[OT] Note-taking software suggestions

(Mods: If too far outside the scope of this forum, of course I shan’t mind if it’s removed!)

I know my way around Mac (am on High Sierra) text software. Currently use Apple’s own TextEdit for notes (not musical, but text reminders/digests/summaries/reproduction) of books which I read on music and music theory.

Obviously, it’s important correctly/accurately to represent #s and ♭s, superscripts, Key and Time Signatures etc and other notation-related elements.

This isn’t easy (it isn’t always possible, actually) in TextEdit. Does anyone have a favourite Mac text editor (I don’t really need chapters, footnotes: am not writing a novel) which works specifically for scoring/music, please?


Mark, I am not sure but, if you use TextEdit with formatted Text, can you not insert all Fonts and Glyph Variants, which macOS is offering?
With the Character Viewer you can access them.

I have to admit, I’ve always put up with using “b” for flat and “#” for sharp, and I’m a quick enough typist that anything I need to note I can just spell out in text.
It’s just occurred to me that you could use the same autoreplace feature on Mac that I frequently use on my iPhone:
For example, I have colleagues I recommend for piano jobs I can’t do. I got fed up with looking for Inga’s number, or Theo’s number, so I just set them as autoreplacements. If I type “Ingano” or “Theono” and then hit space, it replaces it with “Inga is on 07521 834735” (or whatever her actual phone number is - it’s not that!).

Go to System Preferences > Language & Region > Keyboard Preferences > Text
Hit the + in the bottom left corner.
Type something you want to use as a shortcut into the first box. I’ve used alt-b, which gives me a ∫. Then copy and paste a ♭ symbol from somewhere.
Then exit System Preferences.

♭ certainly turns up in TextEdit. I’m not sure about superscripts etc. - I think I’d probably just write “bar 38 text should be superscript” or something.

Thanks, k_b; you are right. You can!

What prompted me to ask was recording (again, not with a microphone, but into a file!) for later reference the description which I was reading of chord inversions and figured base.

The procedure with TextEdit (again, you’re right: it allows use of all available fonts - but you then have to select, say, a flat and shrink its height, kerning and leading etc manually - each time) to get, say, a 6 over a 4 is long and cumbersome. Even then, it completely distorts the line height and vertical spacing with everything else on the page. Nor is it easy to move these concoctions once entered.

It may be too much to ask that there is a dedicated musical text editor where such elements are built in in the same way as HTML and computer code elements are built into such dedicated environments. And in the same way as mathematical ‘language’ is integrated into TeX.

Leo - how I admire your pragmatism… and could learn a thing or two from it/you!

And KeyBoard Maestro will expand (no pun) on what you kindly suggest.

Of course; Yes - your suggestions (thanks!) are good ones, and would work well.

But they’re not quite enough when I want, for example, to note the circumflex over a scale degree:

  • â is in every palette
  • but ^7 when I want to refer to a leading note is not

Check out the Bach font:


Thank you very much, notesetter.

If I could use the Bach font whenever I use TextEdit for this purpose, that might well help.

I couldn’t immediately see the things like fractions with no bar for Time Sigs and figured base notation. Or any way to place a circumflex over a number. Those are a real headache.

Your suggestion much appreciated :slight_smile:.

FWIW, I think Lilypond code is possible to use both in LyX and Libre office writer. In TeX I am not sure.


I am not a MAC user, but I do write a lot on a PC. I divide my writing into separate writing and formatting processes. I write in Notepad or EMACS and while doing so I might use # for sharp, etc, and invent other unique shortcuts. When the writing and editing is copletely finished, these shortcuts can be globally replaced. Then I transfer the file to another program (Word or a DTP program) and undertake the formatting operation, which is to make it look pretty. Separating the functions in this way saves me a lot of time.



The more I think about it, the more I agree with David.
If you know that ^7 refers to the leading note then just record ^7
If there’s any ambiguity in your notes surrounding “7/8” being a time signature then type “TS 7/8”.

Then tidy it all up when someone else needs to see it, IF someone else needs to see it.

Actually, have you thought about a notebook and a pencil?

Thanks, David and Leo!

I could certainly save time (and a modicum of frustration - only a modicum… especially once I satisfy myself that there is no such software, that TeX is unique and that what I want cannot be done) by using ‘supplementary’ annotations to my notes as you sensibly suggest. With 6/4 as opposed to some sort of two line botch, you’re right, it’s pretty unambiguous.

