New member/beginner has questions about notation software


To the Members of the Community:

  1. I am an adult beginner piano student. I have the modest needs for musical notation software a beginner might be expected to have. It is not impossible but unlikely that I will ever compose music. I am not young and the time needed to become sufficiently sophisticated and expert to permit composition seems too long from now. I might be wrong.

  2. I run Windows 10; 64-bit operating system.

  3. I want to find software that allows me to attach typewritten notes/comments immediately nearby musical notes and chords on sheet music—for example, fingering instructions and/or alphabetical letters identifying notes and chords. I currently try to accomplish the same tasks by creating pdfs of sheet music and using pdf management software to attach text boxes with lettering and numbering at the appropriate places on sheet music. The process is labor-intensive, error-prone and not tailor-made for music—I’m hoping you can recommend musical notation software that makes all of this easy.

  4. I would like to be able to design and print flash cards (never for commercial purposes; for my own use only) with musical chords displayed graphically on one side and letter-written comments on the other side. Fancy/decorative graphics are neither desirable nor helpful for my purposes. The ability to print in large format would be both. There are probably other written/graphic teaching and self-teaching aids of which I am not yet aware that would also be helpful to have; I would like access to those also.

  5. I have only very limited experience with freeware: Several months ago I tried programs which claimed to offer the ability to do something like what I describe above: The process with two independent programs was extremely cumbersome: The user is forced to go back and forth repeatedly visiting the Unicode schedule of symbols for different musical notes in Microsoft Word and import these symbols into the document worked on. As I recall I think it was not possible to place a note on a musical staff… results were generally unsatisfactory; a waste of time. But I gave up after trying only two programs. Perhaps you know of superior freeware answering my needs.

  6. In searching for commercial music notation software, it appears that a product named Finale is highly regarded by many music professionals. A small handful of other programs are mentioned.

I went as far as joining the user community online for Finale asking them if I could accomplish the tasks described above readily with Finale and whether they could recommend a simpler and less expensive product. I got back one terse reply promptly from one person saying, in effect “Buy Finale. It will do everything you want to do. No you can’t get around it. No, there’s no inexpensive way.” For all I know this comment may come from an individual representing the software’s marketers. That individual also mentioned a lesser and less expensive product still marketed by the writers of Finale called PrintMusic which “is still available, but not supported.” Not the warmest or most encouraging recommendation.

At the price for Finale is about $100.00 less than from its authorized dealers online. The small number of online reviews available to read is a mixed bag ranging all the way from satisfied devotees to growling malcontents warning the reader to “Stay away from this garbage and buy Sibelius!”

One never knows….I have an uneducated but still strong suspicion that users once having invested substantial time and money in one software package and its updates may be reluctant to try a different product. But one never knows.

  1. My teacher is highly capable but familiar only with Finale and felt this would definitely be overkill for my needs.

  2. I described my situation to a small number of faculty and graduate students at two nearby university music departments. One of the individuals was kind enough to suggest I look into Dorico, especially the Dorico Elements package. He had no firsthand experience with it but by word of mouth from colleagues felt it might fit the bill. The $99.00 price tag, compared to prices several times as much for full-featured packages, seems more in line with my needs. I am willing to spend a substantial sum if there is absolutely no alternative. It seems unfortunate to buy a hugely powerful program and then use only a tiny fraction of its capacities. I would think there should be a better solution.

  3. So my questions are:

a) Can Dorico Elements accomplish what I described above? Can I, say, present it with pdfs of sheet music and then readily have it allow me to type (numeric) fingering and alphabetic and other notations and position these notations on the page at will? Can it produce flash cards and other printed pedagogical materials music students find useful? Do you think Dorico Elements would not suffice but the full-featured program would?

b) I have the sense from reading comments about different software packages that they all initially involve steep learning curves. Are the online tutorials available for Dorico adequate (especially considering my restricted needs)?

c) Can you think of a superior solution—commercial or freeware—you would recommend?

Thanks in advance to anyone willing to help a beginner, a non-professional and a musical non-sophisticate.

Very sincerely,


Welcome to the forum, g0g0. You can try both Dorico Elements and Dorico Pro out for 30 days so you can get a good sense of their respective feature sets: I suggest you start with Elements and then see if you are satisfied with its capabilities before you decide whether you need the full functionality of Dorico Pro. My instinct is that you might, since if you want to produce sophisticated flash card layouts you might find that the lack of Engrave mode presents too many restrictions. However, you can certainly produce something that looks very much like a flash card in Dorico Elements. For example, in Layout Options you can set the page to be landscape, tell Dorico not to use the ‘First’ master page layout and not to show any flow headings, then increase the staff size so that you get just one bar on the page.

It’s true that all sophisticated music notation software has something of a learning curve, but you should find it reasonably easy to get started with Dorico. I suggest you start with the playlist that explains Write mode on our YouTube channel here.

I hope you don’t mind if I share some thoughts from a musician’s perspective, less than a software recommendation.

