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A scorewriter, or music notation program, is software used for creating sheet music. A scorewriter is to music notation what a word processor is to text.

Screenshot of a modern scorewriter program (Overture 3.6), displaying a score of Pachelbel's Canon in WYSIWYG view. Palettes for adding notes, clefs, expressions and articulations can be seen. On the left side of the screen is the palette for entering non-standard note shapes.


Comparison with multitrack recording software

Multitrack recording software and scorewriters typically employ different types of music notation. Scorewriters are based on traditional music notation, which originates from European classical music. Multitrack recording software typically uses piano-roll graphic notation for MIDI instruments and allows for recording of acoustic instruments. However there are several applications that overlap between the two roles. For example Finale is mostly a scorewriter but also allows you to include recordings of acoustic instruments. On the other hand many multitrack recording applications allow traditional notation (albeit limited).


The rapid growth of desktop computers in the 1980s caused the creation of dozens of early scorewriters during that decade (see List of scorewriters). However, during the 1990s many of these fell into obsolescence.

By 2000 the market was dominated by Finale (particularly in the US), and to a lesser extent Sibelius (which had dominated the UK since 1993, and had expanded worldwide since its Windows release in 1998). Unlike many earlier programs, both of these offered a wide range of sophisticated features, making them suitable for almost all kinds of music and for professional publishing.

In the early 2000s, worldwide sales of Sibelius overtook Finale (according to Sibelius Software). Sibelius and Finale still dominate the market today.


Some modern scorewriter programs enable the editing of certain MIDI playback data. In this scorewriter, (Overture), the notes can be displayed on a scrolling piano roll, and their durations and MIDI note velocities can be edited by using the mouse

Basic features

All scorewriters allow the user to input, edit and print music notation, to varying degrees of sophistication. They range from programs which can write a simple song, piano piece or guitar tab, to those that can handle the complexities of orchestral music, specialist notations (from early music to avant garde), and high-quality music engraving.


Music can usually be input by using the mouse, computer keyboard, and/or a MIDI keyboard. Also a few will allow input by scanning scores using musical OCR software, or by playing or singing into a microphone.


Most scorewriters also allow the music to be played back via MIDI, or in some cases using virtual instruments. This means that scorewriters have a certain amount in common with sequencers (many of which can also write music notation up to a point), though scorewriters are used primarily for writing notation and sequencers primarily for recording and playing music.

A dialog box in a modern scorewriter program (Overture 3.6), enabling the precise control of music engraving details, such as spacing between elements and the thickness of stems, beams and staff lines


Some scorewriters allow the printed output to be customized and fine-tuned to a considerable degree, as is required by publishers to produce high-quality music engraving and to suit their individual house style.

Internet publishing

A few scorewriters allow users to publish scores on the Internet, where they can be (for example) played back, transposed, and printed out, perhaps for a fee.

Other features

Most scorewriters provide other musical functions such as transposing, or producing separate instrumental parts from a full score, or applying music transformations such as retrograde. Some can automatically create instrumental exercises and student worksheets. Some support plug-ins, often developed by users or other companies. Various features found in other types of program are also found in some scorewriters; these include version control (similar to Microsoft Word's 'track changes' feature), importing and exporting graphics, Post-It-like sticky notes, etc.

File formats

Almost all scorewriters use their own file formats for saving files. Hence, in order to move notation between different scorewriters (or to/from other kinds of music software such as sequencers), most scorewriters can also import or export one or more standard interchange file formats, such as:

  • Standard MIDI File: supported by almost all scorewriters. However, as this format was designed for playback (e.g. by sequencers) rather than notation, it only produces approximate results and much notational information is lost in the process
  • MusicXML: in recent years has become the standard interchange format for accurate notation[1]
  • NIFF: a now-obsolete file format that was supported by a few scorewriters.[2]

There are also human-readable text-based formats, generally of limited use, such as Abc notation, ChordPro and ASCII tab.

See also

List of scorewriters


  1. ^ "MusicXML Software". Recordare LLC. 23 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-06.  
  2. ^ Belkin, Alan (NIFF coordinator). (February 2006). "The Current Status of NIFF". Retrieved 2007-11-06. "Niff has now been superseded by MusicXML."  

External links

Redirecting to Scorewriter


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