What's wrong in the world of notation softwares ?

Having been trying notation software for years, i’m always stunned how every one of them fails in some way on another to be an efficient all-around tool for writing music. It almost feels like every developper on the market says "ok, we’re gonna create this great program but we’re gonna include that one flaw that will mae sure to piss some of our users off.

I’m a polyvalent music writer myself. I write orchestral music as well as electro, chip tune and mostly progressive metal which includes harsh guitars as well as powerfull drums, orchestral sections and synths. Now I havn’t tried every notation software on the market, but I’ve tried a lot of them and all of them have they own personal way of failing at letting me work efficiently.
The first one is of course Guitar Pro, which has been the tools by default used by many rock musiciens but allows to do almost everything. Sadly, in it’s last version it has become more and more bugged, unstable and won’t allow the use of any kind of plugins, giving only two choices : the standard Midi synth that doesn’t work well in the latest versions or it’s awfull own audio engine that comes with tadaaaa, about 2go of sample for hundreds of instruments.

So I tried Sibelius later one. It’s efficient enough for note entry, but although it allows to use VST plugins, it is insanely complicated as you have to create your custom engine that maps the desired instrument to the matching plugins. Writing guitars is also a joke. To have both tablature and standard notation for a track (which is how most of us guitar players like to work), the manual simply tells you to create two different tracks and then copy data from one another to have them match the same notes. It might as well just tell you to go fuck yourself. Writing drums, while possible, Is also a pain since it requires you to memorize all the keyboard combinations to write all the required note heads.

I briefly tried Finale. Found it so unintuitive and ugly that is didn’t spend more than one hour on my hard drive.

Then I tried Notion, which was recently bought by Presonus. Presonus being a serious company when it comes to audio software (Studio One is the best DAW out there IMHO), you’d expect some serious work to update the soft and fix it’s major issues. Sadly, there seems to be only one or two guys on the project with really rare and unsatisfying updates. It allows you to work with VST plugins in an easy way which is nice but it also quickly become unstable. Using some plugins like guitars is possible but requires some complicated configurations to get the right octave to play. Finally, while it allows to write drum parts using it’s included soundset (which sounds awfull by the way), it won’t work with external drums VST since the pitches and note heads are not mapped correctly.

Finally, I tought I’d checkout Dorico. Found the UI decent enough and I like some options like the ability to create different sections with only some active instruments but I find score writing counter-intuitive, probably because the tutorial videos only covers the most basic functions and the manual found zero entries for almost all subject I’ve searched. Then comes the VST2 activation. Oh god why ? Seriously, having to make some weird edits in obscure configuration files should have been banned since 1998. I know you guys from Steinberg wan’t to force plugin developer to update their products to VST3 but that shouldn’t be the user’s problem, just do a freaking menu that displays all VSTs and allows to check/uncheck the required ones and blacklists them when they seem to be causing instability, like every other program does it. And finaly, there’s NO possibility at all to write correctly formatted drum parts. Zero, nada, error 404 function not found. Are you serious guys ? You put a Notation software out there and you completely leave out an instrument present in almost all contemporary musics ? So Dorico is made to write classical music only ? Jazz, pop, rock, electro and pretty much every musician that has been writing music in the last century just isn’t cool enough to work with Dorico. And it has been more than one year since the official release and it’s still not here ?

So, this is my tought on the notation software market, and sadly I can only conclude that there will probably never be a real decent software for those who don’t limit themselves to orchestral music. I’m not asking for the perfect software, perfection only existed in Steve Jobs’ crazy mind, but just for a software that does all basic things today’s musicians need.

Dear DT-Sodium,
You might be interested in trying Dorico’s next big update, since there has been no mystery about the fact that unpitched percussion will not be usable before. And when this comes out, it will probably be the best notation software in regards with percussion notation, because Dorico’s team are doing a tremendous job at releasing only very high level functions (last update provided us with great chord writing, great pedaling…)
Until then, just let the guys do their work. This is a very recent program, they are like 16 people working on the project, the writer of the manual has started her work like two or three weeks ago… This would be my advice : do not forget what you found promising here, and come back when 1.2 (or whatever they call it) is out!

