Do you use Notation Software to compose music?

Hello Composers! :slight_smile:
Do you use only a DAW to compose music with (like I do), or do you use Notation Software like Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Notion etc?

I would love to hear your thoughts and perspective on using notation software if you have experience with it. What are the advantages/disadvantages?

Some of you perhaps use a DAW first, then export to notation software to clean up the sheet music?


Interestingly, I’ve had a few guests on the podcasts that work across both film scoring AND concert music. Suad Bushnaq was quite clear that she uses a DAW for her film work, but notation software for her concert works, whereas Stephen Edwards uses a DAW for both film and classical.

I was actually really surprised to hear that Stephen wrote his really traditional requiem in a DAW first…in my mind if a piece is written for orchestra with full knowledge that it will be performed by an orchestra I assumed the composer would go straight to paper…

…but then WHY would they? If they’re used to composing in a DAW then that’s HOW they compose.

Anyway, I’m rambling!

Personally, i’ve experimented with both, and much prefer the freedom and flexibility that comes with working in a DAW, but also love the clarity that you get when working with notation - being able to see it all clearly laid out in front of you can be really helpful if you know you’ll be having it recorded.

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I don’t read sheet music well enough to be comfortable with notation, but I am also wondering if it really is essential to learn these days? It sounds like it isn’t? Even if you work with full orchestra for film, I guess there is an orchestrator and transcriber doing those things for you?

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Definitely not, although it probably helps!

There are quite a few famous composers that apparently don’t read music, even though they work a lot with orchestral music. The orchestrator’s role has changed over the years: they used to often take small segments of ideas (like a simple melody/harmony) and be responsible for building that into a full orchestral score (choosing the instruments and everything), whereas nowadays they’re more likely to be “translating” a MIDI mockup into an orchestral score.


I like to compose in a notation-software, although, as a guitarist :slight_smile: I am very bad at reading scores. But I like the feel to see the whole thing “as it is”, to see the music directly. Ok, the piano roll editor shows it in a similar way, but sometimes I feel that I can see a little bit more in the notes. I recently bought a Surface Go with the program Staff Pad which allows me to write directly per hand into the score and it will be translated into notes immediately. I never felt being closer to the music itself. The score actually forces me to focus on the music itself instead of playing around with sounds when I am working directly in my DAW. But most of the time, I am using the DAW. When I don’t have access to my studio, Staff Pad is perfect to compose music without carrying a heavy and expensive laptop and dongles with me. Like paper and pen. But I could not imagine to create most of my work with a notation programme, because I need the inspiration by playing live.

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I primarily use DAW but usually scribble my notes on manuscript paper. If I had Sibelius I’d probably use both as I tend to be able to write much quicker in notation. Though I actually visualise music as physical notes as that’s the way I was taught. So each to their own :slight_smile:

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I use guitar pro for guitar tabs cuz it’s easy to play guitar riffs and solos by tabs because the same note on a guitar can be on any fret and tabs help a lot to organize your notes to the right frets. Also I like logic Score editor a couple of times tried to write my own scores in logic so after watching some tutorials on you tube about orchestral music and it’s notation it’s much easier to do than without any music theory knowledge! :slight_smile:

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I use Lilypond notation software with the frescobaldi editor. It’s a text based program - you type the notes etc. and these are compiled to form a score. It’s very deep and complex but it produces amazing looking scores. Ideal for use with the choir I direct and with arrangements for my students. I learned to score originally directly to manuscript and have a fair bit of computer programming experience so this helps a lot. Lilypond outputs a midifile which I import to Logic Pro X to work up into a full audio piece. Lilypond and Frescbaldi are free and cross platform. Use use them on my IMac and my Linux based laptop.

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I have been using Finale since the mid 90s. I have been very unhappy with the quality of the music renderings that I was able to achieve in Finale. This is why I am interested in Logic Pro X. I want to use Logic with my sample Libraries (NI Symphony Series, VSL Special Edition, Omnisphere) to create my band scores, and use Finale to make the printed page look nice.

Hello Jonathan, so you mean you haven’t made the leap to Logic Pro X yet? I can 100% recommend this DAW myself, having used 5 different DAWs since I started making music back in 1998. And I am even teaching tips, tutorials etc. on it on YouTube and online courses. It’s amazing! :slight_smile:

I assume since you started with notation you have classical music training? Me, I grew up with synthesizers and technology, and everything I learned is from reading books, watching videos and applying and experimenting myself. So I’ve never learned to read proper music sheets that well, since I never needed it.

Logic is not great for making proper scores, so I think the combination you are considering is perfect.


I purchased Logic Pro X in December of 2018. Since then, I have learned how to “record” midi. At first I was doing it the hard way by starting fresh each time. Since then, I think I need to learn and build a template for my concert band compositions. I have already viewed just about all of your Logic tutorial videos on Youtube.

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I do both! In school I write using Sibelius for my composition lessons. For my own personal composition time, I use a DAW.

I prefer working in a DAW though. I find something very freeing about working in a DAW. When I work with actual sheet music notation programs I feel so limited by the view. (Measures, bar lines, 5 line staff, key signature, etc.)
When I work in a DAW the flow of writing music feels much better to me. If I want to change something, all I have to do is open the piano roll and make a change. There never seems to be a huge hassle where I have to delete measures or anything like that.

The only time I write in Sibelius is for lessons, when I am hired to arrange something, or when I want to write a very strict piece (usually classical).

Any one feel the same?

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Ah, well then you are already on your way of learning this amazing software for recording and producing music. :slight_smile:

Templates are very personal, what you enjoy for your workflow, what to include when it comes to instruments, groups, track stacks, send effects etc. Of course it also is important that it suits whatever style of music you will focus on.

I can completely see your point about the freedom of a DAW compared to score view. I would even go farther…the most “Free” moment of music creation is AWAY from the DAW in my experience.

For example, when I sit at my piano in my living room without any computer. That is when I feel the most free. :smiley:

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as a student in a music conservatory i use finale for the orchestration course and for the contemporary composition course i use sibelus
for the contemporary course i prefer sibelus because this software translate a measure into an graphical object that you can manipulate in a easy way
for my audition this i had to compose a piece for an electro acoustic harp, i use sibelus because it is very very easy to write non conventionnal notation and there is a lot of plugin that you can add

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Maybe you would be interested in Musescore (free notation program) or Overture. This one is simply great!

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I occasionally use musecore and I quite enjoy it. It’s not great at some things but if I’m honest I miss Sibelius 4

For my bigger compositions and my classical works I use a notation program. I love to create first an idea with just the notes as I am so used to that and eventhough I am very much used now to work with a piano roll, I still prefer to see a full score in notes.
I have used Finale since 1998, but switched 2 months ago to Dorico and I have not yet regretted that step. Now I hope that one day there will be a seamless integration with Cubase!

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Actually, I use Myriad software, “Melody Assistant”. I’ve used this now more than 10 years. It’s not expensive, and can export quite well MIDI files so that I can work on a DAW.

Writing directly into a DAW was one of my difficulties, because I used to compose and orchestrate with Sibelius. I can not imagine any tone as glaze into the DAW with a track. Now it is rather different, but it takes time. I bought notion6 by presonus in order to make it more better to connect a Notationprogramm with a DAW. But this is a real strange thing and takes time to correct every track. I am not fan of this.

Klaus Ferrett