The World of Music Notation is Changing…

A follow-up to my last post, now that the news has had some time to settle…

The future of Finale’s parent company is in question.  Sibelius’ main development branch is closing down.  Both of these facts have shaken up the music notation world as of late, and regardless of what happens with these applications, one thing is clear: users are losing confidence in MakeMusic and Avid.

I’m posting here for a couple of main reasons: updates, and alternatives.  As far as I know, there has been no real update on MakeMusic’s buyout offer.  Avid has stated a few times (including here and here) that they intend to continue supporting Sibelius, but wants them working closer to their other software devs in CA.  There is a Sibelius support group website (of sorts) that’s popped up, and if you’re worried about the future of Sibelius, I encourage you to visit, read, and consider signing their petition and/or taking other action as you deem appropriate.

However, in the event of disaster on both fronts (Finale and Sibelius are both axed), I also want people to know that there are alternatives.  Of course, in this worst-case scenario, you can likely continue to use your software – just don’t expect updates.  But you also have a few other solutions that you can check out at no cost:

  1. MuseScore – cross-platform, open source, and free.  Not without its bugs and quirks, but the development team recently released a minor version update (1.2), and in my experience it is a very stable program.
  2. Noteflight – cloud-based notation that uses a Flash engine.  Some downsides, such as requiring access to the internet to use it, but this web app is fairly sophisticated.  To access all of the features, there is a subscription fee, but a basic account is free to try.
  3. Lilypond – this is perhaps the most complex, but most powerful, solution.  If you are a coder (or understand markup / code), you may just get into this.  (Confession: I’m getting into this.)  It’s different not doing things with a GUI, very different.  But, the music you can produce with it is crisp, clear, and just really nice. – DEFINITELY read their Manual.  A lot.

As I mentioned, I’m in the process of learning Lilypond, but am on hold for the moment thanks to a web development project.  I teach MuseScore as a Finale alternative already, and we will be test-adopting Noteflight this year for its ability to integrate with our Blackboard LMS (a very cool feature).  I really have nothing bad to say about these applications, other than that Finale / Sibelius are definitely more sophisticated, just because they’ve been around longer.  Who knows where any of these three products will be next year, in 5 years, or beyond – but if Finale and Sibelius become dead weight and don’t see any more significant upgrades, it’s only a matter of time before something else steps up to fill the void.

Anyway, that’s it.  More news on this, as well as my experience with Noteflight and Lilypond, eventually.

13 comments on “The World of Music Notation is Changing…

  1. ericdano

    Teaching Noteflight seems stupid. Adobe is basically dropping Flash, so the future of things running flash is in question…..more so than the state of Sibelius or Finale.

    MuseScore looks the best alternative, but I think the panic attacks people are having are a little premature. People were all up in arms about Avid buying Sibelius. And since they bought Sibelius, they have continued to refine the program through what, 2 big versions? I think if worst comes to worst someone will buy Sibelius.

    Makemusic though, that is a unknown. They were, once upon a time, the innovator in notation. Now, they seem to be aping Sibelius and adding “fluff” to Finale for more mass market appeal. And they were charging yearly for a “new version” which was really little more than a rebranding of existing features that never worked right (how many times have they re-introduced slurs?) and bug fixes. A lot of their focus seems to be more towards SmartMusic and fluff intergration for Finale. They haven’t really advanced the state of notation since they introduced Linked Parts (which was after Sibelius introduced them). They have HAD several things they could have done, like opening up SmartMusic file generation in Finale to use user generated audio but… Or a killer iPad app for Finale or a SmartMusic app for iPad…

    So….I’m more concerned with MakeMusic than Avid/Sibelius. Avid has ProTools to support it’s bottom line, and it’s still the De Facto standard. I think Avid really needs to reprice the software though, since Logic 9 is $199 and does 99% of what ProTools does…..and sometimes does it better.

    MakeMusic though…..they really aren’t making money, and there isn’t anything really for them to “fall back” on to prop up the notation business…..cuz that is the business. I would think that the same company that bought most all of M-Audio’s stuff off of Avid would be eying MakeMusic. I think that would be a good thing as that company also owns Akai and others….might be a good save for MakeMusic.

    • mslibera Post author

      Good points all around. Though I haven’t heard anything about Flash being dropped entirely, I do share that same general sentiment; as a web designer/developer, I ditched Flash a while ago in favor of other things. But, we are teaching Noteflight primarily for two reasons: 1) its integration with Blackboard and 2) a full-strength notation program is overkill unless you have the time to really teach it thoroughly, and our technology classes here have too much other material in the curriculum for this to really work. Noteflight is a lightweight application that works on just about any machine with an internet connection (so students don’t have to come into the lab to use it). It’s simpler to learn, which makes it easy to teach fully to our freshmen in 2-3 weeks, and for those who need/want more horsepower, I’m putting together a series of elective courses on things like Finale / Sibelius / Lilypond. I think we have a long time before Flash truly dies, and the folks at Noteflight have mentioned an HTML5 platform on more than one occasion…so I’m not really that concerned.

