties of Finale and also Sibelius. I've always used the inexpensive recording and midi program Power Tracks (from PG Music) for working out compositions and arrangements; I like its notation-oriented interface. However, it is not a professional notation program and will only provide a fairly simple two-stave printout.

So the number-one requirement I had was that the programs would import midi files more-or-less intact that I had created in Power Tracks. Second, they should also be easily editable. And third -- and least important to me -- it would be nice if the software was good for composing 'from scratch.'

The first I tried was a rather simplified version of Finale called 'Print Music.' This particular program can be found for under $60 at some vendors. But I'm not sure it would be $60 well spent. If the music were already totally worked out, whether on paper or as midi, I could see transferring it to PM for a nice professional-appearing printout. All the Finale versions were so-so in opening midi files in their original form but this one did not make it particularly easy to edit them.

The next step up from Finale, Allegro, didn't really seem to offer much advantage over the PM version. I wouldn't recommend it at all. If one just wants to print music, go with the cheaper software. Otherwise, definitely go for the full-featured version, Finale 2006. Easier to edit -- though not particularly intuitive -- and with more tools. Honestly though, I don't know if would want to compose in it.

Sibelius is somewhat better in that respect. Easier to work with initially and translates midi a little better. Maybe does things a little too well on its own, in that one might want a little more control...2006 and Sibelius are both nice (and expensive!) but I would be inclined to go with the Finale product due to its editing options. But I might be inclined to compose somewhere else.

Which brings up Logic! For serious composition, that's probably the way to go and it has a perfectly good built-in notation component. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be trying it out anytime soon. Partly because it's Mac-only (yes, I have a Mac but I don't know if want to walk only that road). Partly because I've invested in other recording programs and am still fond of Power Tracks, despite its relative simplicity.

And of course there's the fact that Finale is somewhat the standard and my friend Lynda uses it. Being able to exchange files with others is nice. It would also be nice if she could get me the academic discount!

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