Notation Program

If you are a composer/arranger/orchestrator, then you must know about music notation software! 

What is a Music Notation Program/ScoreWriter?

A music notation program is software for creating, editing, and printing sheet music. It allows composers, arrangers, orchestrators to playback what they have composed, arranged, or orchestrated, therefore they have the guidance on whether it sounds good or bad. 

What is the industry standard of Music Notation Software? 

The three main professional-level programs are Finale, Sibelius, and Dorico. Of course, there is still plenty of music notation software and some are free such as MuseScore. 

Which Music Notation Program should I use?

It really depends on your needs. All of the music notation software offers a 30days free trial for you to explore and see if it suits you. After the free trial, you can ask yourself a couple of questions.

  1. Do you like the interface of the software?
  2. What are the highlights that you like in particular software?
  3. How much budget do you have?
  4. Which Music Notation Program allows you to work faster?

Does the Music Notation Program have an educational discount?

Yes! Most of the Music Notation Program has it.

Sibelius offers education pricing starting at just $9.99 USD/month (Subscription) or owns it for $299 USD.


Dorico offers education pricing starting at €66.99 (Dorico Elements 3.5), €339 (Dorico Pro 3.5)

Finale offers education pricing starting at $99 USD (For only US University/College Student) and $350 USD for an Academic/Theological license.


Dorico is developed by the company Steinberg who hired most of the original core development team from the competitor Sibelius after the development team was laid off in a 2012 restructuring by Sibelius’s owner, Avid.  Dorico was released four years later, in 2016.

Dorico helps you to compose music and write in music notation, automatically producing printed results of exceptional quality. It also gives you sequencer-style tools for editing the playback of your music, without compromising the beauty of the score. With hundreds of unique, smart time-saving features you won’t find anywhere else, Dorico is easy enough for anyone to learn, but powerful enough to satisfy even the most demanding professionals. 

Dorico is a complete family of products suitable for musicians of every experience level, budget, and device. 

Dorico works differently compared to the other music notation software. The workflows are divided into five distinct modes – Setup, Write, Engrave, Play, and Print Mode. These individual modes serve different functions. For example

Setup Mode: Setting up the project’s instrumentations. 

Write Mode: Inputting notes, key signatures, time signatures, etc.

Engrave Mode: Making adjustments for the score layout, such as the horizontal/vertical spacing. 

Play Mode: You can assign the playback’s instruments by inputting your favorite sample libraries, such as BBC Symphony Orchestra. 

Print Mode: Where you export PDF, JPEG, etc, or are even ready to print out your materials. 

For note input and time value, it is still the same as Sibelius. You can just type in the letter name on the keyboard, such as A,B,C,D,E,F,G and it will apply to the notation. 

Time Value in Dorico is slightly different from Sibelius. The crotchet note value is starting from Keypad “6”, and as it goes higher, the notes value increases.

Dorico has a special key command which is called “Popover”. You can just press “Shift + [certain key]” to operate a command. For example, “Shift + [K]” is to open up Key Signatures popover for you to type in. [K] stands for Key Signatures.

There are three versions that Dorico offers, such as Dorico Pro, Dorico SE and Dorico Elements. The main differences are pricing, key features, and flexibility. It depends on your needs to take a certain version. But I will recommend getting Dorico Pro if you are serious about getting music notation software. 

Dorico is now available for iPad, and for macOS, and Windows. Dorico SE is a free download, ideal for young composers and those working with solos and duets; Dorico Elements is ideal for students and home users; and Dorico Pro adds extra professional tools, more sounds, and much greater customization. 

Dorico for iPad is a free download from the App Store with similar functionality to Dorico SE, and you can write for larger ensembles and access Engrave mode via an optional in-app purchase subscription. 


  • Automatic Engraving
  • Automatic Layout of Parts
  • Condensed Scores
  • DTP Page Layout
  • Drum Notation
  • Easy Note Input
  • Flexible Chord Symbols
  • Integrated MIDI Editors
  • Intelligent Assistant
  • Multiple Pieces per Project
  • Streamlined Workflow
  • Supports VST 3
  • Key Editor in Write Mode
  • Efficient Window Management
  • High-Performance Architecture

Dorico for iPad

Dorico 3.5


Sibelius is a notation program developed and released by Sibelius Software Limited (now part of Avid Technology). It is the world’s largest selling music notation program. Named after the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, the company was founded in April 1993 by twin brothers Ben and Jonathan Finn to market the eponymous music notation program they had created. The first initial release was in April 1993. 

Sibelius is now available for iPad as well which is FREE! Sibelius brings professional music notation to the iPad, putting the workflows used by countless composers, orchestrators, and arrangers at your fingertips. Seamlessly move between iPad and desktop, and from studio to coffeeshop to scoring stage, and write anywhere inspiration strikes. 

There are three versions that Sibelius offers, which are Sibelius First (FREE), Sibelius, and Sibelius Ultimate. To buy it, Sibelius has two options 1) by subscription 2) by perpetual license. 

Sibelius:               1) $9.99/month (Yearly Subscription, Paid Monthly)

                             2) $12.99/month (Monthly Subscription, Paid Monthly)

                             3) $99.00 (Yearly Subscription, Paid Upfront) 

Sibelius Ultimate: 1) $19.99/month (Yearly Subscription, Paid Monthly)

                             2) $27.99/month (Monthly Subscription, Paid Monthly)

                             3) $199.00 (Yearly Subscription, Paid Upfront) 

Comparison between Sibelius First, Sibelius and Sibelius Ultimate

Sibelius iPad



The Finale is a music notation software developed and released by MakeMusic for Microsoft Windows and macOS. Finale has been regarded as one of the industry standards for music notation software. The initial release was on 16th September 1988. Finale’s tools are organized into multiple hierarchically organized palettes, and the corresponding tool must be selected to add or edit any particular class of score element. Several of Finale’s tools provide an associated menu just to the left of the Help menu, available only when the particular tool is selected. Thus, the operation of Finale bears at least some surface similarities to Adobe Photoshop. 

Finale works with several palettes that are built into the program, such as Main Tool palette (Key Signature, Time Signature, Clefs, etc) Simple Entry palette (Note Durations, Sharp, Flat, Triplets, etc), Smart Shape palette (Diminuendo, Crescendo, trill, etc), etc.


In Summary, I personally think that a beginner can always start with Sibelius. AS the interface is slightly user-friendly, it is easier to navigate. 

For difficulty level compared to the three industry-standard music notation software, I would say Sibelius (Easy) > Dorico (Intermediate) > Finale (Hard) based on the interface. 

Hope this helps you! Feel free to ask me any questions about this. Thanks for reading! 

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