When I was looking for such software before finally posting here, all sorts of crude, old notation ‘solutions’ were returned. Then there are Finale, Sibelius and of course Dorico. I guess I’d like to think that someone has long since acknowledged the need for a typesetter for music text (for that’s really what I’m asking for).

But if they haven’t, they haven’t… at least not for use by non publishers: such a capability must exist to DTP the many published texts on music.

LAE, thanks for the LyX ‘lead’; I’ve had a quick look. Maybe that by itself?

As soon as the products start mentioning integrated formula editing, I feel I may be getting closer :slight_smile: .

Hi Mark.

I’m an enthousiast user of XeLaTeX, and my admiration towards Dorico has a lot to do with the philosophy they share : write the stuff, the app will deal with cosmetics.
I’m pretty sure it is possible to input snippets of Lilypond inside any TeX file, I must have read that some time ago — before Dorico was out, I invested some time in Lilypond but had to give up, because the text source is barely readable (whereas for text, where it is very readable). However, I’m not sure this is what you are looking for, since english is not my mother tongue, I might have missed something…

Thanks, Marc! I suspect that the TeX ‘family’ may be the way to go; although it does require perhaps more file management, preparation and interlinking of systems than may make it worthwhile.

For me the most important thing is organisation of text notes, so I use Scrivener.

Thanks, Steve; I’ve often been tempted by Scrivener. Shall take another look.

I just came across another use-case (as they say) for such an editor as I describe: if I want to tabulate scales and intervals in the context of Modes’ diminished triads (to set out each of their distinguishing characteristics), I might want to list the notes (e.g. Lydian on D) across the first line of a piece of text; with the intervals interleaved horizontally below. Conventional TABs won’t work because of the G#, which creates a larger gap before the fifth scale step.

I could create two one-row tables and try and nudge them into the correct relationship, one underneath the other.

But a dedicated editor which will allow me to ‘set’ the spacing (for that’s really 75% of the issue here) accurately is really what’s needed.

Everyone’s suggestions greatly appreciated :smiley:

I tend to do things like you’ve described above in excel…but then I’ve written letters in excel.


Indeed: in my case it’s Numbers. But dropping in a row or two, integrating already correctly-spaced characters, is cumbersome - particularly when in the very next line I might want to ‘set’ a list of notes in a scale where the flats push everything to the right, and the superscripts upwards.

Mathematicians obviously have it easier :cry:.

I think the appropriate flavour of TeX may be your best answer, Mark. Two things in its favour are that it separates data from formatting and that, like html, the files are ascii. (I speak as one who creates and maintains whole websites in Notepad.) The big advanage of this is that you can write the document as you go and decide how to format it later.

It is some time since I used TeX for writing documents that had mathematical formulae, but I found it very easy to learn and memorise.

I know a lot of people use Excel for all kinds of purposes, but I personally wouldnt use it for anything. (I use Quantrix for spreadsheets.) I once started a database of my recordings, books and scores, but quickly discovered that a text file listing (again, dont knock ascii!) is easier to make and can be searched really quickly. (Of course, my holdings, while large, do not rival those of the Library of Congress, so I understand that the needs of that institution may differ from mine…)


Thanks, David - in fact one criterion for anything I end up switching to (I have many such tiles in TextEdit, the Mac equivalent of Notepad) is that they can be exported if/when the need arises to move on to something else.

My own record collection began as a text file on the Acorn, probably on cassette, in the 1980s; it’s been through every imaginable type of system until steady in FileMaker Pro, out of which it is - of course - still possible to export to the real industry-standards such as XML, CSV, Tab-separated etc if I ever had to.

I agree, crucial.

Not available for mac, but I have a Microsoft Surface Pro which I primarily use for StaffPad. You can write in notes with a pencil, and - hopefully - the software will recognize your handwriting and translate it into properly laid out music. It’s kind of a hit-and-miss – sometimes the program really “doesn’t get” even simple concepts (a half note rest etc) and there is nothing you can do to “force” the program to eg. select the appropriate symbol from a menu. So if you’re on a tight deadline this is not your program. But if you have an hour or so to spare, or you want to do something useful over lunch, this is a nifty program.