Inexpensive Music Notation on the Mac

Ever since I left the classroom, I’ve been without notation software. Music notation packages are traditionally expensive, a couple of the more popular applications like Finale and Sibelius running around $600.00 — hardly reasonable for someone like me who just wants to write and arrange hymns for church. Fortunately, there are a number of less costly alternatives out there, and I want to spend some time looking at some of those over the next few days.

As I examine each piece of software, I’m going to be looking at their interface and ease-of-use (the second of which is fairly subjective), how good of an OS citizen the application is, how the software helps you get started, quality of output, plug-in availability, and playback quality. Also, if there is something that makes that particular application unique in some way, I’ll be sure to write about that as well.

Before we get started, here are some things I’m looking for in notation software:

  • Point-and-click entry: I don’t have a MIDI keyboard and no plans o get one, so I’d like to be able to simply click on the staff where I want the note to go. Not all notation packages support this.
  • Predictable interface: If I can’t write Mary Had a Little Lamb within a couple of minutes of opening the application, something is wrong.
  • Shape notes: While I’m not a fan of Aiken shape notes myself, some embers of my congregation rely heavily on them. It wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but it’s a niche I’ll be happy to see supported.

Here are the applications I plan on evaluating:

Here are some I won’t be evaluating:

  • Notion – Very pretty but no demo available.
  • Reflow – No demo available. It also doesn’t seem to be under very active development.
  • Finale Notepad – PrintMusic & Songwriter are already so similar, they may be one post. This is just a limited version of those.

If you would like to see some software evaluated that I don’t have listed, let me know in the comments.

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