If you’re a student studying four-part harmony or music theory, using music notation software to help your studies may be a good idea. When I started studying music theory decades ago, music notation software was still in its infancy compared to today’s standards. A student would have to write their chord progressions and melodies and then play them back. It was okay if the student played the piano, and there only were a few parts. It’s impossible to play back an orchestral score.
So why do I think music notation programs are valuable tools when studying music theory? When you answer questions in your textbook and play them back, much of your attention goes toward playing and not paying attention to what you hear, which makes a difference. When you can pay attention to what the music notation software is playing back, you can catch mistakes that may have gone unnoticed from just visually proofreading your music. We may catch these errors because we’re used to hearing music, not seeing it. That’s my opinion, but it may have some validity.
Today’s music notation programs are much more advanced than when I was growing up. Free programs like Musecore didn’t exist. The notation programs of the time were either less expensive and not overly intuitive or were very expensive and out of reach of most people. Today, there are fewer differences between free music notation programs and those of their paid-for counterparts. I’ll make a comparison between two of the programs I use. I use Noteflight for teaching and Sibelius for orchestral scores. Noteflight is capable of most of my music notation needs; however, it doesn’t provide braces and brackets for orchestral sections or allow for conductor and orchestral part-size pages simultaneously (in the current version). That’s a difference that matters to me, there are other differences, but those are the ones that affect me. Sibelius costs around $40(CAN) monthly, and Noteflight is around $60(US) annually. I’m late to the party on Musecore, as I downloaded my first copy days ago. However, I did notice it places brackets on the orchestral score; it’s missing some instruments in the orchestral lineup, but perhaps that’s changeable; if so, it may end up checking all my boxes. Three price points Musecore is free, Noteflight is very inexpensive, and Sibelius Ultimate is up there. These programs have different feature sets, so do your research to ensure they have the features you require if you plan on using them.
So how do these music notation programs sound, and does it matter? In my opinion, Sibelius sounds best; Noteflight comes in second, and Musecore third regarding orchestral scores. Sibelius has the added benefit of playing back some virtual instrument plugins. Why would how they sound affect how you compose? It may or may not, but I find more realistic playback more inspiring. For example, if the notation program can play back various articulations, it may inspire you to try new things. Once again, the software’s sound may not matter to many.
So if you’re studying music theory and harmony, perhaps try out a music notation program and see if it helps your studies. Thank you for reading; I’m just a music teacher having fun; catch ya on the next one.