From various hints it is apparent that you, sir, are what is known as a troll!

Hi Dt-sodium,

You are right, all software programs will fail to meet your needs in some way. The same is true for all of us. The key question is, are any of the available products worth the money?

I don’t think you’d have to wait long to get unpitched percussion in Dorico, as Marc Larcher says.

I’ve also spent a bunch of time evaluating a number of notation products, and I’m only doing classical for String Orchestra.

I initially tried Sibelius (when I was a complete newbie) and quickly found it very frustrating and unintuitive. I soon found MuseScore, and spent about 1000hrs in there. About a month ago, I decided to re-evaluate the field, and looked at Finale (which I quickly discarded, due to basic screen navigation inconsistencies) and actually purchased Sibelius.

I’ve found Sibelius to be good for some things, in some cases better than MuseScore, but in many cases worse. Overall I was very disappointed with Sibelius. It has

  • very poor support for multiple movements, requiring many user hacks
  • no support for playing back simultaneous pizz + arco in a single stave (only 1 midi channel per stave)
  • no built-in support for text-based cres. descresc (only hairpins, which are no good over about 5 bars or more).
  • difficulties with trills and turns on the end, can’t do grace notes after a note, only before
  • note head overlap in voices (rely on 3rd party plugins to fix this!!!)
  • appalling history of dealing with issues raised by customers. Many of the issues I’ve had with it are reported many years ago (and since) by many customers and are still unaddressed.

But there were a lot of things I liked about it a lot

  • ability to drag staves up and down for layout
  • very easy to add an octave above a passage (select it and hit 8 from the non-numeric keyboard)
  • collision avoidance (although in some cases this was a source of pain)

In the end after a few weeks and not really being able to complete my project in it, I thought I’d take another look at Dorico.

There are a LOT of things I really like a lot about Dorico. It’s still maturing as a product though, I’m sure it will continue to get better and better, which is why I’m still here on the forums.

I can’t currently do everything I need in Dorico so in the end I’m back to MuseScore, but I am very optimistic that in about 6 months to a year I will be able to. I don’t have this kind of optimism for any other product I’ve tried.

I think the best help we can offer each other on this forum is to focus on Dorico rather than to compare other software products. Sure, we may see features in other programs that we would like to see versions of in Dorico, but just to start promoting or trashing other products is really not the best way to help each other on this forum.

well I think there are some things that can be taken from a discussion about what we love or hate about other products.

Then the Steinberg guys can take note about the sort of things people hate, and love.

For example Dorico really should not require ctrl key with arrows to move notes up and down, ctrl up and down should be octave up and down like Sibelius and MuseScore.

I’m still not convinced that there is sufficient distinction between page view in Write mode vs Engrave mode. Other products I’ve tried don’t bother to try and separate those. Galley mode vs page mode should be enough? Otherwise you have to do 2 things to edit layout from notes, move to engrave first.

It is clear you are incredibly frustrated with Dorico and everyone here will explain the program is developing and has already developed quite quickly. I agree there are frustrating omissions that could make you jump to the conclusion that it was written just for classical musicians (I mean the omission of a Big Band template as one example ) but this, along with many other glitches has a work around. I feel sure when the drums are fixed we’ll have a great piece of software that can only go from strength to strength. Please try and be patient, it’ll be worth the wait.

@adrien. I agree with you with regard to the moving of notes but maybe their methodology was adopted to avoid any copyright issues with Sibelius/Avid.

Some of you guys cannot be serious. I’ve been REALLY using (and teaching other professionals to use) (almost) every notation program there is and has been for about 30 years. Dorico is (and will be) much much better than anything we have seen. Not perfect, perhaps, but still BY FAR the best.

What do you want with your complaining and dreaming? Do you want to SUPPORT and THANK these GREAT guys who are working very hard to give us what most of us want, or do you “just” want them to create a new notation program individually for each of you? A custom-built notation program made ONLY for YOU? Perhaps even a new program for every PROJECT of yours? :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

You should do your work yourself instead of asking others to do it for you, so dream on.