From the things you describe you want to accomplish I get the impression that you want to invent your own method of teaching yourself how to play the piano. Using flashcards, writing comments, this sounds to me like one describing how to learn a foreign language or educating him/herself in chemistry.

Learning an instrument does not work this way. In my opinion you do not get any benefit from looking at a flashcard with - say - a g-major chord in a musical staff on the front and the name g-major on the back. Learning the piano means sitting on the piano and actually play a g-major chord on the piano, and after a considerable amount of repeats your muscle memory will remember this chord.

You also say you want to place fingerings above the music. This indeed is useful, and it can easily be done in dorico or most other notation software. What you can not do though, is simply import sheet music in PDF format. Any notation software stores the actual musical information in a proprietary format so that you can select notes, alter them, transpose them etc. You would need to enter the music note by note, which is basically what notation software is made for, but what is somewhat tedious for piano music and what I would consider an absolute overkill for your purpose of just adding fingerings or comments. I would simply print out the music and do that with a pencil, or if you absolutely want it digital, buy an iPad and the Apple Pencil and make your annotations directly into the PDF.

There are some software solutions that can retrieve the musical information from a scan/PDF and then export this as a music xml file, which is a software and platform independent format. Dorico can import this music xml files. But also here: Piano music is complex, and none of these music scanning solutions works reliably on complex music - you will most certainly have to make lots of edits in the result - again I would consider this kind of work as not worth the effort, as this can easily be done with pencil and paper.

You are aware that this forum is the official Dorico forum of Steinberg, the manufacturer of this software? I think you can not expect to get any recommendations for a competitor’s software. But my sincere recommendation would be to invest the money in a good piano teacher if you do not already have one, as your principal goal, namely to learn the piano, has been done hundreds of thousands of times in a well proven way.



I am grateful for the thoughtful, detailed and sensible reply you have offered. If my handwriting were better and more consistent, it would offer a faster way (surely faster than using notation software) to achieve the notations on the page I want to make. I have tried making these notations in my own hand. Unfortunately the problem is not merely one of sub-optimal appearance. Inevitably errors occur; trying to correct them leads to erasures, cross-outs and a yet worse result than desired.

But your points are well-taken. It may well be that spending more time at the instrument keyboard would be a better investment than time (and money) spent at the computer keyboard for someone at my stage.

Thanks so much.


I don’t see how anyone could learn to play the piano using flash cards and notation software only. You MIGHT be able to learn how to play the right notes with the right fingers, though that in itself would be a tedious way to learn that skill.

But as said above there’s so much more to learning to play the piano…

You must learn how to hold your hands and fingers in such a way that will make that skill possible to execute properly. There are basic posture skills with the hands and fingers, and then there are the skills that allow one to fluidly shift both hands and fingers. Those skills cannot be reduced to a flash card or a number, and without them you will not be able to effectively execute piano playing once you get beyond the most basic beginner’s exercises. Developing these skills really requires specific input and feedback from someone watching you play.

Elementary music theory is really needed as well, again, tailored to your needs and your level.

There’s more to say, but hopefully these comments are enough for you to consider for now how you want to approach learning the piano at a beginners level. You may feel you cannot afford a teacher. If not, I understand. You can look at videos for input, but videos can’t give you feedback that makes sure you learn the skills properly.

I hope you are able to accomplish what you want to achieve. Godspeed in your endeavor.

Since the original post mentions “my teacher”, this whole question seems a bit strange, unless the OP wants to do some more activities which are not being taught.

There are several published piano courses aimed at adult beginners rather than children. A few are listed here: You shouldn’t need any other visual aids except what is printed in the books.

There are also some excellent video-based courses on YouTube (and also some terrible ones, unsurprisingly enough.)

The most important feature of a good course (in any subject) is that it teaches you step by step, and each step builds on what you already learned. Without a teacher, or the will-power to follow a course, a common problem is that beginners pick some piece of music that they would like to play and which seems fairly easy, and concentrate on learning just that one piece - which often takes a long time, because in it is too far above their current level to learn efficiently. If they eventually succeed in playing it, they have only learned the techniques that are used in that one piece, not a general set of skills that will let them read and play any piece of the appropriate level of difficulty.

You need to learn how to relate “what you see” to “what your hands and fingers do”, not to the intellectual exercise of knowing the names of all the signs and symbols. Of course knowing the names of things is useful to be able to talk about them, but you will probably acquire that skill just by “immersion” if you concentrate on actually playing the instrument.

Arguably, directing your attention to learning the names of individual notes etc is the wrong thing to do. I have come across people who can “read music” after a fashion by taking the sheet music and writing the name of each note on it, then laboriously finding each note on the piano keyboard. They then have to go through a similar process to figure out the rhythm. All this takes far too long to do in “real time”, so they end up slowly memorizing the piece instead of actually reading it as they play it.

You don’t read “the cat sat on the mat” by first spelling out all the letters, and then working out how they fit together to make words, and then working out what the words mean. You just look at the printed text and your brain processes it “instantly”. Reading music notation should “work” exactly the same way as reading English text, with practice.