      I would also share many of your sentiments re: Avid vs. MakeMusic, and you make a good point about Finale “aping” Sibelius. Personally, I would not at all be surprised to see MakeMusic be bought, and the new owners have Finale rewritten from the ground up, something that has *never* been done (to my knowledge) but is long overdue IMO. Smartmusic is a great product, but as others have said, we REALLY need an iPad version – that would be gold. We’l see what happens with Sibelius, but from what I’m reading, Avid has already been approached about selling Sibelius and has refused on numerous occasions.

      Fun to speculate, isn’t it?

  2. Chris

    Hi all, Hi Mslibera,

    I got my Upgrade-license for Sibelius 7.1.x today and funnily I got your post today, too. I am very much looking forward to work with “my” new copy of Sib7, as well I am shocked the same degree as I heard the Bad Bad news about AVID discontinuing the future development of this wonderful piece of software. I used the slightly buggy but wonderful Sib5 as long as five years for publishing Bass-related workshops and I ask myself seriously if I one day really have to step back to some half-graded piece of software only because I can’t get future bugfixes or developments of the fine Core-features.

    Sad regards, Chris

    … who steps out of senseless upgrading in these days – skipping Mountain Lion and happily sticking with Lion.

    • mslibera Post author


      Good to hear from you again. Ironic that this is the day you got your upgrade license! Before you get too down, Sibelius hasn’t officially been killed yet – but the closure of their main development office is definitely a concern for the future direction of the software. But for now, Sib7 is still a great piece of software – so enjoy it! The way I figure it – both notation programs can’t die together, right? There has to be at least one that will survive…nothing else out there can truly compete at the moment, so a total de-saturation of the market just doesn’t make sense. I do wonder if Finale and Sibelius are doing a little game of “chicken” though – which one is going to give in first? My guess is that IF one of them does fold, the other will stay around, and have the entire market to themselves. Which one that is and who ends up owning it, though, is anybody’s guess.

      — Matt

  3. Pingback: Substituting the Dominant (Notation Software) « singlynoted

    • mslibera Post author

      Hi Sal,

      Thanks for this! It looks very interesting; fills a very specific niche. I’ll keep my eyes on it and give it a try sometime soon.

      — Matt

  4. Allie R.

    While taking my 2 mandatory music composition courses in college, I avidly searched for alternatives to Finale since my university had limited access (a single midi lab with only 8 terminals) to the program for undergraduate students. Most students ended up buying the software to simply not deal with the lab’s limited access schedule and really long walk from the music dorm.

    But for me, Noteflight fit the bill.

    I was a poor college student doing at least two composition assignments a week, but I only had to take two courses for my major. The software needed to be inexpensive and functional for my classes. The option of a free program I could use anywhere I had access to the Internet was fantastic (and did I mention it was FREE?). Since my classes were the standard introduction classes, I could get by with the basic version. When I shared my discovery with my friends in the class they all jumped for joy. But our professor, not so much. He felt a web-based free notation software could never measure up to Finale. It was disappointing, but what I didn’t tell him was that all my assignments that year were done using Noteflight (so were my friends’). He never noticed the difference.

    As a former composition student (and occasional arranging hobbyist), I am pleased with the widening world of music notation. It kept my costs down and my grades up in college. I was able do my assignments anywhere (even at home one weekend!). If these web-based alternatives keep improving, I have no problem leaving Finale in the dust. And I think music students will too.

    (Sidenote: It looks like Noteflight has been seriously developing an HTML5 music editor. I cannot wait to try it out on my iPad.)

    • mslibera Post author

      Hi Allie,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Those are basically the same reasons that we decided that our students should at least be introduced to Music Notation on Noteflight. Since our students are no longer required to have laptops here, the “anytime-anywhere” access is important…our music lab keeps (what I think are) reasonable hours, but still – there is always the need to bang out those late-night assignments.

      The notation world is indeed widening, and it’s great. The primary concern that I’ve noticed with Noteflight over the past year’s “trial period” is the fact that it still doesn’t quite match up to the “standard apps” in functionality, especially if you don’t pay the subscription to the paid version. But, this is a gap that I feel will be narrowing over time.

      And yes, Noteflight is now HTML5 instead of Flash – great news for us iPad users!

      One last thought: last year I began teaching a class on Lilypond, and many of my students were very impressed at how easy it was (after the initial learning curve) and especially at how great the output looked. Another free option that I myself, as a “coder,” have come to prefer.

      Thanks again for weighing in.
      — Matt

    • mslibera Post author

      Hi Kim,

      Which is better is often the opinion of the user based on their computer preferences and their particular use case. Some of Noteflight’s pros: very responsive support, browser based (no software download required), iPad-friendly. Some of MuseScore’s pros: very full-featured, free (Noteflight’s pro version costs $), and open source.

      Since you can access both for free (at least the basic versions), I’d recommend trying them both out and seeing what you think for yourself!

      — Matt

  5. Michael

    The successor of Sibelius has been in the work for several years by most of the same people who worked on improving Sibelius for years.
    The first version of this new music notation software should come in the coming months I assume.

    • matt.libera Post author

      Indeed, I’m excited to see what the Steinway effort looks like when released. I wouldn’t hold my breath for it before Q4 of this year, and of course as with any new software I’ll be tempering my expectations on feature set. But yes, I enjoy this blog and reading from a developer’s perspective some of the challenges involved with writing good, solid music notation software. Their heads are definitely in the right places with respect to attention to detail.


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