You guys, really, should think before you… :wink: :laughing:

The OP’s title “What’s wrong in the world of notation software?” itself is wrong. It should be “What’s wrong in the world of notation software users/complainers?” The answer is above. :laughing:

If you want “a program that works exactly the same way as program XYZ,” you can easily get what you want, right now. It’s called “program XYZ.” :wink:

I partially agree with Adrien, to the extent that MuseScore is a very nice program to use, and unbeatable value for money (it’s free). The main thing that it doesn’t do is very hiqh quality music engraving - but there are plenty of people who don’t need that. You can’t compete with “free” on price, so you have to find a different unique selling point - and Dorico seems to be doing that pretty well, as it develops!

For every person that posts a “complaint” on here, there are perhaps dozens or more who don’t but just abandon the product.

As a software developer myself, I appreciate it when people take the time to give criticism.

Everyone telling me they love my product may feel nice, but doesn’t help me address problems.

So don’t be too quick to defend Dorico from criticism, it can be the most useful direction you can receive as a developer of any product.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong in the world of notation software; on the contrary, I think it is looking better than ever.

Sibelius is a great product, which allows you to create excellent looking scores with a minimum of fuss. Playback is decent too, especially with NotePerformer. Maybe not broadcast quality, but certainly good enough to make sure you got all the notes in the right place.

Dorico looks even better, and in the long run has more potential.

If you want to do something out of the box, use a DAW like Reaper, or Cubase, or Logic, whatever.

Quite frankly if right now you cannot create all the music you want to create, it’s not the developers’ fault.

“a software that does all basic things today’s musicians need”

That’s called a DAW. Maybe it’s time to give Cubase Pro a chance? No other DAW will give you as many options.

I was thinking the same thing…

The score editor in CuBase is pretty adept at working with chords, chord symbols, guitar tablature, and mapping out percussion staves.

Scoring in Cubase does have a bit of a learning curve…your first few projects will be slow and maybe even frustrating, but once you’ve got a handle on it, it’s pretty darn good.

If you’re more into simply doing a jam session and later turning that into a score, CuBase is stellar. Note that you will want to learn how to use the logic editors to make quicker work of it, and it may take some practice to learn how to automate the process of converting real live humanized tracks into something that looks good on a Score…but all the tools are there to make it happen.

You’ll also get a myriad of ‘song writing’ tools. Chord tracks for example, allow you to simply enter chords by name, and select (or even build) a ‘style’ as to how those chords get played back (arps, blocks, rhythms, setc). You’ll also get tools to auto-generate chord symbols or tabliture for these tracks! There are also chord progression assistants. You get gigs of grooves and licks that you can incorporate into projects too.

When it comes to working with Virtual instruments…well…the MIDI editors in Cubase are outstanding.

Want remote control? CuBase gives you all the tools to build remote control for nearly everything in the DAW, and it’s pretty simple to do…

Do be aware that CuBase isn’t really set up to be a ‘first DAW’, with lots of ‘wizards’ and ‘guided’ work-flow constraints. It’s more like a power user framework, where you get to design your own workflow, and craft your own methods of commanding the DAW and automating your most common tasks. Over time you’ll find ways of automating complex multi-step processes that can take hours to do note by note, into a single/simple hot-key command, or preset selection from a menu.

With a DAW like CuBase, you can think very differently. You can copy a track (stave) in less than a second to experiment with different ideas. You can easily mute in and out different ideas, and not have to worry so much about destroying or losing previous ideas. You can view your project on several different scales, from the whole piece view (nice to be able to see the form of a 2 hour piece on a single screen), down to minute milliseconds…where it’s easy to copy/cut/paste. Try doing that with a conventional score package…not possible!

If you don’t want to invest in a Steinberg eLicenser so you can demo a full version of CuBase Pro…consider going to a music store and taking it for a test drive. Some music stores might even let you drop a security deposit on a Dongle that you could take home and return later and get your cash back.

