A scorewriter, or notation software or music notation processor, is software used for creating sheet music. A scorewriter is to music notation what a word processor is to text, in that they both allow fast corrections (undo), flexible editing, easy sharing (via the internet or compact storage media), and clean, uniform layout. In addition, most scorewriters are able to sound out and record the notes—especially useful for novice composers or when no musicians are readily available—making them, by the same analogy, both word processors and previsualization software.
Comparison with multitrack sequencer software
Scorewriters are based on traditional music notation, which originates from European classical music. They use graphical symbols representing durations in sound and silence, along with symbols for dynamics, articulations and tempo. Some even allow the user to import or create their own symbols for use in scoring.
Multitrack sequencer software typically uses a multi-track recorder metaphor as the main interface, consisting of multiple tracks and track segments. Individual tracks can be edited using a graphic notation in the form of a piano-roll guided input for the control of MIDI-based hardware or software instruments.
In addition to these two approaches, a third approach has emerged that combines the above two methods of score input into a digital audio workstation. This allows the user to score parts using traditional notation, using the graphic notation of the piano roll and to record acoustic or electronic instruments in real time alongside the existing scores.
In all three cases it is possible to use the computer keyboard and mouse for input control or to use a MIDI keyboard for data entry that is later edited using traditional notation or piano-roll based notation.
Some argue that the implementation of traditional notation in multitrack sequencer software and digital audio workstations is limited and inferior in contrast to engraving quality programs such as Finale and Sibelius.
The rapid growth of desktop computers in the 1980s caused the creation of dozens of early scorewriters during that decade (see List of scorewriters). However, during the 1990s many of these fell into disuse because they were less sophisticated or harder to use than newer programs, principally Finale and Sibelius, which both offered a wide range of sophisticated features, making them suitable for almost all kinds of music and for professional publishing.
By 2000 the market was dominated by Finale (particularly in the US) and Sibelius (which had dominated the UK since 1993, and had expanded worldwide since its Windows release in 1998). Inexpensive programs such as capella gained a significant share of the market in some countries. Sibelius and Finale still dominated the market as of 2012.
All scorewriters allow the user to input, edit and print music notation, to varying degrees of sophistication. They range from programs which can write a simple song, piano piece or guitar tab, to those that can handle the complexities of orchestral music, specialist notations (from early music to avant garde), and high-quality music engraving.
Most scorewriters also allow the music to be played back via MIDI, or in some cases using virtual instruments, e.g. VST instruments or similar. This means that scorewriters are somewhat similar to sequencers (many of which can also write music notation up to a point), though scorewriters are used primarily for writing notation and sequencers primarily for recording and playing music.
Some scorewriters allow the printed output to be customized and fine-tuned to a considerable degree, as is required by publishers to produce high-quality music engraving and to suit their individual house style.
A few scorewriters allow users to publish scores on the Internet, where they can be (for example) played back, transposed, and printed out, perhaps for a fee.
Most scorewriters provide other musical functions such as transposing, or producing separate instrumental parts from a full score, or applying music transformations such as retrograde. Some can automatically create instrumental exercises and student worksheets. Some support plug-ins, often developed by users or other companies. Various features found in other types of program are also found in some scorewriters; these include version control (similar to Microsoft Word's 'track changes' feature), importing and exporting graphics, Post-It-like sticky notes, etc.
Almost all scorewriters use their own file formats for saving files. Hence, in order to move notation between different scorewriters (or to/from other kinds of music software such as sequencers), most scorewriters can also import or export one or more standard interchange file formats, such as:
- Standard MIDI File is supported by almost all scorewriters. However, as this format was designed for playback (e.g. by sequencers) rather than notation, it only produces approximate results and much notational information is lost in the process. If the score is to be presented a WAV file (rather than MIDI) may be made from the score to give a much more natural (and accurate) rendition of the written score.
- MusicXML has in recent years become the standard interchange format for accurate notation.
- NIFF is a now-obsolete file format that was supported by a few scorewriters.
There are also human-readable text-based formats such as ABC notation, LilyPond (.ly file extension) and ASCII tab. These are easily rendered as speech by screen reading software. The Score extension to MediaWiki can render, and generate an audio preview, of the first two formats.
- LearnClassicalGuitar.com – Music Notation Software
- Notation Software in Education
- Richard Sussman, Michael Abene, Mike Abene (2012) Jazz Composition and Arranging in the Digital Age p.xlviii
- "MusicXML Software". MakeMusic, Inc. 7 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Belkin, Alan (NIFF coordinator). (February 1992). "The Current Status of NIFF". Archived from the original on 2007-10-31. Retrieved 2007-11-06.
Niff has now been superseded by MusicXML.
- Musical notation codes – information on most known musical notation file formats.
- Music Notation Software with MusicXML Features