There are heaps of music composition software and programs on the market, but which should you use? Perhaps you’re a music composer who wants to move into digital music making or maybe you’re just beginning your music composition journey. Whatever your goals, this article will be of interest to you.
Notation Programs VS DAWs
Notation programs are software used to create sheet music. You would need to know how to read and write music to use it. DAWs or Digital Audio Workstations are stronger for producing professional sounding audio. The amount of sounds libraries, virtual instruments and effects are endless. DAWs have more powerful ways to manipulate notes and sounds than Notation programs.
How do I decide which type of program to choose?
Generally, if you want to create great sounding audio, use a DAW. Alternatively, if you want to compose for live instruments, an orchestra, choir and won’t need to record your tracks in a studio, plus you’re game in music notation, choose a notation program.
Best Notation Programs for Music Composition
Finale is the cream of the crop in music notation programs and is used professionally by sheet music creators. The printed music at your local music store would most likely be made using Finale. The learning curve is a little high though, with tons of features. It may be too complicated for beginners but you can try Finale Notepad first which is a free, easier version to use.
The main competitor to Finale, Sibelius is great for all types of composers. Finale targets the traditionalists, and Sibelius the more general audience. Maybe too bold of a statement, but Sibelius tends to be popular with media composers such as film and video game music composers. The interface is very easy to learn and use, and is more beginner-friendly.
MuseScore is the best free notation program out there. It has a lot of features and is considered equal to the full blown programs such as Finale and Sibelius. A little hard to learn for the beginner, but will greatly pay off considering this is a free program with full capabilities.
Best DAWs for Music Composition
The following DAWs made the list because they are best at music composition. Pro Tools may be the industry standard for music production, but composition is the focus of this article.
Logic Pro X
Logic Pro is a favourite for music composers of film, games, TV and media, along with EDM music producers. Some hardstyle artists swear by it for its special plugins. Logic Pro is extremely versatile, has great MIDI manipulation capabilities and you can compose, edit, mix and master your track entirely in this program. This is an Apple-only product, so only Mac users will be able to use it.
FL Studio is a popular DAW for composers, and easy for beginners to use. It’s best feature is the piano roll, which is very intuitive and powerful. Its pitfalls include audio editing and recording. If you’re only working with MIDI, this is a good choice as well.
Cubase is great for Windows users who want Logic Pro but don’t have a Mac. It’s a great all rounder like Logic and using MIDI and audio is easy. It has a few advanced features that Logic doesn’t have such as rendering-in place and its VCA faders.
A more conservative option but having a loyal fan base, Digital Performer is a favourite among film composers around the world. The newest versions have widened its offerings and now include a Hybrid Synthesizer and guitar plugins.
Whether you’re DAW-inclined or more for Notation software, for the modern composer, DAW is the way to go. But why not have the best of both worlds? Many composers now use DAWs to create and produce the track, and Notation programs to produce professional sheet music. Whichever you decide, they are just tools to get the job done. Your mind is the ultimate music composition machine.