Music Notation Software and the iPad

One aspect of the the iPad that seems to be missing just yet is the ability to do really good music notation. It seems that this would be a perfect medium for scoring, but as of yet, the magic is still to arrive.

One notable exception is Symphony Pro, which is not bad but still has a way to go. For now, it’s the leader… but where are the big 3? Where is Finale, Sibelius and MuseScore?

The following is a repost from Dan Gurney at the Concert Window blog which asks the same questions. It seems demand is growing.

How the iPad can revolutionize music notation software

Like many other musicians and composers, I’ve been using Finale for years. It’s a music notation program with an interface stuck in the 1990s. Who knows why it’s so widespread; despite (slightly) better alternatives like Sibelius, Finale remains popular. Note input is clumsy and inefficient. The few keyboard shortcuts make things better but still not quite intuitive. The graphics are ugly. Here’s how things usually work out in Finale: If you want to do something, you’ll have to first consult the manual, which will tell you to click on an obscure option in a submenu — and it’ll almost never turn out the way you want it to.

It’s time to reimagine music notation software from the ground up.

Not only that, but let’s change the platform. Writing music is a tactile exercise. A keyboard and mouse just get in the way. Let’s use a hands-on device: the iPad.

Notation software should be intuitive. When I want to write a note, I touch the staff where I want it to go. I also need to choose what length it is, so how about this: when I’ve touched my finger to the staff, I can drag up, down, left, right, or diagonal to specify quarter/eighth/whole/etc. To slur, I drag my finger over a couple notes.

And how about this: I can hum into the iPad microphone and the app will transcribe the notes in real-time. Doesn’t get much easier than that, and I know the tech already exists.

Or, for another input option, I can set a metronome and tap on the staff in rhythm, watching as the notes appear with the correct durations.

If I want to add a key signature or time change, I tap on a barline and an in-context dialog box pops up. If I want to add an instrument, I simply double-tap under the existing staff. If I want to add more measures, I double-tap after the last measure.

This sounds easy, right? An app like that would actually be fun to use.

Any iPad programmers reading this? Drop me a line at Seriously. Let’s do this. It’s about time this happens. An intuitive music notation app that cuts out all the unnecessary interface crap would be a huge success.

Finale, you better be taking notes! (So to speak…)


  1. Great read! I’d have to argue that Notion would be in the “top 3” 😉

  2. How about an app for the iPad that converts a whistled tune into notation? Whistleling is much more precise than humming.

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