I agree with Brian Roland. I have been using Cubase Pro for years and the score module seems to be a secret. Form this i have generated hundreds of scores and all of them look good. I even customised to look like the jazz printout on sibelius by increasing the line weights and default stave sizes. its only fault really lies in the fact the the density of notes is never heavy enough.
the Real strength is the brilliant way the Midi Editors work together, so the Piano role editor can be manipulated to make the scores look better, in a very fine detail.
Many of the criticisms in the Forum (like no drum editor, and expression maps ) are all well handled by Cubase Score.

Dorico seems to be the way forward, in that it is attempting to elevate the useless, and unfriendly Sibelius, by integrating all the strengths of Cubase Score, and taking them up to a level not seen before in score handling and look. so the inevitable question is: Why not make DORICO a module of Cubase Pro? So composers can continue to have a nice fluid relationship between live recording, creating and listening back AND generating scores? A lot of my scores have started from creations and live sessions, and then when i am ready to make proper scores for future rehearsals and different line ups I can do a “save as” to create a “score” version, and then focus on the score aspect.

The price is an issue too. Having spent a lot of money on Cubase Pro and updates, i am waiting for Doric to have lots of issues sorted before buying it. (it DOES look amazing) Why doesn’t Sternberg offer existing Cubase Pro users a “cross grade” price to get people like me on board?

You’re not asking for much then? :laughing:
Music notation is an entirely arbitrary and complex symbolic representation developed over 1000 years. There are as many exceptions as there are rules. There are many different styles and genres, each with their own assumptions and conventions.
Polyvalent music? I don’t even know what that is.

Donald Byrd (no, not that one), the pioneer of computer algorithms to describe music notation, thought that fully automated computer notation was impossible without artificial intelligence.

In short, to answer your question: music notation is very hard.

According to Wikipedia, it’s “the use of more than one harmonic function, from the same key, at the same time.”

If the OP thinks he/she has discovered something new and revolutionary, sorry but Beethoven was doing this 200 years ago already (not to mention Stravinsky!)

An excellent question with a not so obvious answer. I’ll try the short version. Cubase’s score module primarily exists to handle editing a single line of a midi performance and it has been well developed over many years. It does a good job at a single line or a grand staff. Cubase is a full DAW built around creating and editing a finished audio product to which the score edit is a component.

Dorico (and the other “engraving” programs) are built around the needs of producing a visually excellent engraved score for performing musicians who are handling lots of different instruments. To that end, there are a lot more rules that must be obeyed to help performers sight-read a piece as they are playing. These programs also excel at handling transposing instruments in an orchestral arrangement, making it easier for the composer to generate “parts” for the different instruments from the conductor’s score. The musical generation capability in these engraving programs, for the most part, are to generate acceptable renditions of the written score for the purposes of “proof listening” to the piece for musical errors. They are (although Dorico is pushing beyond this paradigm) poorly suited to preparing a full orchestral mockup due to their limitations in midi editing, managing complex (multi-articulated) virtual instruments, incorporating recorded audio, etc.

Again, Dorico is (in some future state) challenging the paradigm that engraving programs have weak audio support, but I would be skeptical, given the range of differences between VI’s and the amount of control editing needed for a grand mockup (or even a finished audio master) of an orchestral piece.

For may working composers, the workflow is Score Editor to orchestra, or Score Editor to DAW (Dorico to Cubase). I do know some guys who work DAW -> Score Editor -> DAW (or orchestra) but these are ones that are often capturing their own performance as an initial step (historically, engraving programs are notoriously weak at capturing live performances.) There is a very hot debate among composers between those who go from Score to DAW (without using much in the way of live musicians) and those who go from score to orchestra or live performance. Dorico is trying to serve both communities as I understand their pitch (a roadmap of feature releases would be real useful here.)

Because of the level of complexity of a full engraving program and full DAW, these components are likely to remain separate for some time to come, but Steinberg (and others) are working on improving workflows from Score Editing (engraving) to DAWs as we speak.

Wouldn’t you mean polytonal music ?

No, polytonal music uses several different keys at the same time.

An example of polymodality is near the end of the first movement of Beethoven Op 81a (“Les Adieux” sonata) where one hand has a dominant chord and the other a tonic chord, simultaneously, and the V and I chords alternate between the hands for a few bars.